Central pivot irrigation is a form of overhead sprinkler irrigation consisting of several segments of pipe (usually galvanized steel or aluminum) joined together and supported by trusses, mounted on wheeled towers with sprinklers positioned along its length. The machine moves in a circular pattern and is fed with water from the pivot point at the center of the circle. The outside set of wheels sets the master pace for the rotation (typically once every three days). The inner sets of wheels are mounted at hubs between two segments and use angle sensors to detect when the bend at the joint exceeds a certain threshold, and thus, the wheels should be rotated to keep the segments aligned. Center pivots are typically less than 500 meters (1640 feet) in length (circle radius) with the most common size being the standard 1/4 mile (400 m) machine. To achieve uniform application, center pivots require an even emitter flow rate across the radius of the machine. Since the outer-most spans (or towers) travel farther in a given time frame than the inner most spans nozzle sizes are smallest at the inner spans and increase with distance from the pivot point.

Most center pivot systems now have drops hanging from a u-shaped pipe called a gooseneck attached at the top of the pipe with sprinkler heads that are positioned a few feet (at most) above the crop, thus limiting evaporative losses and wind drift. There are many different nozzle configurations available including static plate, moving plate and part circle. Pressure regulators are typically installed upstream of each nozzle to ensure each is operating at the correct design pressure. Drops can also be used with drag hoses or bubblers that deposit the water directly on the ground between crops. This type of system is known as LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) and is often associated with the construction of small dams along the furrow length (termed furrow diking/dyking). Crops may be planted in straight rows or are sometimes planted in circles to conform to the travel of the center pivot.


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