Honored to Talk With Water-drive Irrigation Experts

Husker Home Place

Ainsworth farmer and pivot engineers are veterans of water-drive irrigation technology.

Published on: November 5, 2013

If you’ve had enough time out of the combine cab recently to read the cover story of the November issue of Nebraska Farmer, you know that I had a fun assignment in August. I was honored to be able to visit with Don Fling, an Ainsworth farmer who has a direct connection to the earliest days of pivot irrigation in Nebraska.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the years, you may have picked up the fact that I love history, especially Nebraska history of all kinds. I hone in on the stories of triumph and trials of Nebraska pioneers, although at the magazine, we write a lot more about what is coming up than what has happened in the past, in order to keep producers informed the best we can.

WATER-DRIVE EXPERT: Don Fling of Ainsworth has been operating water-drive pivots his whole life.
WATER-DRIVE EXPERT: Don Fling of Ainsworth has been operating water-drive pivots his whole life.

I have no working knowledge of irrigation. When I was farming full-time, we were dryland farmers. There are center pivots operating on neighbors' farms all around our place, but I grew up with little understanding of their operation. That said, I truly enjoyed visiting with Don and learning about the day when pivot innovator, Frank Zybach, and a team from Valley Manufacturing Co. traveled to the Fling farm in Brown County to start up Don’s father’s new pivot in 1961. Don was only 10 years old, but that day was the beginning of his lifelong reliance on water-drive Valley pivots.

It was a joy to watch Don’s current 1976 water-drive in operation. It was a cloudy, quiet day when we visited his field, and we stood and watched his model 1260 work for a long time, just for the fun of it.

The other fun part of the story was visiting with veteran Valley engineers like Keith Knudsen, senior irrigation engineer at Valmont Industries, and Mike Husen, Valmont load manager. Both fellows have been with the company for many years, and were a part in one way or another, in the transition from water-drive pivots to electric-drive. They remember the design changes and innovations that have been made over the years, and they have seen pivot technology working on agriculture land around the globe.

The 1961 water-drive Valley installed on the Fling farm was one of the first working in Brown County. And Don’s 1976 water-drive pivot that is still operating on his farm today was built in the waning days of Valley manufacturing of water-drive pivots. It is one of only a handful of water-drive pivots still operating around Ainsworth and across the state. Talk about running full circle.

It is interesting how farmers and engineers continued to improve on the design, coming up with ways to make the early pivots more efficient, convenient and reliable. It is a great partnership between customers and engineers to make things work the best they can, because both were fully invested in the concepts.

It isn’t often I get to talk agriculture history with the folks who were involved in making that history. But the water-drive story afforded me that opportunity and I was honored to be able to learn from these very smart folks.

Here is this week’s discussion question? When and where did you observe your first center pivot irrigation in action? You can share your thoughts and experiences here.

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