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6 considerations when irrigating in wind

As the wind whips across the Plains, you want to irrigate your own crops, not the neighbor’s.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

June 27, 2024

3 Min Read
Irrigation equipment in cornfield
WATERING IN WIND: Getting the sprinkler package right on your center pivot is the key to watering under windy conditions, says Josh Mosier, general manager and technical sales director for Komet Irrigation in Fremont, Neb. Farm Progress

The Great Plains and West are known for windy days. Considering the average wind speed and the number of windy days, the list of windiest places in the continental U.S. includes much of the western Corn Belt and irrigation country.

But what irrigator wants to water their neighbor’s crops on a windy day? Although the typical peak of average wind speed in the region is in April, largely before the irrigating period, the average wind speed in many areas in the middle of summer can still range from 8-10 mph.

That doesn’t take into account heavy wind events that come with spring and summer thunderstorms, or just plain windy days.

Producers are focused on conserving water and getting their precious irrigation water to the target location in their own fields. Other than turning the center pivot off during a derecho, what are some practices and considerations to think about that can mitigate the influence of wind on irrigation efficiency?

Get it right

It may boil down to equipment. While there are many factors that go into deciding which type of sprinkler package is best for your situation, wind and climate considerations are near the top of the list. And that impact becomes even greater in more arid climates in the High Plains and West.

Getting water to the target is even more important considering groundwater restrictions and irrigation water allotments established in many regions.

Related:5 tips to prepare for center-pivot installation

“Wind is really a climatic effect that we are paying the most attention to,” says Josh Mosier, general manager and technical sales director for Komet Irrigation based in Fremont, Neb. “If water is not hitting the target area, it is ineffective. Water is lost that the plant could use.”

6 things to think about

Here are some of the major considerations for irrigating in windy regions:

1. Water losses. “In a humid climate, losses could be less than 1%, but in a windy area and arid climate,” Mosier says, “losses of 45% of applied water due to wind drift and evaporation are not uncommon.”  

2. Fine droplets. It’s all a matter of physics. “Fine droplets will evaporate and move easier in the wind, because they don’t have weight to them,” Mosier explains. “Typically, we see heavy droplets in the outside of the sprinkler pattern, and finer droplets inside the wetted pattern.”

The idea in windy regions is to find a sprinkler package that offers the most consistent droplet size over the entire wetted area, he adds.

3. Even pattern. “You reduce the wind potential by getting rid of the finer droplets, and you want droplet distribution that covers as much ground as possible, in as even of a pattern as possible,” Mosier notes. “There is no getting around it. The fine droplets displace the farthest in the wind and carry on wind very easily.”

4. System evaluation. The best way to evaluate your sprinkler package under wind is to observe your sprinkler pattern during windy conditions on bare soil. What does it look like? What is your droplet size and is it inconsistent? Do the droplets have the weight to stay closer to the target area? Is it hard to even see the pattern?

5. Water stream collision. Another factor is droplet collision with water streams coming from the sprinklers. “Wind drift happens due to reduced spacing and stream collision,” Mosier says. “You can vary up and down so streams do not hit themselves. You can use over-the-truss drops to help spread them out and reduce the impact of collision with streams coming off the sprinkler.”  

6. Low trajectory. To reduce the impact of wind, consistent droplet size is optimal, avoiding high pressure and keeping the trajectory of the droplets lower.

How about end guns?

“With end guns on a pivot, you really have to evaluate the day,” Mosier says. “The high profile and distance throw make them very susceptible to wind displacement. Lower pressure will have a heavier droplet that will push through the wind better, but you lose throw, and the heavier stream can damage the crop and cause soil sealing.”

He says that it might be best to leave the gun off when watering in a high-wind situation.

Learn more about droplet size, sprinkler packages and the impact of wind at  

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About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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