We manufacture and distribute mechanical irrigation equipment and related service parts under the “Valley” brand name. A Valley irrigation machine usually is powered by electricity and propels itself over a farm field and applies water and chemicals to crops. Water and, in some instances, chemicals are applied through sprinklers attached to a pipeline that is supported by a series of towers, each of which is propelled via a drive train and tires. A standard mechanized irrigation machine (also known as a “center pivot”) rotates in a circle, although we also manufacture and distribute center pivot extensions that can irrigate corners of square and rectangular farm fields as well as conform to irregular field boundaries (referred to as a “corner” machine). Our irrigation machines can also irrigate fields by moving up and down the field as opposed to rotating in a circle (referred to as a “linear” machine). Irrigation machines can be configured to irrigate fields in size from 4 acres to over 500 acres, with a standard size in the U.S. configured for a 160-acre tract of ground. One of the key components of our irrigation machine is the control system. This is the part of the machine that allows the machine to be operated in the manner preferred by the grower, offering control of such factors as on/off timing, individual field sector control, rate and depth of water and chemical application. We also offer growers options to control multiple irrigation machines through centralized computer control or mobile remote control. The irrigation machine used in international markets is substantially the same as the one produced for the North American market.
Other Types of Irrigation
There are other forms of irrigation available to farmers, two of the most prevalent being flood irrigation and drip irrigation. In flood irrigation, water is applied through a pipe or canal at the top of the field and allowed to run down the field by gravity. Drip irrigation involves plastic pipe or tape resting on the surface of the field or buried a few inches below ground level, with water being applied gradually. We estimate that center pivot and linear irrigation comprises 50% of the irrigated acreage in North America. International markets use predominantly flood irrigation, although all forms are used to some extent.
The Company through its majority ownership in AgSense LLC, develops and markets remote monitoring technology for pivot irrigation systems that is sold on a subscription basis under the WagNet product name. WagNet technology allows growers to remotely monitor and operate irrigation equipment and other farm structures such as grain bins. Data management and control is achieved using applications running on either a personal computer-based internet browser or various mobile devices connected to the internet. We also manufacture tubular products for industrial customers primarily in the agriculture industry as well as in the transportation and other industries.
Market drivers in North American and international markets are essentially the same. Since the purchase of an irrigation machine is a capital expenditure, the purchase decision is based on the expected return on investment. The benefits a grower may realize through investment in mechanical irrigation include improved yields through better irrigation, cost savings through reduced labor and lower water and energy usage. The purchase decision is also affected by current and expected net farm income, commodity prices, interest rates, the status of government support programs and water regulations in local areas. In many international markets, the relative strength or weakness of local currencies as compared with the U.S. dollar may affect net farm income, since export markets are generally denominated in U.S. dollars.
The demand for mechanized irrigation comes from the following sources:
- Conversion from flood irrigation
- Replacement of existing mechanized irrigation machines
- Converting land that is not irrigated to mechanized irrigation
One of the key drivers in our Irrigation segment worldwide is that the usable water supply is limited. We estimate that:
- Only 2.5% of total worldwide water supply is freshwater
- Of that 2.5%, only 30% of freshwater is available to humans
- The largest user of that freshwater is agriculture
We believe these factors, along with the trend of a growing worldwide population and improving diets, reflect the need to use water more efficiently while increasing food production to feed this growing population. We believe that mechanized irrigation can improve water application efficiency by 40-90% compared with traditional irrigation methods by applying water uniformly near the root zone and reducing water runoff. Furthermore, reduced water runoff improves water quality in nearby rivers, aquifers and streams, thereby providing environmental benefits in addition to conservation of water.
In North America, there are a number of entities that provide irrigation products and services to agricultural customers. We believe we are the leader of the four main participants in the mechanized irrigation business. Participants compete for sales on the basis of price, product innovation and features, product durability and reliability, quality and service capabilities of the local dealer. Pricing can become very competitive, especially in periods when market demand is low. In international markets, our competitors are a combination of our major U.S. competitors and privately‑owned local companies. Competitive factors are similar to those in North America, although pricing tends to be a more prevalent competitive strategy in international markets. Since competition in international markets is local, we believe local manufacturing capability is important to competing effectively in international markets and we have that capability in key regions.
We market our irrigation machines and service parts through independent dealers. There are approximately 280 dealer locations in North America, with another approximately 210 dealers serving international markets. The dealer determines the grower’s requirements, designs the configuration of the machine, installs the machine (including providing ancillary products that deliver water and electrical power to the machine) and provides after‑sales service. Our dealer network is supported and trained by our technical and sales teams. Our international dealers are supported through our regional headquarters in South America, South Africa, Western Europe, Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates as well as the home office in Valley, Nebraska.
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