Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in Irrigation Today Magazine.
People often ask what steps they should take to maintain their irrigation equipment and ensure it has a long life.
That’s a good question, but to understand the value of preventative maintenance, it’s important to know why they should do it.
Irrigation machines will run a long time without maintenance, but like a car (or anything else), they will eventually have failures. When your car needs transmission work or your truck’s brakes start to squeal, you have options. You could take it to the repair shop. You might have a spare vehicle you could drive for a few days, or you could even keep driving it (Don’t do this).
With a center pivot, you don’t have a backup.
A week of downtime at a critical stage in the growing season could significantly reduce the yield. That yield loss could equal a substantial amount of money, which could in turn have a considerable impact on your operation, especially in challenging economic times like growers are facing now.
The “why” of regular maintenance for your irrigation equipment is to assure reliable uptime. If you perform this maintenance during the off-season, trouble-free operation throughout the growing season is much more likely. Now that you understand the “why,” the “what” follows naturally.
Depending on your geography and climate, one important thing to do is prepare for winter. To winterize your center pivot, drain your pipelines, and make sure you also drain any condensed water from wheel gearboxes and gear motors.
In addition, perform normal greasing of parts at least yearly. Steel moving on steel without proper lubrication can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on irrigation equipment. Be sure to grease all moving parts, including the pivot point bearing, towable hubs, corner legs and rollers.
- Kick the Tires
Check for correct air pressure in your tires to reduce rutting. Also, check your machine’s lug nuts to ensure they are tight.
- Give Gearboxes a Look
Maximize the life of your center pivot drive train and keep it operating trouble-free by examining the gearbox for leaking seals, which could cause failure during the year if they run low on gear lube.
- Are the U-joints OK?
Check the U-joints between the gearbox and gear motor. If there is more than ¼” of movement, they should be replaced. These inserts will eventually wear out; replacing them when you see the beginnings of wear can save you costly downtime.
- Tower Box Test
Be sure all tower box contactors are performing correctly and are not “chattering.” This is one aspect of “routine” maintenance that’s not so routine … and is often forgotten.
- Alignment Inspection
Check your irrigation machine’s alignment – correct alignment reduces structural stress on the center pivot and allows it to run straight.
- Scrutinize Sprinklers
Sprinklers and regulators should be inspected; nozzles, pads and regulator should be changed after every 10,000 hours of operation.
- Control Panel Condensation
Ensure water is not getting into your control panel and compromising the electrical components in any way.
- Wheel Track Maintenance (a.k.a. Tilling & Filling)
Be sure to fill and till deep wheel tracks during the off-season to reduce stress on tillage, harvest and irrigation equipment. Wheel tracks should be tilled to the depth of the track to allow your irrigation machine to run properly. Consider changing to a different type of tire to increase ground contact, adding flotation options like three-wheel base beams, or modifying the sprinkler package to reduce water application in the wheel tracks to help prevent future tracking problems.
One of the biggest misconceptions about irrigation system maintenance is that upkeep is an added expense. That’s not really true. Without proper maintenance, the additional cost comes later – when you can least afford it – and your irrigation machine breaks down in the summer heat.
Parts will fail … eventually. Just like your truck’s brakes, it will happen. For example, even the most durable sprinkler packages do wear out, giving you less-than-uniform water application, which results in your crop getting less water than you think.
Replace the parts nearing failure when you can – all at one time – as opposed to making multiple trips to the field and experiencing multiple periods of downtime. Doing so is actually less expensive in the long run.
We’ve talked about what to do and why it should be done; lastly is the “who.” Contact your local Valley® dealer for more detailed maintenance requirements and to schedule an expertly trained pivot service technician to perform a preventative maintenance check-up today.