May 27, 2013

Irrigation Error!

From the Fields - Farm News, May 27, 2013


The thing with farming is that there is always something new to learn. This is a reality that I have slowly, but surely come to grips with. The other thing about farming is that you have no idea what you are going to learn or when you will learn it. This is the reality that I am still struggling to be prepared for. The volume of different machines, systems, processes and people – coupled with unknowns of weather, insects and market conditions creates an infinite number of situations for farmers of fresh fruits and vegetables. I happened to find myself in one of these situations last week.


We have a field in which we are growing peppers and eggplants. The field is located off of the main highway and has a fresh set of transplants in it. The little plants are being irrigated with two lines of drip tape that were injected into the beds, about three inches under the top of the soil surface by a drip tape injector that is pulled behind a tractor. Upon completion of the irrigation system and pre-irrigation for the coming crops, I heard the irrigators commenting on how many holes there were in the drip tape. I reviewed the pressure settings of the regulators (12 psi) which were correct and in the normal operating range of the drip tape. We speculated that cultivating the weeds that were germinated in the pre-irrigation process caused sticks and rocks to break the drip hoses. This didn’t sound right to me, but that was the current theory from the irrigators and tractor drivers.


At the end of the day, I drive by the field with my family in the truck. The sun is setting in the distance, and I come around the corner, giving me visibility to the pepper planting. Glistening in the sun are lots of rays of water that were shooting up in the air from holes in the drip tape. I about had a heart attack. I had no idea the issue was this bad – essentially the drip system was a sprinkler system in some areas.

Upon closer examination of the holes, I was surprised to see that they were systematically in the same spot of the hose, 20 degrees off of the top – not random enough to be rocks punching holes in the tape. I drove over to look at the machine that installed the drip tape. Sure enough, there was a metal bur that had been worked into the machine where the tape ran over it which was punching holes in my tape. Now, we always check the machine for burs before installing drip tape. Add that to the list of lessons learned.