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Types of spray systems

A wide range of different types of spray irrigation are in use.

Permanent installation.Permanent installation is expensive, since the equipment cost is dedicated to a fixed area and cannot be moved, but gives best control over irrigation management.

Permanent sub-mains and spraylines.It is common to permanently install underground mains and sub-mains to form the reticulation network of a spray irriga­tion system. It is less common to permanently install the sprayline except on high value perennial crops, playing fields, ornamental applications and greenhouses. Such systems are easily automated.

Movable sprinklers on fixed laterals.For turf and ornamental irrigation, it is possible to permanently install laterals, but use special bayonet type fittings to enable individual sprinklers to be moved from one station to another. This makes management simpler, and allows pipes to be permanently pressurised, but enables removal of sprinklers (for example, from playing fields) and better utilisation of sprinklers. (New installations would use "pop-up" sprinklers, which automatically retract into a hurried housing when water pressure is closed off.)

Solid set system.This is a type of above-ground installation used in some an­nual crops where the spraylines and sub-mains are installed, without shifting, for the life of the crop. The equipment is installed after die last operation of ground preparation and sowing, then removed after die last irrigation before harvest. Special couplings and fittings are used, which are more easily assembled and dismantled in die field.

Portable systems.With portable systems, die spraylines or machines are moved between runs or stations. This enables die equipment to be used over a larger area, thereby reducing capital cost per hec­tare, but possibly increasing labour costs. The equipment is selected so that it completes its cycle of runs or stations be­fore irrigation is required again at die start of die cycle.

Hand shift aluminium spraylines.Couplings at me end of each length of pipe enable quick at­tachment or removal so that die sprayline can be shifted manu­ally to each sprayline position. Each coupling has a gasket which prevents leakage when die water is under pressure, and provision for attachment of die sprinkler or riser. Skids or stands are attached to die coupling to ensure die sprinkler is positioned vertically and/or to provide some height for die sprinkler to clear die crop.

Connection to die sub-main is accomplished by a short length of flexible pipe into a hydrant. The hydrant is just a stand-pipe and valve connected to the buried sub-main, with a coupling to suit. The flexible pipe can be long enough to enable two or three sprayline positions to be serviced from die one hydrant.

Hand shift systems incur a significant labour cost in shift­ing pipes, often under adverse paddock conditions. The sys­tems described in the following sections are designed by various means to reduce labour requirements.

Figure 6.1 Hand shift spray irrigation of pasture.

End tow.The sprayline is connected end-to-end by a steel cable, or by a special fixing method at each coupling, and each coupling is mounted on a skid. This enables the whole sprayline to be towed by die tractor. This is suitable only where die shifting can be accomplished in the same direction die sprayline runs, but can be useful in intensive cropping applications (such as vegetables).

Angle tow.This type of equipment is also sometimes referred to as "end tow". Each section of sprayline is supported by a pair of wheels which are able to pivot. The tractor pulls die sprayline from one end, in a 45° direction to die sprayline, to move it "crab­like" halfway toward its next position. It is then pulled from me opposite end to complete die shift. This enables long spraylines to be quickly moved. This method is common in small to medium areas of pasture and lucerne irrigation. The sprayline will buckle if moved when full of water, so cou­plings contain a valve which opens to release water when the water pressure is turned off.

Figure 6.3 Angle tow sprayline on pasture.


Figure 6.4 Typical side roll spray irrigation application.


Side roll.The sprayline is mounted on relatively large wheels, such that die whole sprayline can be moved in a parallel direction to its next position. This movement can be done manually or the equipment can be fitted with an engine or water motor to provide slow continuous movement. Variable speed allows for alteration to the depth of water applied. Powered systems simplify moving the sprayline back to its start position at die completion of an irrigation cycle. Side roll machines can also be towed from the end to move die spray line to a different field, by die temporary use of transport wheels under each large rolling wheel. The diameter of die rolling wheel per­mits irrigation of taller crops, but traction over wet soil needs to be considered. With powered systems, each sprinkler is connected to a weighted connecting pipe, so that it always remains vertical as die sprayline rolls.

Figure 6.5 One type of travelling rigator.


Travelling urigator (soft hose).This term refers to a family of irrigation machines, characterised by a single high pressure giant sprinkler (sometimes called a "rain gun") mounted on a carriage which is towed from one end of a run to the other by means of an anchored cable. A winch is located on the machine, which is turned slowly, by a turbine, piston or bellows type of water motor. As the winch turns, it winds up the cable, but because the cable is anchored at the far end, it has the effect of towing the machine along. Winch speed is adjustable to vary the rate of water application. Water is supplied to the sprinkler through a long flexible hose towed behind, but connected to a hydrant at the centre of the run.

The width of the run is governed by the trajectory of the water from the sprinkler, but can be up to 100 m. Adjacent runs are overlapped by around 30 per cent to give a some­what smaller lane spacing. Length of run is determined by die length of hose that can be towed by the machine, but up to 400 m is possible.

Figure 6.6 Typical spray pattern from a travelling irrigator, showing the substantial wetted width, and a good breakup of the spray accross the width.


At the completion of the run, the sprinkler shuts down, with die cable fully wound up. To move to an adjacent run, die hose is wound onto a reel on die machine, power assisted by die tractor PTO on larger machines. The cable is re-an­chored, die machine towed back to die hydrant, die hose connected, and die machine towed further back to die start position of die run.

These machines have the disadvantage of a high operat­ing pressure, die possibility of structural damage to die sur­face of bare soil caused by impact of large droplets, die need for a special laneway to eliminate damage to tall crops by the dragging hose, and wind losses resulting from the long and high trajectory of die spray.

