Winter irrigation checks essential

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This is the time of year to check irrigation equipment, well before you need it.
In the winter 2016 edition of IrrigationNZ News, FMG representative Matt Harvey has sound advice on the subject.
“Over the next few months, prior to kicking off the 2016-17 season, we recommend farmers and growers check the paddock for any changes to the ground.
“The management of irrigator wheel tracks should be included in any farm maintenance programme. Wheel ruts significantly increase the load and the wear on the drive train and can slow a section of the irrigator down, affecting the irrigator alignment and the ability for the irrigator to travel in a straight
line.
“Protecting irrigation assets from frost damage is critical during the winter months. Draining irrigation pumps, heads works, and irrigators themselves will ensure that damage is less likely to occur during sub-zero temperatures.”
It was important to protect pump casings, expressive pressure-sensing devices and pressure gauges, Mr Harvey said.
“A seasonal irrigation asset maintenance schedule should be more than just changing oils and kicking tyres. A detailed inspection of your irrigation assets can identify hidden issues that would normally go unnoticed, issues that could be costing you real money.
“Breaking your irrigation system into key components and taking a closer look at each can uncover some performance issues that can lead to real cost savings.”
At the IrrigationNZ conference in Oamaru earlier this year, irrigation consultant Dan Bloomer said every system should be tested yearly. Something as simple as cleaning filters could halve power costs.
He recommended the “bucket test” to see if water was coming out of irrigation nozzles uniformly and at the correct intensity and depth. Farmers should get two dozen buckets and spend two hours placing them under the irrigator and measuring how much water they collected.
“You will either be pleasantly surprised, or horrified. You can’t lose.”
Weston irrigator Nick Webster, part of the Mitchell and Webster Group that was the supreme winner of the 2013 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards, told the conference that bucket testing was “really interesting _ you’ll be surprised at the results”.
“You learn from these things. They’re really important; just doing the wee things.”
He took a “pretty common-sense approach”, Mr Webster said.
“A spade still has its place. You know your farm best. Go and have a dig _ see what the field capacity looks like in your soil. See how it lines up with what the monitoring equipment shows you.
“With irrigation, you’ve got to check it every day. I spend a fair bit of time out on the ground checking and monitoring. I want to keep costs down.”
Mr Bloomer said studies found 90% of irrigators did not measure soil moisture. Precision and accuracy were vital in selecting sensors, then they had to be put in the right places.
“If it is easy to read, it is the wrong place.”
Best practice was to use two sites per system per crop, in the lowest and highest quartiles. Two sensors should be in the root zone and one below it.
Live data, which was getting cheaper and available through apps, could help farmers manage their irrigation better, he said.
Mr Webster said there was some “wonderful technology out there”, but he questioned how much was needed to produce results.
“Technology is addictive. It allows you to make decisions. You’ve got to be a wee bit nimble on your feet. You’ve got to know what the incoming information means. When you’re being offered technology, you need to think `what do I already know about my farm? Will it add value?”’

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