Irrigation season has arrived

Happy 4th of July weekend!  I hope you and your family have a chance to celebrate our great country and appreciate the unique freedoms we are afforded.  Thanks to all who have served to protect our rights!  Now, on to popcorn...


The weather has officially turned.  April and May's cool, wet days have been replaced with a hot and dry June - 90's to 100's in the middle of the month.  The heat is good for the crops and they have really grown.  The lack of rain however, isn't good.  We've been irrigating to provide the crops with water.  A big reason why Nebraska is the nation's leading popcorn producer is because of the ability to irrigate.  Without irrigation, the popcorn wouldn't grow well at all.  Rain is forecast for this weekend so hopefully all the dryland crops will get a much needed drink. In the meantime, we irrigate.

 

Irrigation has come a long way in the last 60 years.  My great grandfather used to irrigate by digging a trench, pumping water through it, and siphoning the water down the rows of the crops with a siphon tube.  The field needed to gradually slope away from the trench so the water would flow.  It took an incredibly  long time and used a lot of water. 

 

Photo source: Irrigation Museum http://www.irrigationmuseum.org/item1.aspx?id=275

This picture is how it would have looked but our farm had dirt trenches, not concrete.

 

Siphon tubes were eventually replaced by irrigation pipe - long pipes with gates on them to allow water to flow down the rows of crops.  These are much easier to use than siphon tubes because you only need to open gates to allow water to flow...not dig a trench and start a new siphon for each row.  The field still needs to be relatively level and a lot of water is used.  It is also a lot of work - you have to lay out the pipe, set gates, pick up the pipe, etc.  It gets to be a lot of fun when hornets or skunks are living in the pipe. 

The photo shows white popcorn getting a drink from the irrigation pipe.

 

If you've ever flown over the Midwest and looked out the window, chances are you've already seen signs of the main way we irrigate.  The circles in the fields are from center pivot irrigation.

 

Here's a video showing a pivot in action -it was watering our yellow popcorn!

The basic idea is that a pipe with sprinklers is suspended over the field and pivots around a central point. Think of it as an upside down suspension bridge with a pipe instead of a road. The pipe is supported by towers, mounted to wheels, and travels in a circle throughout the field. Center pivots are much more efficient than siphon tubes and flood irrigation. They are also easier to maintain - when everything works.

 

Here's a close up video of a pivot tower.

 

Pivots require maintenance and do break down. It can be a lot of fun to fix them.  We operate a very old pivot that requires a ton of tender...loving...care...So far this year we've replaced 2 gearboxes, a center drive motor, one tire, fixed the endgun and repaired an underground pipeline.  All that while only making it across the field 1.5 times...Hopefully all the bugs are out of it for the season!  Checking that pivot is a moment of great anticipation.  I can't quite describe the warm and fuzzies you get when you round the corner and see everything working as it should.

 

Dad is the brains of the operation.  The top picture is him fixing the endgun so it shuts off and doesn't water the road.  The bottom is me, holding a bolt in a pipe as he threads on a nut to fix a leak. 

That's all for now!  The corn is getting ready to tassel, shoot silks and form ears soon.  More pictures, videos and blog posts to come.  Thanks for reading! 


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