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Center Pivot Irrigation


The story of a modern farmer who revolutionized irrigation.

What are those big mysterious circles you see on the ground from an airplane? Some people call them crop circles – big perfect circles of vegetation visible from airplanes. They didn’t exist until the late 1940s, about the time the UFO craze began.

So what are they? The product of aliens? Think again. They’re “center pivot irrigation,” invented by a man named Frank Zybach.

In 1947, Zybach attended an irrigation demonstration on a neighbor’s farm in Colorado. He watched as workers moved pipes fitted with sprinkler heads from one section of a field to another… turning sprinklers on and off as they slogging through mud.

Zybach thought there had to be a better way. The son of a blacksmith, he was a reluctant farmer and an inventor. What he came up with is something called “center pivot irrigation” – an irrigation system of pipes and towers that travels in a circle – on wheels — pivoting from a central wellhead supplying water.

Center pivot irrigation requires no manual labor or electricity. Its movement is powered by the water pressure. And it required LESS water than other irrigation methods.

Zybach patented the “Zybach Self-Propelled Sprinkling Apparatus” in 1952, and began licensing it to farmers. Scientific American called it “the greatest mechanical innovation in agriculture since the tractor.”

Zybach died in 1980, but his legacy lives on in green crop circles throughout the world. In the U.S. alone, more than 12 million acres are irrigated by center pivot technology.

Frank Zybach exemplifies one of our Business Axioms for EntrepreneursSolve a problem within your profession.

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