Key Difference between Lateral Move Irrigation and Centre Pivot Sprinklers, and What to Consider when Buying

Lateral move irrigation systems, similar to center pivots, are a great solution for large fields. While center pivots rotate around a fixed point, laterals move continuously along the field’s length. This self-propelled design covers nearly 98% of the field area uniformly. The Zimmatic 9520PL exemplifies this versatility, operating as both a lateral and pivot, optimizing water use and crop yield for high-value crops.

lateral and pivot
Lateral move irrigation systems cover 98% of a square or rectangular field with a uniform sprinkler pattern, making it a great alternative to a center pivot.

Maximum Coverage on Square or Rectangular Fields

Land prices are high so it is important to maximize production in your field to increase revenue. Lateral move irrigation systems cover 98% of a square or rectangular field with a uniform sprinkler pattern, making it a great alternative to a center pivot.

zimmatic lateral

What to Look for in a Lateral Move Irrigation System

Zimmatic vision for laterals control panel

An Easy-to-use Control Panel to Simplify Irrigation Management

One of the main reasons you’re considering a new lateral move irrigation system is the time it will save your business. To ensure you don’t spend even more time managing your irrigation system, look for systems that simplify the process and are intuitive to use.

More advanced lateral systems will have a control panel that simplifies lateral control with automatic GPS positioning and the ability to work on multiple field layouts. These control panels can often be paired with remote irrigation management systems via an app. Zimmatic is one supplier that has a computer panel that makes irrigation easy and efficient, by controlling field boundaries, monitoring your pivot’s operational status and adjusting pivot movements.


Accurate Guidance and Real-Time Irrigation Adjustments

Premium laterals can come with an advanced GPS guidance option that allows growers to navigate their system along run lengths with extreme accuracy. You can easily set quick virtual stops, and make real-time kinematic (RTK) adjustments to the run path and endpoints. This easy path management and RTK correction allows you to know the machine will always be where it should be.

In order for RTK to work, a stand-alone GPS base station signal tower is installed at or near the lateral run site to provide a fixed point GPS signal for RTK corrected guidance. This base station unit can be installed on the supplied base station tower or, if a larger signal coverage area is desired, it can be installed at a higher point in the area by attaching it to an existing structure nearby. The lateral system is then erected as usual, except that it no longer requires the installation of above or below ground wire guidance cables or the construction of a furrow to guide the cart path. Once the two lateral mounted GPS receivers are installed and programmed via the GPS panel, the system is ready to run.

Precise Water and Fertigation Application

Laterals are ideal for high-value crops that demand high water uniformity and precise control of chemical application, such as X, Y and Z crops. More advanced lateral control panels are able to take the guesswork out of water application rates. For example, the VISION control panel by Zimmatic is able to create up to 20 water zones by pressing just a couple of buttons with its  “EZ Water Wizard” program and can automatically vary the rate of water so it matches the needs of various crop and soil types in a single field.

Uniform application keeps sensitive crops from being over or under-watered. This removes the possibility of the lateral completing a dry run and reducing surface runoff and deep percolation. These automated area plans save on the water, energy and labour required. Chemigation can protect your high-value crops by providing a quick response to unexpected events like insect infestations, disease outbreaks, and weed escapes.

Adaptable to your Field

Most laterals have a modular span design with a number of customizable options which allows them to be factory-tailored to your field. These options typically include water supply options as well as power and cart options.

Two Models to Match your Water Supply

Hose Fed: The most popular system is the hose fed system which supplies the lateral with water through a large hose attached to a pressurized mainline. A standard lateral uses a 2-wheel or 4-wheel cart (depending on field size) with 4”, 6”, and 8” hose and includes towing options for use on adjacent fields for increased coverage area.

Ditch Fed: Ditch fed systems are able to draw water from an existing ditch in the center of the field or at the field’s edge. Ditch-fed laterals are only available as a 4-wheel cart and are less popular and more costly to implement than a hose-fed system. The benefit of ditch-fed laterals is that they do not require a supply hose and electrical changeover.

Power Options

Most laterals include either a cable-powered system or an onboard diesel and generator set. Commercial power is delivered through heavy-duty, mining-type cable, and is available for hose-fed laterals only. The onboard diesel and generator set also includes an onboard pump for ditch-fed systems.

Certified Irrigation Designers to Save You Time and Money

Fields are not always a perfect square or rectangle, so it can be difficult to find an irrigation system that will effectively use all of the land available. Before beginning an installation, it is important to do some research first to save you from lost time and headaches due to avoidable breakdowns.

Due to the complexity of a lateral system, get help from an experienced irrigation designer to advise on potential design or management problems. They will make sure your irrigation system runs without excessive capital or operating costs and is strongly recommended since it will be more cost-effective in the long run.

It is important to consider the following when designing your field:

Field Shape

A square or rectangle field is the perfect shape for lateral systems as laterals can irrigate 98% of the field. Laterals will also need a 22’ head land for the drive cart to travel along. Pivot systems are a great option for more irregular-shaped fields, and some field shapes will benefit from a combination of both pivot and lateral systems.

Field Slope

Laterals are limited to operating on a slope of up to 2-6%. The longer the machine the less slope it can handle. Pivots can handle up to 12-20% maximum incline; this changes based on pipe size and span length.

Crop Type

Both laterals and pivots are great options for all crop types. It is important to note that lower-value crops are potentially better suited for a pivot, as lateral systems require a larger initial, upfront investment. For this reason, laterals are usually best suited for higher-value crops.

System Capacity

The system capacity of a lateral or a pivot is the rate at which water can be supplied to the field, expressed in millimetres (or inches)/day. 

It is important to work with a qualified designer to determine system capacity as the pumps, pipes and sprinkler design are all based on this. If the system capacity is too low or under-designed, the system may not supply enough water to irrigate properly on hot days. High system capacity can lead to high average application rates, especially on larger machines. This can lead to runoff and waterlogging. 

It is important to design with a conservative system capacity so that the crops’ water requirements are met year-round in the most demanding conditions. This can be done by increasing investment on larger pipes, pumps and/or pressure.

Soil Type

Soil type and infiltration rate are important factors for determining an appropriate flow rate and sprinkler selection. The goal is to deliver the right amount of water to the crop, at the right time, without overwatering the soil. Overwatering can lead to pooling and runoff and negatively impacts plant growth.   

Labour Available

Labour is a major consideration – pivots are essentially labour-free from an operating perspective, while laterals require more operator input.

A Pivoting Lateral Irrigation System:
Best of Both Worlds

The combination of a pivot and a lateral into one system gives growers the flexibility to make the most out of whatever their unique landscape provides. Manufacturers such as Zimmatic offer their 9520PL model which can function either as a pivot, as a lateral, or both in combination. It gives growers the flexibility to cover a range of needs without investing in extra equipment. 

Pivoting laterals can reduce
labour costs as much as 70%
Pivoting lateral

This system is ideal for under-utilized land and irregular fields and can reduce labour costs as much as 70% as well as decrease energy costs due to lower pressure application.


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