When Kris and Ed Brannan flood-irrigated their fields, it often involved 10- to 14-hour days. And by the time they got back to where they started, the ground was already dried up again.
They thought there had to be a better way, so they looked into other irrigation systems. Today, the two are not only owners of three center-pivot systems, but operating as B&B Irrigation Specialists, they are also suppliers of the center-pivot irrigation systems made by T-L Irrigation Company.
Installing their first system near Sunbeam, the couple was impressed by the ability of the unit to climb a hundred feet in elevation while watering from a tap in the Yampa River, 3,000 feet away from the pivot.
"A pivot system uses about one-half of the water used with flood irrigation," Ed said.
The Brannans now have three center-pivot irrigation systems on their land in Maybell. Since becoming dealers for T-L Irrigation Systems in 2000, they have sold nearly 30 of the systems to clients from Toponas to Dixon, Wyo.
The systems themselves have become increasingly high-tech, and require less maintenance.
There are two pumps required on most systems, one for the hydraulics to run the drive system, and one to pump the water to the sprinklers. If a water source is higher than the system, gravity can supply the sprinklers without a water pump.
The hydraulic drive system uses oil that is environmentally friendly.
The first thing the Brannans do for a client interested in a system is create a map of the land to be irrigated. They will look at the number of sections needed, the location of the water source, the cost involved, and the acreage that may not be covered by the system.
One way to cut down on sections needed or to cover corners of the field is to add end guns to the last section of the system.
An end gun can spray water 100 feet past the end of the system and can be set to cover corners missed by the circle of sprinklers. End guns can also cover large areas without being attached to a center-pivot system.
Water pressure can be increased for the guns at the end of a system by adding a booster.
In remote locations, systems can be powered by gas or diesel engines, or even propane, and electric motors are used if a power source is nearby.
The systems require about 6 1/2 to 7 gallons of water a minute per acre, the Brannans said.
"If you live on the Yampa, Elk, or Snake rivers, there should be no problem at all," Kris said. "There's plenty of water to run a pivot irrigation system if you have the water rights."
They said the success of the systems speaks for itself. The Brannans have almost doubled the production in their fields near Sunbeam. They made their first cut of alfalfa by July 1, and as soon as the bales were out of the field, they started the water flowing again.
Ed said he shuts the water off a few days before harvesting, to allow the ground time to dry out.
Often, the Brannans will keep watering one half of the field while harvesting the other half.
Irrigation systems can be fitted with fertilizer injectors that automatically add fertilizer to the water being applied to the field.
Systems can be customized for each field, including automatic turn-arounds, or shut-offs at the end of an irrigation run.
In the sandy soil of Northwest Colorado, systems that used to get stuck in the mud are now being equipped with an Agri-Trac Flotation device that allows the tires to ride on a 430-square inch footprint of steel, preventing ruts in the mud.
Another helpful device is a screen designed to keep grass and leaves from clogging the water supply.
The Riverscreen is a device located at the water source that rotates in a ditch or river, self-cleans by backwashing with a water spray, and can work in as little as four inches of water.
Hydraulics maintain the alignment of the center-pivot system by adjusting the wheel speed of each drive system.
Systems can come equipped with computer controls that monitor speed, direction, and end gun control.
Center-pivot systems can be set to run full circles or a windshield wiper pattern.
The Brannans said most systems are about a quarter-mile in length, but they can be up to a half-mile long. Systems can climb a 15 percent grade, and drop-hoses with sprinklers can be set to any desired height from the ground, the standard being about 4 feet.
The towers that contain the drive systems are 13 feet tall, and the standard system costs about the same as a new pickup, Ed Brannan said.
For locations where a center-pivot won't work, a new linear docking system has been designed by T-L Irrigation. The system automatically travels to the next docking station, and attaches to the water supply. This allows straight-line irrigation, covering a field from corner to corner.
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org.