Business Rural Spring 2021

12 | One-man business Hugh de Lacy IRRIGATION » Plains Irrigators A s early as the mid-1990s entrepreneurial businessman Graeme Cooper could see the writing on the wall for inefficient border-dyke and roll-out irrigation, and he was in the vanguard of the rise of the centre-pivot. From a farming and engineering background, Graeme grabbed the opportunity in 1995 to enter a partnership with a former New Zealander become Australian dealer, Steve Hall of Hall Irrigation in Queensland, who was importing the Lindsay Zim- matic centre-pivot Irrigation system from the United States. With Hall’s help, Graeme established a New Zealand dealership for the Zimmatic range while he was still farming near Orari in South Canterbury, and turned it into a one-man business called Plains Irrigators Ltd. The application of the centre-pivot to the vast plains of the eastern South Island was a no-brainer, and his early canvassing of the system among local farmers drew immediate patronage. At that time the capital cost of traditional flood and spray irrigation systems was as high as 100% of the dry-land value, meaning banks were reluctant to invest despite the promise of irrigation doubling production. The centre-pivots could be installed and operated at a fraction of that cost, and Graeme could see the day coming when electronic technology would monitor and control the water applied to a given piece of land by the individual spray units. Where financing traditional systems brought a glaze to the bank manager’s eyes, Graeme was able to put the average 8-10-span Zimmatic centre-pivot in place for around $150,000. Graeme started out doing everything himself, from designing, selling and installing, to trouble- shooting and modifying, and had to quit his job to work full-time for Plains Irrigation. The first centre-pivot system he set up was at Pendarvis, south-east of Ashburton, but demand for the system quickly spread throughout the South Island, and Graeme initially coped by employing casual labour. That practice rapidly become unwieldy, and Graeme also found himself being slowly drowned in administration. He was rescued from that situation by friend Liz Stephens who had a bookkeeping background, and in 1999 she became a joint shareholder in Plains Ir- rigation, having implemented systems and protocols that made sure the invoices were going out and payments coming in, so that by the turn of the mil- lennium the company had nine staff. Growth didn’t stop there, and today Plains Irriga- tion employs 34 staff working out of three South Island bases, Ashburton – the head office – Timaru and Cromwell, and a sales/designer based in Kurow. “The Zimmatic system is manufactured in the little town of Lindsay, Nebraska, by Lindsay International which is also involved in infrastructure and road construction,” Graeme says, adding that Plains Irrigation is Zimmatic’s New Zealand client of longest standing. “Increasing sophistication has been the theme of developments especially over the last few years, and now the technical side of the client’s needs is the foremost consideration. “Today we have indi- vidual sprinkler control and variable rate irrigation, ensuring the system applies the correct amount of water precisely where it needs to go,” he says. “There’s a GPS receiver on the end of the pivot that knows where it is in relation to a fixed mark, and the software controls nozzle sizes, the amount of water to be applied, and the speed of the pivot.” Remote pivot control is effected through the Field Net paddock management system which is not an after-market product but is produced under the Zimmatic umbrella. A key to the optimum distribution of irrigation water is the soil testing that precedes it, and in this regard Plains Irrigation has a longstanding working arrangement with Methven-based Vantage NZ Ltd. Together they’ve put together some of the biggest centre-pivots in the country, including a 28-span whopper near Twizel. Plains Irrigation is still working flat out to meet demand, with three-or-four-man teams working out of Oamaru, Greenstreet, Five Forks and Ashburton, and more starting up in Southland. Variable rate irrigation and individual sprinkler control enure the system applies correct amount of water precisely where it needs to go. IRRIGATEWITH CONFIDENCE. · IRRIGATION SYSTEMS · REMOTE MANAGEMENT · PRECISION VRI BY LINDSAY ™ • 9.1m curtainsider • Tail lift • Dangerous goods • Ashburton owned and operated Nigiel & Susan Harvey Phone Nigiel 0274 856 759 After hours 03 308 1192 Email Your freight connection between Ashburton and Christchurch! Phone Nigiel 0274 856 759 today for your today for your freight order