Getting The Irrigation Up and Running

Between the Fencerows

It was just a matter of time before we had to face start-up week

Published on: July 25, 2013

Well, I knew it would happen sometime this summer.  Last week was it.  Time to turn on the irrigation.  Even though we had them all running at planting, the start-up week is always the worst.  I think dad and I both exceeded 90 hours last week. 

Issues that arise during start-up are usually related to nature.  Mice and lightning lead the list.  Those little critters seem to squeeze into some pretty small places, and why they like the taste of rubber wire coating, I'll never know.  Nor will I understand how lightning strikes the ground and manages to find a buried wire and blow holes in it.  Occasionally water will freeze in a pressure switch or strainer body.  Sometimes, components just get worn out and need replaced.  I've also had an underground pipe burst, and a pump shaft shear this year.  Add a couple new systems, it just takes a lot of time.

It was  just a matter of time before we had to face start-up week (file photo)
It was just a matter of time before we had to face start-up week (file photo)

Typically irrigation in Indiana has been sized to be "supplemental."  2012 served only to show deficiencies in that strategy.  For this year, we have built in some redundancy, adding some underground water pipe to allow more flexibility with running pivots from alternate wells.  (Which, I'll add has come in handy because of the shaft mentioned above.)  We also have planned two new wells for 2014 to help alleviate pressure on some of the existing ones.  We operate 28 systems. Unfortunately, in our geography, many are 40 acre systems, and some of those can't even make a full circle.

Irrigation is sustainable here.  Lyndon Kelley, Michigan State and Purdue irrigation expert, does a nice job of illustrating our annual rainfall, crop usage, and water withdraw.  With this calculation, we have a net surplus of water each year, especially when you factor in the percentage of ground that is actually irrigated.  We just bank the water in the aquifers, and use a little each summer.  Our 10 year average use is 5-7".  Last year was nearly double that.