How can farmers add years to the lifespan of the irrigation systems on their farms? By giving it the care that assets deserve. Netafim technical advisor Mias Borcherds explains how maintenance can help farmers grow more with less, for longer.
Precision irrigation is all about efficiency, and this efficiency is truly maximised when you ensure the longest possible lifespan for your system. How? By starting off with quality, durable equipment in the first place and then backing this with proper installation, handling, and regular maintenance.
Mias Borcherds, technical advisor for Netafim South Africa in the Western Cape, says that continuous and preventative maintenance will optimise the longevity of any irrigation system and will help farmers grow more with less, for longer.
The maintenance guidelines are very specific to each type of system, however, and will differ between drip, micro-sprinkler, sprinkler, and pivot irrigation solutions. The quality of the water that travels through the system will also influence the maintenance regime, along with the irrigation scheduling, which is essentially the frequency at which you use the system.
Keeping an eye on the field
The main components of an irrigation system are the pumps, filters, valves, flow meters, fertigation units, controllers, pipes, and emitters. Each of these components have their own set of maintenance requirements that are equally important for success.
As an example, Borcherds says that in drip irrigation systems, clogging of the emitters should be prevented at all cost as it is very difficult to return flow once a dripper has clogged.
Essential maintenance to prevent clogging includes effective filtration, regular testing for changes in water quality, regular flushing of lateral lines, as well as manual spot checks for sediments inside the system – and then fixing potential problems.
In sprinkler systems, visual inspection is possible, and farmers should regularly walk through irrigated blocks to check that all sprinklers are working and standing upright, and that none of them are obstructed by insects, mud, or weeds, and that sprinkler nozzles distribute water optimally.
Valves and pipes should be inspected for wear and tear and damaged parts should be replaced.
Leaks (indicated by wet spots along the lines) should be fixed to prevent wastage, and farmers should also keep a watchful eye on flow rates and system pressure.
Deviations could indicate a problem and, even though the problem might be localised, it could significantly influence the entire system’s longevity.
For the more intricate mechanical components, such as pumps, filters, flow meters and fertigation units, regular checks and inspections will be necessary, along with scheduled maintenance strictly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
This could include weekly tasks as well as maintenance at the start and end of the irrigation season.
Part of the regular routine
Borcherds says it is very important to familiarise yourself with your own irrigation system as quickly as possible after installation. You need to be comfortable not only with handling the equipment, but also with normal flow rates and pressures across the system.
“Get a feeling for the equipment,” he says. “It is sometimes very easy to identify a problem by just looking, hearing, and feeling. If it sounds or looks different than it did the day before, it could very well be an indication that a problem is about to occur.”
Farmers should also invest time and effort in training team members who will handle and do maintenance on the equipment and follow it up with quality checks on the work that gets done.
Borcherds advises that farmers should have a fixed checklist and maintenance programme for their irrigation system. Without this, it will be very hard to keep the system in tip-top condition.
Failure to do this could result in an inefficient system at first, then unnecessary breakages and downtime, and ultimately in lower yields and years that get cut off the lifespan of your irrigation system.
First and final say from the experts
Even though it is every farmer’s own responsibility to protect their investment, Borcherds underscores what his colleagues have previously said: expert advice is the golden thread that ties together every aspect of a successful precision irrigation solution.
“It is best to have maintenance in place from the get-go, as it can be very hard to implement it at a later stage.
“The right maintenance guidelines can be found from the supplying manufacturer or from the irrigation designer and will include guidelines for continuous, preventative, and corrective maintenance,” he says.
“Talk it through from the beginning and ensure that you have enough information to make the right decisions when you need to.”
• Visit Netafim’s Precision Irrigation Academy for helpful videos on maintenance, operation, and other important actions. Also listen to Borcherds’ practical advice on irrigation system maintenance on the latest episode of Farmer’s Inside Track. For more information on Netafim South Africa, click here.
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