Sprinkler Irrigation in the Salinas Valley

The Salinas Valley is known as the salad bowl of the world and covers an area of San Ardo to the Monterey Coast. It is arguably the best growing region in California. Everything from leaf lettuce, head lettuce, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, strawberries, and wine grapes are grown in this area.

Of all the irrigation types available, hand move sprinkler systems are still one of the most popular and prominent. The typical sprinkler pipe system is made up of mainline pipe, lateral pipe, risers, and the sprinkler itself. The mainline and lateral pipe are also known as coil or tubing and is most commonly made from aluminum. You will find older steel pipe and newer PVC versions as well. In the Salinas Valley the mainline size is primarily 6”. The lengths of the mainline are 30’, 33.3’, 40’, and 43.3’. When discussing mainline pipe is it referred to by its diameter and then length. For instance, 6 x 40 would be a 6” diameter pipe 40’ in length. The lateral pipe used in the Salinas Valley is 3” in diameter and 30’ in length. The tubing is sold with plain ends and the connection end is welded on based on the requirement. Hook and latch and drop lock are the major connection end types used. A newer, non-leak version, called RainTite is starting to become more and more popular as well. The PVC version of this system is called Certalok Yelomine pipe and has been used widely in many different areas and starting to make a presence in the valley.

Sprinkler irrigation is used for ground preparation and establishment on strawberries, germination on drip irrigated row-crop vegetables, overhead systems on vineyards, and primary irrigation on row crop vegetables. The mainline is connected to permanent riser valves throughout a ranch that are fed directly from deep wells or reservoirs that are filled with deep wells. The lateral pipes are typically on a move and set system where the pipe is set for one irrigation and then moved and relocated for the next irrigation cycle. Guest beds and solid set systems are also being used. This is where the lateral pipe does not move during the crop cycle. Labor pressures has pushed some growers this route but requires the need for more pipe and a loss of plantable acres.

Traditionally a brass impact sprinkler is used on a 12 – 24” riser that is connected to one end of each lateral pipe. These sprinklers have different nozzle sizes that have set flow rates based on the incoming pressures. A 7/64 or 1/8 nozzle are two of the most common. Brass alternative sprinklers such as the Nelson WindFighter are becoming more of a standard with the lower pressure requirements and adaptability to non-leak systems.

Sprinkler irrigation is a long standing staple in the Salinas Valley. Even with more and more growers transitioning to other forms of irrigation, sprinkler systems will remain a popular choice. The aluminum systems have shown to have a high resale value and are a huge asset to farming operations. As they adapt to automation and new technology, we are excited to see what the future will hold.

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