Serving the Local Community: Agri-Industries expands irrigation capacity throughout Park County
Agri-Industries now has five stores – Williston, N.D.; Sydney, Miles City and Billings, Mont. and Powell – providing irrigation supplies for farms and ranches.
George Fagan, account manager in the Powell store, says the business was originally started in 1982 in Williston, N.D., when the company was established by brothers Mike and Greg Ames.
The brothers founded the company on the idea of expanding irrigation throughout Montana and the Dakotas. Today, Agri-Industries is still owned by Mike Ames.
According to George, Mike and Greg took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to expand the company by purchasing the Big Valley stores in Billings, Mont. and Powell.
“Here in Powell, it was originally called Big Valley Irrigation. Then, it became MVI for a few years and was later purchased by Agri-Industries,” George says. “This is a very progressive company, and our business has really taken off since they bought it.”
“Mike is a big proponent of having parts on the shelf. If we are selling something, we have to be able to service it,” he continues.
Pivot versus flood irrigation
Although the area has seen a lot of recent growth, George believes there is still room for more pivot irrigation in the Big Horn Basin, since there are many farms and ranches that still don’t have pivots.
“It is amazing to me how much water we can save when we use pivots rather than flood irrigation, but some people worry about ground water levels,” he says.
The belief is sprinklers don’t recharge the ground water as much as flood irrigation does, but there is a place for both.
“There are some places where we simply can’t put pivots. They won’t work,” George explains. “It is also important to look at the soil under a pivot and the crop being grown – some will need more water than others.”
“Regarding pivots, we also look at efficiency. Pivot irrigation is about 85 percent efficient with water, while flood is only about 30 to 35 percent efficient because some of it runs off,” he adds.
There is also the issue of silt and soil movement.
“A few years back, Willwood Dam needed the overflow floodgate repaired, and there was a lot of silt backed up behind the dam. When they opened the floodgate to let water out so they could fix it, a lot of the silt came downstream, almost all the way to Lovell,” he continues.
There are some places that just can’t hold soil when water runs across it, unless there are living roots in the ground and a lot of plant matter and litter on the ground surface. If this ground ever has to be plowed, it will erode when irrigated.
“Normally, when we go to pivot irrigation, we screen the water to keep silt out, but we have it set up now to where we can have a secondary end gun that puts some of the silt back on the field,” George says.
“However, the big factor is eliminating runoff from the field itself so it can’t go back into a stream,” he adds.
“We’ve been fortunate to be a part of the effort, working with local growers. There are some very unique growers is the Big Horn Basin and most of them now understand they can increase production with pivot irrigation,” he continues. “The return on investment actually comes in a fairly short amount of time, depending on the crop.”
George notes Agri-Industries offers more than just pivots at their Powell location. They also have a full electrical department, a master and journeyman electrician and some apprentices.
“We also do wheel lines and what we call ‘solid set’ where we put big guns on a timer. We can do 20 acres and set it up on a timer to switch on and off,” George explains. “There are many ways to sprinkle, which can be helpful for some of the specialty crops.”
“We don’t farm out any projects when we do an irrigation project,” he continues. “We do it all ourselves. We have our own pipeline crew, our own pivot crew and our own service department. Sometimes we will do a contract to have another pivot built, but we prefer to keep it all in house so we have more quality control and can schedule it when needed.”
“Between our five stores and the amount of inventory we have, if we have a pivot go down for any reason or the wind blows it over, we can generally have it fixed within three to four days at most,” he adds.
Improvements in technology
According to George, technology has improved and is still growing in leaps and bounds.
He says, “Valley has a platform where we can monitor and manage the pivot and turn it on and off. We can put in a weather station and do moisture probes. There is a platform called Scheduling as well, and now they have another platform called Insights.”
George explains they are able to put cameras on the pivot itself to take constant pictures as the pivot moves around, and if a producer has a pest problem or a planting issue, they can use the photos to locate and identify it.
“For instance, potatoes may attract a certain pest, and the crop can have $30,000 to $40,000 worth of damage very quickly. Producers need to catch this early. The camera sends the grower a picture to his computer or phone with GPS coordinates and the field it is in so they can go to the exact spot, spray it and keep the infestation from growing,” says George. “This can save them a lot of money.”
“The impressive thing is they have integrated all of this into one app, and producers can use different platforms within the app,” he explains. “They don’t have to use them all. They can pick and choose what they want it to do. Technology-wise, Valley is doing a great job.”
George also notes, this year the company came out with a machine diagnostic program for pivots, which producers can use to check the alignment of their pivot. They are also working on tire monitors that can alert producers of a low tire and voltage monitors, which let producers know of voltage across the pivot.
George says he feels fortunate because northwest Wyoming is a great place to live and Mother Nature supplies plenty of water for irrigation.
“Even though we have all of this technology and farmers and ranchers are moving into sprinklers, I marvel at the early pioneers who made this available so we can do this,” he states.
“In the early 1900s, Buffalo Bill came up with the idea we needed to build a dam, approached different people and they built it,” he continues. “If it wasn’t for this dam, we wouldn’t be here. Irrigation is what made the arid West agriculturally productive.”
For more information on Agri-Industries, visit agriindustries.com.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.