IT IS 1:00 A.M. in mid-July. The pollinating corn crop is receiving needed water from a center pivot. Suddenly, a tire gets stuck. Either the pivot span comes to a halt and the water pump shuts off, or water flows freely and six hours later the grower discovers a lake in his field and a thirsty crop not ready to face a 98° day without suffering yield-costing stress.

That scenario has been a fact for most every farmer who depends on irrigation to produce a corn, soybean, wheat or other crop. But times are changing for irrigators — and for the better.

New technology in irrigation equipment is helping growers become more efficient in their use of record-high-priced irrigation fuel, labor, chemigation and precious water sources. There are new, less expensive gadgets that enable growers to turn systems on and off from any telephone or the Internet. And more advanced computer-driven devices allow for control of water application rates and other tasks normally done at the pivot site.

Remote control

Irrigators now may have peace of mind that their crops will be watered when they want and how much they want.

“You know when it is running and when it is not running,” says David Peckenpaugh, a corn, soybean, wheat and grain sorghum grower in the northern Texas Panhandle near Perryton. He relies on the Valmont Irrigation Valley Remote Link system to monitor and control all five of his center pivot systems. Their pivot spans range from ¼ to ½ mile in length.

The Remote Link system features a computerized panel attached to the pivot. It is programmed to be controlled by either a conventional telephone, cell phone or farm radio-type system. Priced at about $2,100, Remote Link can be equipped with start and stop control, alarm call out, auxiliary control (for fertilizer pumps, for example) water pressure readout, position readout, direction control, speed control and water on and off.

Peckenpaugh says that with the need to monitor and operate numerous pivots and irrigation wells that feed them, being alerted to a problem is a major asset. “I have driven off from a sprinkler I have just looked at and received a signal of an unforeseen problem after I have driven only a half-mile away,” he says. “I may not have come back to that location for hours or even until the next day. I did not waste the natural gas used to fuel the irrigation engines, the water did not pump in one location for an extended period, and I did not lose valuable watering time for the entire field.”

The Cams Tracker is a similar remote-control system introduced more recently by Valmont. It can be accessed via the Internet, a cell phone or other phone. Considered an entry-level product in Valley's pivot-monitoring program, it is priced at about $1,300 per unit, excluding about a $12 to $13 a month subscription fee.

Tracker offers several safety features similar to those of Remote Link. If, say, a grower is plowing in one field and needs to move a pivot in another field, he can “call” the Tracker system attached to that unit and command it to move the pivot without having to go to the field. Its labor-saving efficiency prevents the need for another person to go start the unit, or for the grower to have to stop one field operation, drive to the other location to start the unit, then drive back to the original location.

Tracker is more portable than Remote Link, says Lance Kemp of Gigot Agra Products, a Valley dealer. It can be moved from one pivot to another that is also wired for it.

M2M Communication helped Valmont develop Tracker. “People are looking at Tracker because it is less expensive to buy,” Kemp says. “Like the Remote Link, it helps prevent wasted time and gets repairs made quicker when they are needed.”

Better traction

Keeping pivots from bogging down has been a constant challenge for irrigators. Advanced drive systems with tracked capabilities and better tire designs are helping growers get out of the rut.

Valmont introduced its new Spider Quad Drive system in September during Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, NE. The system is a product extension of the Spider Dual Drive, which Valmont released in 2004, says product manager Jim Mikula.

The Spider Quad Drive is a 4-wd option for the pivot base beam. The drive articulates to ensure that all four driven wheels maintain full contact with the ground when operating over rough terrain.

“This product provides a solution where other options have not proven acceptable,” Mikula says. “It's the highest flotation and traction option available with tires.”

In two years of field testing on pivots that were originally getting stuck, the system showed a 30 to 50% wheel rut reduction. “In August I was at a farm in Idaho where the Spider Quad Drive is being tested,” Mikula says. “There was over a 50% reduction in track depth and the pivot has never gotten stuck, and that was without the optional tracks being used on the tires.”

The Spider Quad Drive has a heavy-duty base beam, which can be installed on new pivots during erection. The system can be changed out as a conversion option on an existing pivot. Mikula says the Quad Drive can be installed on a single span or multiple spans, wherever the grower finds the most challenging soil conditions.

The Spider Dual Drive system has a list price of about $3,900 per pivot tower. The Quad Drive prices were still under consideration in early September and may be obtained by contacting a Valley dealer. The Quad or Dual Drive systems can be retrofitted to existing Valley pivot systems.

Kemp says many growers depend on taller, thinner tires to solve problems for pivots prone to getting stuck in silt or just plain mud. “Nearly every new pivot system we sell has 11.2- × 38-in. tires,” he says. “That really seems to get the job done [on the clay loam soils in the region].”

Another new Valley pivot system is one that features two sets of spans to provide even more management control over water. It is currently recommended for more high-intensity crops, such as carrots and other vegetables.

For more information, call 800/825-6668, visit www.valmont.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 206.

Precise application

Other irrigation equipment companies also offer advanced technology to expedite the handling of problems. Reinke Manufacturing is using GPS technology to assist producers with their irrigation needs. Reinke says its new Navigator series of GPS controls for end tower control, lateral move machines and center pivots equipped with swing arm corners helps producers acquire increased precision in system location and water application.

For more information, visit www.reinke.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 207.

Zimmatic offers the remote irrigation management FieldSentry system. It works with most pivots and allows growers to monitor and control their irrigation systems through the Internet, a cell phone or PDA.

Dirk Lenie, vice president of marketing for Lindsay, which manufacturers Zimmatic systems, says the new wireless irrigation network features a compact transmitter that links to most pivots, regardless of brand. Message alerts are sent directly to operators via e-mail or text messaging or by voice over the phone.

FieldSentry retails for approximately $350. A service subscription is also required at a cost of approximately $250 per season, per pivot. Visit www.fieldsentry.com for an online demo, visit www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 208.

T-L Irrigation has a new T-L Point control system, which also provides easier control of watering chores. For more information, call 800/330-4264, visit www.tlirr.com/index2.html or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 209.