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Failed valves and a bad phase converter cause trouble just when crops need water.

Kyle Stackhouse 2

August 21, 2020

3 Min Read
We dug this impromptu root pit to fix a broken irrigation water line.
We dug this impromptu root pit to fix a broken irrigation water line. On the positive side we found great root development on the corn in that field. Kyle Stackhouse

Well, last week I had my blog written out in my head, but then I got out of bed. When I woke up everything changed, as it usually does on a farm.

I had a text message from one of the irrigation pivots saying it had shut down overnight. It wasn’t where I expected it to be, but no big deal. I thought maybe the VFD (pump control system) detected a power surge and it had shut down. That had happened last month. It only takes a single push of a button to acknowledge the error and re-enable operation.

So I continued about my morning routine knowing I would check on that system soon. I went for my daily walk which takes me on the lane behind my house. As I walked past one of the irrigation systems there, I started it up as I have a dozen other times this summer. It usually takes 3 to 5 minutes for the system to fill with water and start moving, so I continued on the walk and planned to make sure everything was okay on the way back past.

When I got to the end of the lane and turned around, I knew something was wrong as the pivot was still dry. Long story short, I discovered that the automatic valve that controls water coming into the pivot had failed, that left nowhere for the pumped water to go. The excessive pressure led to an underground water line blowout.

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No quick fix

Knowing that fix wouldn’t be the quickest (as I would first have to find the bad spot, in full grown crops), I went to tend to the first pivot 10 miles away. It wasn’t what I expected, there were no errors or anything. I started it back up and it ran fine. But about halfway home, I got the dreaded text message: It had shut off again.

After some investigation and three trips to the field, I had temporarily replaced the VFD pump controller cooling fans (like those in a desktop computer tower) with a 9-in. personal fan which I had strategically angled to push air through the controller. It is still operating that way today, until I get replacement fans.

With that pivot running again, I went down the road a quarter mile to the next one. More bad news: It didn’t start either.

That system used a phase converter. (A phase converter is used on some installations where there is only single-phase power available. Most irrigation application require three-phase power. The phase converter creates the third phase.) We knew the phase converter was on its last leg but hoped it would make it through the season as we had planned an upgrade to the three-phase line that was running last year.

When the phase converter went out, it took the well motor with it.

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This morning, a week later, we hope to finally get this one back up and running. We’re glad it hasn’t been terribly hot or the corn would really be suffering.

A bright note

To wrap up this story, later in the day we had located the broken waterline and made repairs. For a bright spot in the day, the impromptu root pit (i.e. the hole we dug to fix the pipe) showed great root development on the corn in that field. We found roots down 42 inches!

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

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