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June 6, 2016

IRRIGATION EFFICIENCY Plastic Pipe Offers Many Advantages For Row Crops

In the past couple of years, the use of Certa-Set plastic piping has increased tremendously as more and more growers take advantage of this technology which allows for many positives including tremendous labor savings.

Craig Stafford, regional manager for Nelson Irrigation, which is headquartered in Walla Walla, WA, said these are relative boom times for the irrigation equipment and one activity leading the charge is the replacement of aluminum irrigation pipe with Certa-Set plastic pipe. Certa-Set is manufactured by North American Specialty Products in Lodi, CA, and distributed by different dealers. Nelson Irrigation makes several different products that are intricate to the installation of a Certa-Set system; hence the interest in the popularity of that item by the firm.

“I’d say 40-50 percent of our new installations are using Certa-Set,” he said. “Ten years ago, it was only 5 percent.”

Stafford said it is truly the newest innovation and technology for growers using a sprinkler system with pipe in the field. For many, many years aluminum pipe was the product of choice, but the Nelson Irrigation representative said Certa-Set offers many advantages and no disadvantages, including pricing. “Many growers are switching to Certa-Set or using it when expanding. Maybe they are putting in another 160 or 320 acres and they will use a Certa-Set system rather than aluminum pipes.”

He likened using aluminum on a new installation to asking for a 1993 Chevy pick-up when going to a car dealer to purchase a new truck. “The new pick-ups have GPS, Bluetooth, air bags and many other new technologies. You wouldn’t go in there asking if you have any 1993 models hanging around. That would be using yesterday’s technology.”

In field day after field day, Nelson said the Certa-Set pipes have impressed growers and shown that they work without a hitch, and again, no disadvantages. While many are switching over, Nelson said tradition is probably the main factor causing some growers to continue to use aluminum. “It’s the way they have always done it,” said Stafford noting that it is the same mentality that has some farmers rejecting plastic sprinklers over the traditional brass ones. Plastic is cheaper and has been shown to be equally if not more suited for the job, but many growers insist on brass, nonetheless.

For the uninformed, Certa-Set is a plastic pipe noted by its yellow color. It is plastic which makes it very flexible and easily manageable in the field. Nelson said the best advantage “is that you can farm under it. You do not have to remove it when working the field.”

Field days have shown that a tractor can move through the field cultivating, planting or whatever operation is necessary without removing the Certa-Set pipes. Instead the tractor basically drives under the pipe as its flexibility allows it to be lifted over the tractor as the tractor is moving down the row. Nelson said this creates a tremendous labor savings. A tractor driver and one other worker can manipulate a field instead of having to have the entire aluminum piping system removed before work can be done, and then re-laid in the field.

The Certa-Set system also results in water savings as it is a closed system. Stafford explained that each time an aluminum pipe system is utilized and turned off, it must completely drain, creating tail water and the need for a reservoir to catch that water. Certa-Set with its valves about every 80 feet does not produce tail water.

Another advantage, according to Nelson, is that it costs no more than aluminum pipe initially and it can last much longer. He says aluminum pipe was adapted for agricultural use decades ago when farming practices were much different. In those days, only water traveled through the pipes. Today, the pipes are used for chemigation, which can corrode the aluminum pipes as well as the couplings and other valves used with the system. A Certa-Set system does not corrode and will last much longer, according to this irrigation equipment expert.

Though, he calls it a “new technology”, Nelson said plastic piping has been around for a long time and its advantages are well known.

Some crops and growers use drip irrigation for various reasons, but Stafford said many still use sprinklers, which he said is every bit as efficient as drip depending upon the crop and the situation. He admitted that it is sometimes frustrating reading the consumer media singing the praises of drip over sprinkler irrigation when he knows they can be equally efficient and it is the circumstances that determines which is the best to use, not the water savings, because there is none. “If the plant needs 30 inches of water, it doesn’t care how it is delivered,” he quipped.

With regard to the Certa-Set installations, Stafford ticked off more than a handful of growing areas, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, that seem to be leading the switch. He agreed that growers are a cautious group and many want to see it work on their neighbor’s ranch before jumping in themselves. For whatever reason, he said there are fewer Certa-Set installations in the Salinas Valley relative to total acreage than there are in other California production areas. Stafford said there is no inherent reason for this. Certa-Set just appears to have caught on a bit more quickly in the Central Valley. But he added: “We are beyond the early adopter stage. There are many big players that have put in big Certa-Set systems.”

Stafford is convinced that it is only a matter of time before many more will make the switch…simply because it makes economic sense.