Robert Daugherty

Not many companies can say they helped invent an industry, but Valley Irrigation can. Robert Daugherty returned to Nebraska in 1946 from World War II, where he had served as a marine looking for work. He launched his own company that year in Valley, Neb., with $5,000 and named it Valley Manufacturing.

"The company started off building moveable farm elevators and later manufactured equipment for Sears and Roebuck, which included wagon hoists, front-end loaders and more," said Rich Panowicz, director of North American sales, Valley Irrigation.

Around the same time that Daugherty was getting his company up and running, Frank Zybach was creating a prototype center pivot. This machine was a two-tower machine. He filed for a patent in 1949 and it was granted in 1952.

At the same time the patent was granted to Zybach, Daugherty realized he was going to need to diversify his company as the agriculture industry was starting to experience a recession in the early 50s. In 1954, Zybach sold the rights to his center pivot to Daugherty, and the current irrigation business was born.

From all of the equipment manufacturing experience Daugherty had, he realized that the center pivot he'd purchased needed to be reconfigured to make it sturdier, taller and more reliable for in the-field use. So, he took it apart and rebuilt it many times over until he was satisfied with the results. By the 1960s, the re-engineered Valley equipment was being sold throughout the Midwest.

Between 1964 and 1969, Valley Manufacturing became Valmont Industries Inc. to avoid confusion since there were a number of Valley companies across the country. Today, Valley Irrigation is a division of Valmont. Valley Irrigation represents 20 percent to 25 percent of the company's business. Valmont Industries serves two industries: infrastructure and agriculture. Within the infrastructure industry, the company has four divisions: engineered support structures, which includes lighting and traffic poles and structures, and specialty structures. This industry also has a utility poles and structures division and a coatings for metal products division.

In the agriculture industry, Valmont has the irrigation and water management division, the tubing division and the Delta division. Valmont Industries is based in Omaha, Neb., but still has a manufacturing facility in Valley, Neb., plus distribution centers and regional offices all over the world, employing more than 9,000.

One of the biggest advances the company brought to market was in 1991 with the introduction of computerized control panels for center pivots, Panowicz said. This advance allows users to program the machines for advanced water management.

"The advent of GPS and its incorporation into ag equipment has been rapidly adopted by the ag industry," Panowicz said. "We've now adapted GPS to guide corner arm and linear machines and can use GPS to locate the precise position of center pivot and linear irrigation to more effectively manage water application."

In September 2010, the company introduced variable rate irrigation technology, which allows users to vary the water applied to sections of the field by individual sprinklers and zones thus providing true precision irrigation technology.

"Another technology we see becoming more broadly adopted is remote irrigation management with Valley Tracker or BaseStation due to the increase in fuel costs and demand on labor," Panowicz said. "The need for ag to do more with less will continue to drive our business especially as the availability of fresh water continues to compete with industrial and residential needs. Although this will be a challenge for us, we also see it as an opportunity."

Panowicz shared how the company strives to live up to the vision Daugherty had when he originally started the business. "He was very proud of where the company had come since its inception. He created an industry. Unfortunately, he passed away in January 2011. It is up to us to carry on his legacy."