Savannah Valley District

Center Pivot Irrigation System Efficiency

Rebecca H. Davis, Area Water Resources Agent

Center Pivot irrigation systems are the most used irrigation systems for row crop growers in South Carolina. Frank Zybach invented the center pivot in 1948 in Colorado. His design was to replace the use of labor-intensive irrigation pipes with a self-propelled system that rotates around a central tower near the well. Irrigation pipes had become popular with the advent of gas and electric power to pump water from the ground, which was more efficient than surface water from dug canals and furrows. The pumped groundwater reduced water loss through evaporation and runoff. Over the years, the increased efficiency of center pivots is partially due to changes in the sprinklers that apply the water on the field at predetermined spacings along the overhead irrigation pipe.

Evaporation was further reduced by lowering the sprinklers closer to the ground – from being on top of the system to a dropped nozzle, which is a sprinkler at the end of a hose. Many manufacturers have specifically engineered sprinklers for many irrigations needs to improve efficiency depending upon the crop grown, soil type, and available water pressure. No irrigation system is 100% efficient, but a properly installed, well-maintained one can reach 95%! A new Extension program to assist growers in assessing the efficiency of their Center Pivots has been developed and is available by contacting your local Extension Office or online at

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

Center Pivot Irrigation System
Center Pivot Irrigation Systems

Leave a Reply