By Ajia Paolillo
Throughout the year, it is a good practice to check your irrigation system for leaks, wear, corrosion and other physical damage that can limit the efficiency of the system.
Proper irrigation provides the tree with the water it needs, especially during periods of drought and during the important stages of flowering, fruit set and enlargement, and leaf expansion. Irrigation reduces water stress in the trees, thereby enabling the tree to be more productive.
Damaged equipment can lead to insufficient irrigation or an excessive use of water, which is not only wasteful but can increase fuel costs. If you are utilizing fertigation or chemigation, then the product you are injecting may potentially be wasted, or the trees will not receive the appropriate rate if your system is not operating properly. When there is not enough water applied, yield reduction and canopy loss may be experienced.
Pumps, pipes, valves and tubing get many hours of use through the year and are subject to normal wear and tear, along with incidental damage that may occur. If you inspect your system routinely, you may be able to catch an issue before it becomes worse.
Some of the first signs of a problem are changes in the usual line pressure, volume and/or flow of the system, excessively dry or wet irrigated areas, or even wilted trees. These changes can be caused by broken pipes, torn poly tubing and damaged or missing emitter heads. Keeping records of irrigation run times and gallons of water used can help alert you to a problem.
Pumps can break down, causing an immediate emergency, especially in drought conditions. Regularly check pumps for signs of damage and perform routine maintenance as needed.
Valves can leak when worn out or not properly fitted or tightened after maintenance. Poly pipe tubing can be damaged by both grove equipment and wildlife. Some animals may chew on the pipe and tubing or physically cause the microjet to be pulled out of the soil from their activity under the trees, including rooting around or digging.
Harvesting operations or grove equipment may also cause emitters to be knocked over. Emitter heads can get broken or lost, causing more water to flow than intended. Plugs used for holes in larger poly tubing can become dislodged and cause significant leaks.
Train employees to be on the lookout for these signs and ensure they have the proper tools and materials needed to address a problem. Keep updated records of maintenance and equipment replacement for easy reference. Every input to the grove costs money, including your irrigation and the various system components needed to run efficiently.
See more on irrigation system maintenance here.
Ajia Paolillo is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension multi-county citrus agent based in Arcadia.
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