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VIEW FROM THE TOP
VALMONT: TURNING WATER INTO PROFITS
Tom Spears, president of Valmont Irrigation
Editor's Note: Irrigation is becoming increasingly more important to the profitability of production agriculture. Valmont Industries, operating since 1954, is a worldwide leader in mechanical move irrigation systems. To find out more about water management issues and new irrigation technology, Agri Marketing spoke to Tom Spears, president of Valmont Irrigation, a division of Valmont Industries, Valley, Neb.

AM: What new technologies are you introducing into the marketplace this year?

TS:
The biggest news is the introduction of our Cams Pro2 premium control panel, which has completely new hardware and software. The new design provides significant durability advantages on the older generation of products and represents a strong platform upon which we can add new sensing, telemetry and control tools.

In addition, we are adding a new control device, the Pocket Pro, which can support individual center pivot control using an integrated PDA/cell phone or a PDA and spread spectrum radio. This product will save growers time and has a lot of sizzle.

AM: What marketing strategies, including financing, have you used to make buying Valmont irrigation equipment easier?

TS:
Valmont uses finance programs through our two nationwide finance partners: Diversified Financial Services and Lease Express.

Also, the purchase of our equipment can be partially funded through the EQIP program, which is part of the Farm Bill. The exact rules vary by state, but generally, a grower can expect to receive 30 to 75 percent cost share on the initial purchase price. This program proved to be extremely popular in 2002. In the state of Nebraska, for example, there were more than 5,000 applications for EQIP funding of center pivots.

Lastly, Valmont has never lost sight of the fact that growers purchase our equipment because it helps them make money. We have developed calculators to help growers identify their payback on the installation of a center pivot. Our experience is that payback times of three to five years are pretty typical, and in some circumstances, the equipment pays for itself in a single season.

AM: What is your company doing to utilize water resources more efficiently?

TS:
The primary enemies of effective water utilization are evaporation and overapplication. There has been significant work in each area to try to improve water utilization efficiency.

In the early days of center pivots, when impact sprinklers were mounted on the top of the pipeline, we would see application efficiencies in the 70 percent range (gravity irrigation is typically around 40 percent efficient). Drops and new sprinkler technologies have improved efficiencies to 85 to 90 percent. If farmers are willing to plant in circles and use bubblers or drag socks, efficiencies of 95 percent can be achieved. This means that 95 percent of all the water applied reaches the plant in usable form.

Our experience is that many growers using any irrigation system tend to overapply water. Most of this overapplication is caused by a lack of good decision-making tools and easy-to-use controls. We are incorporating devices like moisture sensors and weather stations into our controls scheme and tying them together with pumps and valves, and the pivots control themselves in our Base Station product. This puts the information necessary for the grower to evaluate his crop water needs and the tools to make it happen all in one place.

AM: What are the most critical issues that the irrigation industry will face in the next few years?

TS:
Fresh water is a crucial resource shared by people, industry, natural systems and agriculture. Unfortunately, it is in short supply. Agriculture uses roughly 70 percent of all the fresh water utilized by people and will lose out to other uses of water if the battle becomes one of who can pay the most.

This has major implications for food production, as fully 40 percent of all food is produced on the 18 percent of global land that is irrigated. If we can't find ways to conserve water in agriculture, we will see a gradual tightening of the supply of food and significant increases in prices. Our challenge, as an industry, is to solve this problem while continuing to provide products to growers that bring a solid economic return. AM


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