Check irrigation pumps early to avoid problems later
Irrigation plays an important role in crop production in California, and as temperatures increase, more and more farmers are turning on their pumps. Irrigation expert Bill Green suggests that farmers make sure the pumps work early on so that any problems can be repaired right away.
Mother Nature is a fickle old gal. Sometimes she shows up with plenty of precipitation and other times she arrives with just enough to keep farmers hoping for more. This season, she started out well only to slow down in recent weeks.
The state Department of Water Resources, in its most recent snow survey, indicated that the water content of the snowpack statewide is at 97 percent of average. That, coupled with a court order to curtail water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the Delta smelt, means that some farmers and ranchers in California will likely experience drought-like conditions in the summer months.
"We've had a lack of rainfall and snowfall over the last couple of years, so there's going to be a lack of surface deliveries along with the other issues in the delta and all of those things that go along with that," said Ag Pumping Efficiency Program Education Manager Bill Green of California State University, Fresno's Center for Irrigation Technology. "Because of that, farmers are going to have to probably pump groundwater. Some of those pumps may have been run very little over the last several years because they had surface water deliveries. So the problem is, is that pump in good shape?"
For farmers who turn on irrigation pumps that they haven't used in awhile, surprises could await, which is why diversified farmer Bill Chandler of Fresno County says it is critical to turn on pumps prior to use to ensure that they are working properly.
"You have to check the pumps because you might find that either the wires have been stolen or there is something wrong with the motor…maybe a mouse made a nest in there and it shorts out," said Chandler, who has been irrigating his orchards and vineyards for about two weeks. \n"In addition, we have the motors checked every other year."
As temperatures rise, more farmers will be turning on irrigation pumps to water their crops. Green suggests that farmers make sure the pumps work early on so that any problems can be repaired right away.
"With an engine or the electric pump panel, rodents, insects and things get in there and can cause some electrical problems, so when you go out there and turn on your pump, nothing happens," Green said. "Then you have to wait in line for the pump company to come out and inspect that pump and figure out what is going on. A lot of times that can put growers in a bind if they are hurting to get the water across the fields."
For the past 30 years, Joe Chastain of Chastain Electric in Dixon has been helping farmers get their irrigation pumps ready for the growing season.
"We send letters to our growers early in the season telling them to check the pumps before they get ready to irrigate. We check the pumps for such things as moisture and voltage and if there are any problems, we address them," Chastain said.
Water levels change with groundwater, particularly when farmers are turning on pumps and drawing from the same aquifers. Water levels will go down which means farmers must lift the water farther to the surface, Green said. This affects how much water output the pump puts out.
"Most irrigation systems require a certain flow and pressure to operate properly, particularly pressurized irrigation systems like sprinkler and drip. So if the pump is not putting out the proper flow and pressure, then it affects the uniformity of your irrigation and can make it less efficient," Green said. "It also uses more energy and more water than what would be used if it was running properly."
For farmers to be more efficient with their irrigation efficiency, Green recommends that farmers install flow meters or else have their pumps tested.
Farmers who have not checked their pumps prior to the start of irrigation season may be left scrambling if they discover too late that they have been victims of copper wire theft. This is a crime that leaves many farmers with thousands of dollars in damages and repairs, not to mention dollars lost due to the amount of time spent away from farming to take care of the problem.
"Theft of copper wire from irrigation pumps is in the news almost daily. I farm in the Fowler area and I am concerned that I am going to go out there one day and the wiring is going to be stripped out," Green said. "Farmers need to do an early inspection of their pumps and also make pumps as thft-proof as possible."
Sgt. Walt Reed of the Kern County Sheriff's Department Rural Crime Investigation Unit said that in his county about 10 pumps a week are being hit by copper-wire thieves.
"Pumps are getting hit again and I've got four guys to cover all of Kern County. We can't be everywhere, so a little bit of protection by the farmers goes a long way," Reed said. "One of the farmers has installed an 8-foot fence around his pump and added a device to lock the control panel. He's got $150 worth of material into this locking device, but he hasn't had a theft since and it has been over a year."
At a recent meeting of about 40 Kern County farmers, about half inquired about the Kern farmer's locking device and said they plan to incorporate it on their farms to protect their pumps.
"When those pumps are turned on they are going to need the water right now and if their copper wire is missing, there is going to be a delay in getting it fixed not to mention if we don't know about the theft for two or three weeks, it is going to be hard for us to find out who is responsible," Reed said.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.