Prep Your Pivot for Winter

04:00AM Oct 16, 2013
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These steps will ensure irrigation success next spring

pivot irrigation

Taking simple maintenance measures into consideration will translate to financial opportunities in the long run.

Your irrigation system is a lot like a faithful farm dog. It doesn’t ask for much beyond a few checkups and TLC, yet it gives you back more peace of mind throughout the year.

While it’s hard to give your pivot span an appreciative hug, you can easily throw it a bone this winter in the form of a thorough inspection by your irrigation dealer. That will help ensure it survives freezing temperatures and harsh weather to get crops up and running in the spring.

"We encourage it as a very vital part to the success of their farm and their operation," explains Clark Bauer, U.S. sales manager, T-L Irrigation.

Many dealers offer an off-season preventive maintenance program to ensure your machine is in top condition before the irrigation season, notes John Kastl, product manager for equipment at Valley Irrigation.

The caveat to winter pivot maintenance, as with any upkeep program, is that you must do it correctly. Dealers who represent a manufacturer are factory-trained on the service of the equipment and can perform more exhaustive multipoint inspections from one end of the machine to the other. This ensures each maintenance point is checked and the machine is ready for service, says Kirk Biddle, national sales director for irrigation, Lindsay Corporation. The owner’s manual includes helpful recommendations about service intervals that should be followed closely.

"If you are making the effort to prep your pivot for winter, be sure all components are put back into place when you are finished," adds Tony Burks, a Lindsay dealer with TN&W Irrigation in Manito, Ill. "Leaving loose plugs, hoses or fittings will lead to setbacks in the spring when it is time to wake up your pivots again."

Taking such simple measures into consideration will translate to financial opportunities in the long run.

"You’ll actually save money relative to not doing maintenance," Kastl notes.

In no particular order, here are several steps you should ask your dealer to perform when looking over your irrigation equipment.

Inspect joints and tires. Make sure pivot points are greased for smooth operation, says Neil Lunzmann, eastern U.S. sales director, Reinke Manufacturing. Such basic steps add to the lifetime of the machine and speak to the quality of irrigation systems. "Pivots are pretty low maintenance," he adds.

Additionally, check air pressure in tires and inflate them as needed to minimize field ruts. Tires can also be pumped up fully in the spring. "If you have a low tire, you’re going to have the potential to ruin that tire and have a stuck pivot," Bauer explains.

Inspect the lug nuts on all tires to be sure they’re tight, Kastl adds. Take a quick look at your tires and replace those that have cracked badly because of weather damage. Look at span boots to be sure that they are not dry and cracked and that the clamps are in good condition. 

Flush it out. Clear the main pipe running from the well to the pivot itself, Burks says, and flush the main line and machine. This is typically done by removing the drain and sand trap and evacuating debris from the machine. If you have an overhang, it’s also important to remove the drain at the end of the overhang to be sure it is clean. Once that’s done, reinstall the sand trap and drains.

Check for missing or poorly operating sprinklers as part of the flushing process. After you’ve flushed the machine, check the pipeline drains to be sure they’re clean. Drain the main line below the frost level to prevent freeze-cracking. Remove caps on water risers and use a utility pump fitted with a suction hose to evacuate excess water.

On the last tower of each span, remove the lock and drain the sand trap. Then lock it back to keep out squirrels, mice and other pests.
Troubleshoot for performance. Check sprinkler patterns, inspect tower boxes and align the system to make any necessary changes. Yield monitors can offer clues as to possible irrigation system issues, particularly in a drought year, Bauer says. Low-yielding crops in a section of field might in part be attributed to a plugged nozzle, for example. Also, keep an eye out for skips, circle patterns and debris hung up on regulators.

For those irrigating with surface water on a suspended grid, Bauer suggests putting on a new set of nozzles every five years. For those pumping deep well water that might contain suspended sands, verify the system is up to specifications, then review system charts to ensure it is pumping at the right pressure and gallon volume.

Get inside gearboxes. Open up gearboxes to make sure all of the components are functioning properly. Drain any water from the gearbox, and then top off with a manufac-turer-approved gear lube, Kastl says. It’s also an excellent time to change the oil in both the wheel gearboxes and the center-drive gearbox.

Depending on the type of pump that you use, you’ll need to replace either its gearheads or its electric motors every year or two, Burks says. This will help keep the pump from wearing out prematurely and prevent bearings from rusting.

With T-L pivots, which are powered hydrau­lically, check the hydraulic filter at the main reservoir to make sure it is clean. While T-L machines use lifetime hydraulic oil, water can enter the oil if a tank cap is not properly secured. In these cases, Bauer says, moisture can be water-filtered or super-filtered out without exchanging the oil. 

You can e-mail Nate Birt at [email protected].

For more tips on preparing your irrigation pivots, visit