Trends and Technologies in Today’s Center Pivot Irrigation Systems
June 27, 2023
Can you guess which three countries account for half of the globe’s irrigated farmland? If you answered India, China and the United States, you would be correct.1 These countries have the largest populations in the world, and India and the U.S. are continuing to grow.2 The United Nations predicts that the global population will increase by nearly two billion people over the next three decades.3 With more and more people on the planet, our need to grow, irrigate and cultivate food will continue to increase.
Irrigating crops for our growing population
One key innovation that has revolutionized agriculture over the past century is center pivot irrigation. Invented in 1948 by farmer Frank Zybach and patented in 1952, center pivot irrigation systems enable farmers to efficiently irrigate large swaths of land using less labor than other traditional irrigation methods.4 Powered by an electric motor and comprised of segments of pipe with sprinklers which are joined together by trusses, the system moves in a circular pattern using wheeled towers. The water from the “pivot point” at the circle’s center often is pumped from an underground aquifer.5
Center pivot irrigation systems are used predominantly on flat fields and are the reason farmland often looks circular when viewed from the air. A number of different crops around the world are irrigated using these systems, from corn, wheat, potatoes and cotton to coffee, fruits, sugar cane and flowers.6
Increasing demand for center pivot irrigation
The global market for center pivot irrigation was estimated at around $4 billion in 2021, with experts predicting growth to more than $9 billion by 2030.7 In the U.S., there are roughly 150,000 center pivot systems in operation today covering more than 20 million acres of farmland;8 Nebraska is the largest irrigator in the country, and also a top producer of center pivot systems.9
Much of the growth in center pivot irrigation over the next 10 years is projected to come from Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, driven by population growth, increasingly dry and desert-like climates and demand from countries like China, India, Libya, Jordan and Australia.10
The technology behind center pivot irrigation
Center pivot systems have evolved over time, with some systems today including soil moisture sensors or capabilities to operate the technology from your smart phone.11 Several key components are fundamental to the system’s operation, from keeping the self-guided system in the right place (and not running into the road), to controlling the rate and direction of the water output from the end gun and keeping the spans aligned.
That’s where Honeywell comes in—our switch technology has been used by manufacturers of irrigation and agricultural equipment for more than 90 years, and we produce more than 120 million Micro Switch products each year for OEMs around the world. The irrigation industry trusts the accuracy of our technologies that perform reliably in challenging environments, where they are exposed to significant changes in temperature, moisture, humidity and potential contaminants such as dust, dirt and various chemicals. Our array of switch configurations and large portfolio of solutions to meet various OEM needs makes Honeywell unique in the market.
You will find Honeywell switches throughout a center pivot irrigation system. As an example, our:
- HDLS Series heavy-duty limit switches provide system crash detection.
- BZ switches give directional guidance to the system and promote span alignment.
- BZ switches control rotational direction of the system’s end guns.
- Micro Switch toggle switches turn the lights on and off.
- Micro Switch e-stop switches provide system shut off from the panel box.
There are several elements that make Honeywell’s switches for this sector unique, giving them long mechanical life and strong resistance to the elements. For instance, for our BZ switch family of products, it’s the:
- Materials—The materials we use fight the corrosive elements of high humidity and moisture and enable our devices to withstand dust, common farming chemicals and a range of temperatures. Whether it’s our elastomer plunger seal, epoxy sealant, specially formulated phenolic or alloy material for the internal spring mechanism, each material is incorporated in the switch to meet the needs of irrigation equipment.
- Performance—Honeywell BZ switches can power electrical loads up to 15 amperes, a market differentiator that is important to the agricultural industry.
- Reliability and Stability—The molded components within each switch retain their dimensional integrity throughout the switch’s lifespan, giving it stability over time and minimizing the need to adjust once it is installed.
- Customization—Because Honeywell pioneered a unique field-adjustable actuating lever for the switch, customers are able to adjust switch operating position characteristics and tailor the set-point of each switch to accommodate specific requirements of each install.
1, 9, 11 - https://groundwater.org/center-pivots
3 - www.un.org, Our Growing Population
7, 10 - PR Newswire, Global Report on Center Pivot Irrigation Systems Market Size & Share