Friday, February 3, 2023

The Evolution of Center Pivot Sprinklers

Those who have been in the agricultural industry for any time at all know that different farming practices call for different kinds of irrigation solutions. There is one mechanized system, however, that’s so adaptable it can be configured for dozens of crop, climate, and soil combinations. Read on to learn how center pivot sprinkler technology evolved over the years and why this modular system is the perfect choice for farmers around the world.

A Modest Beginning

The earliest center pivot irrigation systems used the only available sprinklers at the time: high angle brass impact sprinklers from the solid set industry. These parts were retrofitted for the center pivot system, but they retained their high nozzle pressure of 60 to 70 psi. While they could effectively infiltrate the ground, they used far too much energy to be an economical choice for any kind of major growing operation. 

Innovations in the 70s, 80s, and 90s

In an attempt to improve efficiency, innovators eventually lowered the angle of the sprinkler’s trajectory for the center pivot. While the new design helped, the pressure remained fairly high. This became especially problematic in the 70s and 80s, when farmers started monitoring energy usage more closely and efficiency became a priority. 

In the 70s and 80s, innovators also toyed with spray booms, which were aluminum pipes with four or five sprinklers that ran perpendicular from the center pivot. While this configuration provided better infiltration, it demanded considerable maintenance, did not hold up well in the wind, and was not very economical. 

Around this time, Nelson Irrigation entered the scene with a revolutionary spray sprinkler design. Our first pivot sprinkler had a stationary grooved plate (or deflector), which could be adjusted to control droplet size and throw distance. While this spray technology was leaps ahead of the other options at the time, it was most effective as a form of supplemental irrigation. 

By the mid to late 80s, Nelson had developed another revolutionary design founded on Rotator technology. These devices have movable plastic plates with offset grooves. As the stream from the nozzle hits the grooves, it causes the plate to rotate. To maximize irrigation coverage and prevent plates from spinning out of control, Rotators offer resistance in the form of a thick, silicone fluid. Nelson has been using this design on center pivots for more than 40 years, and there’s nothing else on the market that holds up quite as well as the Rotator under tough conditions. The earliest Rotators had an operating pressure range of 20 to 25 psi, but advancements in the early 2000s eventually yielded devices with just 15 psi. 

Spinners and Accelerators were developed as the need for different kinds of irrigation solutions at even lower pressures became apparent. A spinner uses a free-moving spray plate in order to operate down to 10 psi. With the right design, this allows for the smallest, gentlest droplet, which is ideal for germinating crops on unprotected soil. Spinner technology is still relevant in certain markets today.

Accelerators are essentially a hybrid sprinkler, with the reliability and simplicity of the Rotator, but its speed of rotation depends on the pressure and flow rate coming out of the nozzle. Like Rotators, they have good uniformity and can combat the wind. Their one major advantage is their lower pressure (as low as 6 psi), which makes them more economical. In fact, some in the industry simply refer to accelerators as “low pressure Rotators.” 

In 2010, Nelson introduced the Orbitor, which is the premiere off-axis sprinkler to this day. On off-axis, orbiting products, the stream hits the edge of the plate, causing it to rock back and forth. The only product on the market without struts around the plate, the Orbitor is especially effective in wastewater applications. Because its streamlined structure leaves it unencumbered, its natural vibrations can rinse away moss, algae, and debris. 

Center Pivot Sprinklers Today 

There have certainly been manufacturing improvements over the years, but the original technology used in center pivot sprinklers remains the same. The biggest innovations in recent years regard customized plates. With different plates, users can adjust each sprinkler’s precise application for the conditions at hand. As for future innovations, the ultimate goal has always been throwing farther with less pressure. Industry leaders like Nelson are always looking for ways to achieve the greatest radius at the lowest possible pressure without sacrificing wind-fighting ability or creating a droplet so large it damages the soil. 

Ready to Build Your Center Pivot Irrigation System?

Wondering which sprinklers will allow you to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your center pivot irrigation system? Turn to Nelson Irrigation for help finding the perfect solutions for your unique needs. When you’re ready to chat, reach out on our website.

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