Sprinkler irrigation has come a long way in the past 50 years, and pivot irrigation has seen tremendous advances in technology that improve production and efficiency. George Fagan, account manager in the Powell, Wyoming, Agri-Industries store, says his job is to provide irrigation supplies for farms and ranches and advise them on sprinkler irrigation.

Thomas heather
Freelance Writer
Heather Smith Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

When irrigating any field, Fagan says you need to look at the soil under a pivot and the crop. Some need more water than others. Alfalfa roots go 6 feet deep or deeper, and other crops have shallow roots. Pivot irrigation is about 85% efficient with water, while flood is only about 30% to 35% efficient because some of it always runs off, creating issues with silt and soil movement.

“There are many ways to sprinkle, however, which can be helpful for some of the specialty crops,” says Fagan. Technology has improved and is still advancing.

Some pivot manufacturing companies now have a platform for monitoring and managing what the pivot does, with the ability to turn it on and off. “We can also put in a weather station and do moisture probes. There is a platform called scheduling, and another with cameras on the pivot, constantly taking pictures of everything as the pivot goes around. If you have a weed or pest problem or planting issue, it shows you exactly where it is.”

A computer program picks up these things from the pictures. “Potatoes may get a certain pest, and the crop can have 30,000 dollars to 40,000 dollars worth of damage very quickly. You need to catch this early. The camera sends a picture to your computer or phone with GPS coordinates and the field it is in, so you can go to the exact spot and spray it and keep that infestation from spreading – and save a lot of money,” he explains.


“The scheduling program is tied into a weather forecasting center and gives a recommendation or prescription for how much water should be applied every day or every other day to keep proper moisture in the soil, at optimum levels for the plants. The impressive thing is that this is all integrated into one app, and you can have different platforms within that app. You don’t need to have them all; you can pick and choose what you want. Growers can customize the platform to their operations.” Every year there is something different a person can utilize; the technology is continually evolving.


Rain bucket collection, along with other probe systems, can help provide a more accurate picture of exactly how much water each portion of the crop is receiving. Photo provided by George Fagan.

“This year, they came out with machine diagnostics on pivots. This can tell you which tower is out of alignment and where the problem is. That company is also working on having tire monitors that alert you if you have a low tire. Voltage monitors let you know if voltage is correct at all the different places on the pivot. Machine diagnostics will be a big deal in the near future.”

There is also an app that provides people with their own program that can be put on a phone or computer. “It’s actually five platforms on one app. Instead of having five different apps on your phone, you only need one,” says Fagan.

The first one is monitoring and control. “It’s more than just turning your pivot on and off. You can set your pivot from your phone. You can tell it how much water you want to apply, change the degree of your end gun settings, etc., from your phone. If you have cell service, the pivot will do what you tell it to.” If you don’t make it home in time to adjust something, you can do it remotely.

“Many farmers have kids playing sports. They might be at a game, or out of town for some reason, and it’s time to start a pivot – and they can do it from wherever they might be,” he says.

The scheduling option is like a forecasting plan. “There are many algorithms and information put into this. We time it with a moisture probe, which is one of the platforms on the app. You can look at your moisture probe to see the available water content in the soil – available to the roots of the plant. Most of the probes used in our part of the country are 36 inches deep. We drill a hole and put the probe in the ground, and there are three sets of sensors on the probe. They measure temperature of the soil, water content of the soil and salinity. Every 4 inches of the probe has a group of these sensors. You can get a reading at every depth down to 34 inches,” he says.

It will take a profile sum – adding these all together to tell you what you have in that 34 inches of soil. You can select how deep you want to measure these. If you are growing grass and the roots are only going down 8 to 10 inches, you can turn the deeper sensors off, and they won’t be part of the equation for the sum of all the pertinent sensors. It will tell your available water content in that first 10 inches. It is very precise.

“The probes are tied in with a weather forecast station for how much rain you’ll get on a certain day. It gives you a prescription for how much water you should provide that day. It doesn’t mean you absolutely have to do that, but the prescription/recommendation is there if you want to use it. It tells you what your crop needs, based on the forecast, and that you should probably provide this much moisture.”


Both monitoring and control of newer pivot technology can help optimize your irrigation systems. Photo provided by George Fagan.

You can also put in a weather station of your own on this platform and tie it into your scheduling. This gives current conditions regarding the weather – wind, rain, etc. You will know exactly how much rain you got, rather than what a prediction says you might have.

“The main thing about monitoring and control is that the customer can personalize this. If you have 20 pivots and some are on different farms or areas of a farm, you can separate those for management. This is a handy tool for the person doing the irrigation. You can look at that screen and determine within a few minutes what the water scheduling will be for that day.

This can optimize productivity of that ground by delivering the ideal amount of water for each crop. With the monitor you can also set up an alert that will send a text to the person managing that field. You can put three or four or more different phone numbers on this if you wish, so everyone involved with the operation can be monitoring that pivot. If it gets stuck in the middle of the night, it will send a text. If you lose your water source and the pivot shuts down because of the low water pressure, it will tell you. If it loses power for an hour, it will tell you that you need to restart that pivot,” says Fagan.

Machine diagnostics is another big improvement and a real game changer. “The AI [artificial intelligence] cameras can spot any problems or changes in the field and send pictures to your phone, identifying which field and GPS point, can enable you to drive to that point and spot spray a weed or pest infestation, if you want to.”

It’s all about productivity. The new technology can save wear and tear on your pivots and optimize the crop and is completely customized. You can choose one application or many and utilize whatever best fits your particular operation.