By Carolyn King
If you leave your pivot exposed all through the winter, you’re going to be working on it a lot longer in the spring,” says Jeff Ewen, an irrigation agrologist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture in Outlook, Sask. To help producers prevent damage from winter’s storms and bone-chilling temperatures, Ewen offers a number of winterizing tips.
“First of all, do a visual inspection before anything else is done,” he says. “The visual inspection includes looking to see that drive lines are attached, the gear boxes aren’t leaking oil, the tires are inflated, and the spans are in line and not damaged from use through the year.” Fix any problems that would restrict moving of the pivot, such as flat tires. Make a note of any other problems and carry out the repairs when you have time over the coming months.
Next, park the pivot in a safe position. On flat fields this means aligning the pivot so it is parallel with the prevailing winter winds in your area, not perpendicular to them, Ewen explains. For example, in the Outlook region, the winter winds tend to blow in from the northwest. “When the wind blows from the northwest, if you park the pivot oriented to the northeast or the southwest, the wind would hit perpendicularly across the pivot and can potentially topple it,” he says.
“For a rolling landscape, avoid parking the pivot in depressional areas that can hold a lot of water. And ideally, point the pivot in a downward slope direction versus an upward slope.”
A shelterbelt can provide some protection to parked equipment, but Ewen recommends taking a few precautions if you want to park your pivot beside a shelterbelt. Avoid parking the pivot in places where the shelterbelt tends to cause large snowdrifts to form. As well, remove any dead branches that might fall from the trees onto the equipment.
“Also, rodents tend to use shelterbelts and tree lines for protection. They can often cause problems in wiring and pipelines if they decide to inhabit the equipment as well,” he says. Be sure to cover any openings where rodents might enter, and cut away any brush near the control panels.
“Once the pivot is parked in its resting position, the main power supply should be disconnected to protect all electrical components and ensure the pivot does not accidentally attempt to move through the winter,” Ewen advises.
The next critical step is to prevent damage to the equipment from freezing. “All pipelines and pumps need to be drained and preferably air blown through them to remove all water from the pivot point to the pump,” Ewen says. “This requires detaching the pipeline from the pivot at the pivot point, where the clamp should be left loose to allow for expansion and contraction through the winter. Ensure the pipe opening is not exposed to allow rodents or debris to enter. Then the same rules apply at the other end of the line, at the pump, where the pipeline should also be removed and the clamps left loose for expansion and contraction through the winter.”
Next, if you have a little more time available, Ewen suggests tackling some of your annual pivot inspection and maintenance work. “A complete inspection of the pivot’s gearbox oil, tire pressures, sprinklers, drive lines and greasing the pivot point are always a good idea after a season of irrigation. If this is not completed in the fall, it will need to be done first thing in the spring before the new season starts,” he says.
Each fall, you’ll also need to get the pumps ready for winter. “The same kind of inspection and maintenance work should also be done on the pumps, including changing the oil. If the pumps are diesel-driven, then drain the fuel. If they are propane or electric, the fuel or electrical supply should be shut off.”
Then you can do a detailed visual inspection of the rest of the system and carry out any maintenance that is needed to ensure your equipment will last its full lifetime and will be ready for next season.
Ewen also recommends disking wheel ruts in either the fall or spring. This will reduce wear and tear on the drive components and make field operations across wheel tracks smoother.
In addition to these general tips, check your user manual or contact your equipment dealer for any system-specific winterizing requirements for your pivot.
To help farmers with pivot maintenance, Ewen has developed a handy booklet called Irrigation Pivot Annual Service, which is available online.
“The booklet has a numbered list of tasks you need to do each year,” Ewen says. “It also includes a diagram of your pivot where you can write down the tire pressures and check off each item so you can be sure to cover everything off. It also provides a reference point for the future. Next year, when you look at that pivot again, if the same tires are leaking or the same gearbox is leaking, then you know you will probably need to do some replacing or fixing.”