It's September and I've gotten lazy again. Since we are almost finished with irrigation I ought to tell you we have been doing this summer.
Farming in the middle of Nebraska we need to irrigate if we hope to raise a normal crop every year. The picture at left shows the difference between irrigated and dryland.
We have two different water sources, surface and ground. Surface water is diverted out of a river or stream and then transported to the fields by canals or pipe. Our water comes from the Platte River and is brought to our farm by the Dawson County Canal. It is the third oldest canal in Nebraska and was dug with horses and mules about 1894.
Every summer around July 1 we have to string out the pipe on the ends of the fields. I usually recruit some high school kids to help. The pipes are 30' feet long and we put out about 5 miles of pipe so that is a lot of pipe.
This a picture of the water coming out of the open gates. When we are irrigating we have to go to each field and open a new set of rows and close the old rows twice a day. We use old golf putters to tap the gates open and closed. Saves a lot of sore backs.
We use gated pipe on both surface and ground water. Most fields we have a pump on the surface water to pressurize it for the gated pipe. Some fields have enough gravity drop to work without a pump.
After the last irrigation (and flush) we pull the pipes apart and then find another crew of strong backs to pick all the pipe back up and pile it for next year.
We started using gated pipe in 1975 and until a few years ago that was all we used. Then I purchased a couple of center pivot irrigation systems (left). The look like a pipe in the air with wheels underneath. One end is fastened to a pivot point and the other end moves around the field in a circle. They have sprinklers on them similar to ones in your yard, put more precise.
A new center pivot system is about $75,000 to $100,000 depending on what you add to the package. Normally they need little daily attention, other than to make sure they are still running. We have ours set up to send a text message to our phone if something happens to it. We also have an app to control the pivot from wherever we are. They are more efficient in using water than the gated pipe and take much less labor. Much of the land previously irrigated with gated pipe is being converted to pivots in our area if they fit the field. One downside is that pivots irrigate a circle in a square field so there are corners that will be dryland or will have to be irrigated another way.
This picture shows the valves that control which sections of the field get water. I am currently adding a computer controller to my system so that it can be controlled remotely.
Normally we finish irrigating by Labor Day, but not this year. We will be irrigating until September 14 at least. The crops got behind with some cool weather in August and are not mature yet. If we stop irrigating too soon the plants die early and the yield drops off dramatically.