Hose reel type traveling irrigators (hard hose).In this type, die machine is kept stationary near die hydrant, and die rain gun is towed back toward die machine. This is accomplished by winding up the pipe running to the sprin­kler, rather man towing the machine by a winch and cable. Such machines are characterised by a large reel mounted on a carriage, which is rotated slowly by a water motor to wind in the sprinkler. Polythene pipe is used rather man lay-flat hose, and because of this, the machine is sometimes referred to as a hard-hose travelling irrigator.

Figure 6.7 Top, the reel of one hose reel machine and bottom, the sprinkler. Mote the effect of insufficient water pressure on the distribution of water. A large proportion hits the ground at the end of the trajectory, without droplet breakup into a "curtain" effect.

From a crop point of view there is no difference compared to a conventional travelling irrigator, because the same type of rain gun is used. There are some possible management advantages, however:

• A dedicated laneway for the sprinkler carriage may not be required.

• The machine is easier and quicker to set up as it does not need an anchor cable.

• It is parked near the hydrant. It only needs to be moved from one hydrant to another at die end of each run and die sprinkler pulled to the start position away from the machine.

• Irrigation is accomplished on each side of the machine by simply rotating die reel 180° on its carriage.

Boom-type travelling irrigators.Some of the disadvantages of a conventional travelling irrigator can be reduced by replacing die giant sprinkler with a wide boom fitted with multiple sprinklers of lower operating pressure. This maintains a convenient with of run but reduces operating costs. Finer droplets and a more desirable wetting pattern are created. The boom is mounted on a similar type of carriage, propelled in a similar way. Moving the machine between fields becomes more complex, requiring the boom to be partly rotated to be parallel to the run, and a person holding each end of die boom steady with a rope, during the transport operation.

Some machines are fitted with a rotating boom.

Figure 6.8 Low pressure boom type travelling irrigator

Centre-pivot irrigators.These self-propelled machines are designed for spray irriga­tion of large areas. They consist of a large diameter spray line, supported on substantial towers, radiating from a central pivot point. Water is delivered to the pivot point in a buried main line, or die pivot point can be mounted directly over a bore. Electricity is delivered to die pivot point in underground ca­bles, or is occasionally generated on-site.

Each tower is normally driven by its own electric motor, such that the machine as a whole travels in a circular fashion about die pivot, irrigating as it goes. The irrigated area is therefore circular, which will require adjustment to crop man­agement practices. Travel speed is set at die outermost tower and is adjustable to allow for various application rates. The remaining towers are fitted with position sensors (of which there are various types) mat instruct die towers to keep in a straight line. Should they not keep in line, because of bog­ging or malfunction, die machine is designed to shut down. This with happen also as a result of water supply failure.

The size and construction of die machine results in a sprayline high off die ground. Newer machines are fitted with drop tubes and low pressure rosette type sprayheads, that deliver water quite close to crop height.

Most centre pivot machines are permanently located in die field. However, mobile types are available that enable the same machine to be used on multiple circles. Corner water­ing attachments are available (but not common because of the cost) to allow watering of the corners of a square field to maximise production per field.

Figure 6.9 Pivot end of a centre-pivot irrigator. Electricity and water are delivered to the pivot point, then along the machine. This older style machine has medium pressure sprinklers mounted on the spray line.

Figure 6.10 A tower on a centre pivot irrigator. An electric motor, located in the can between the wheels, drives the tower forward when the position sensors, located at the top of the tower where sections of spray line join, instruct it to move

Figure 6.11 Drop tubes on this machine bring water closer to crop height, minimising wind disturbance, and enabling selection of low pressure nozdes.

Figure 6.12 A corner watering extension is filed to this centre-pivot machine. The last section of the sprayline can swing in and out to follow a non-circular boundary to the field.


Lateral move irrigators.The limitations of circular irrigated areas are overcome by the use of lateral move machines. These resemble centre pivot machines in construction and method of water application, but they move continuously in a straight line to water large rectangular areas. This type of machine can cover the largest area of all spray irrigation methods, with individual spraylines up to 1500 m long, travelling up to 4000 m, although smaller machines have been introduced to provide for more inten­sive production and/or overcome site difficulties.

Figure 6.13 Top, the centre of one lateral move irrigator. An engine driven pump draws water from a supply channel (its fuel tank is mounted on the other tower). The trailing tank contains fertiliser concentrate and an injection pump. Bottom, his view of the (empty) supply channel gives some impression of the area this machine can cover.


With larger machines, the centre span of the spray line carries an engine to drive a pump and an alternator. The alternator supplies electric power to the drive motors for each tower. The pump draws water from a channel, which runs die length of die centre line of die area to be irrigated, and delivers it to die spray line which straddles die channel. Simi­lar methods to centre pivot machines are used to keep die sprayline straight but additional, quite sophisticated, guidance systems are used to keep the whole machine tracking parallel to die channel.

The channel supplying water to the machine must be straight and would normally be constructed with only a slight gradient. This partly conflicts with die ability of die machine to negotiate gently undulations, although some systems have been installed with stepped channels to accommodate steeper slopes.

Lateral move irrigators are available where water can be supplied to die sprayline from a large diameter hose, connected to hydrants along die edge of die irrigated area. Machines as small as one span, with overhanging extensions, are available for more intensive production. These smaller machines can be towed from the end to additional sites, thereby increasing their application to fields of unusual shape and maintaining a low cost per hectare.

As with other spray irrigation machines, lateral move sys­tems can be easily automated and give good control over water application.

Figure 6.14 Top, the drive carriage of a hose-pull lateral move irrigator and bottom, the trailing hoses.

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