While some farmers may have tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in their irrigation systems, these are often the most neglected of farm equipment.
Such investments can be protected and last years longer with proper care and monitoring during the busy season and a thorough inspection and winterization at season’s end, according to Jill Kenagy, the parts manager at Ernst Irrigation in St. Paul, Ore.
The most universal and important out-of-season service to all irrigation equipment — pumps, motors, linears, pivots and travelers — involves fluid management. Draining the old and adding protective liquids where appropriate minimizes stress points and resulting leaks in a system.
In the process a farmer can save on costly repairs and employee downtime, conserve water and even ensure a crop’s outcome.
While it’s a good idea for farmers to periodically inspect their systems for wear, damage and alignment during use, there’s no substitute for a thorough going-over at season’s end.
Kenagy said most common repairs tend to happen during the summer in emergency situations, when they may have more than a dozen service vehicles in the field at any one time, staffed by technicians whose skill sets include maintenance and repair of travelers, pumps, electrical systems and John Deere equipment; manure management and fabrication.
The rise in technology is making it easier for farmers to head off problems in the thick of the season.
“Wireless technology continues to expand its horizons and the same GPS systems used to self-guide tractors can guide a linear through the field,” Kenagy said.
With the various components of an irrigation system, monitoring can become cumbersome. A system of hardware and software such as that developed by AgSense can provide the ability to tie most of these into a wireless dashboard that can be utilized by most devices.
“Let’s say you’ve got 15 linears out there,” Kenagy said. “You can go to your PC and see all 15 of those machines — where they are, how many gallons they’re running, if they’re running correctly. There’s also an app for your phone where you can monitor and perform certain tasks, including turning on your machines, but programming the parameters has to be done on your PC on your dashboard.”
Drip irrigation systems, though susceptible to rodents while in use, require little winter preparation beyond draining.
“This year it’s been all about hemp and that’s all drip,” Kenagy said. “It’s a gold rush and we’re selling the picks and shovels.”
Ernst Irrigation’s presence in St. Paul dates back to 1873, when French shoemaker Francois Ernst set up shop.
His son opened a hardware store that focused on ag equipment in the early 1900s that spawned a handful of business partnerships that include today’s Ernst Irrigation, with its 55 employees.
“We have quite a variety of skill sets here, including people that can bang out an acre garden system in under an hour and those who can handle 5,000-acre drip systems that can take weeks to work out the logistics on,” Kenagy said.