An Irrigation Business

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My wife and I were recently staying at a hotel in Denver, Colorado, and I got into a conversation about an irrigation business while sitting in a hot tub with a family from Nebraska. The man I was talking to was employed by an irrigation service in a town of 210 people. The company sold and installed the systems that make the big green circles you sometimes see as you fly over farm country. He was in the sales department, and said times are better than ever (this was in December of 2010).

Commodity prices are going up, and there are tax incentives for buying irrigation systems, so even with the arrival of winter he was making sales. Average sale: $80,000 to $100,000 he told me, and he had made three sales in one day the week before. Salary or commission, I asked. Both.

The systems that are coming out now are very high-tech, using computer programs to economize on water. Soil analysis is used to determine how much water is needed, he explained, and then the water is doled out specially for each part of the field--each nozzle is specifically controlled--as the irrigation line circles. One section of a field might get an inch of water wile another gets only a half-inch. These systems can cut water usage dramatically, saving the farmer money. There are water restrictions almost everywhere, so without this control, fewer acres might have to be planted, which hurts profits.

There are many different positions in the industry. You can sell the equipment, be a technician either installing or maintaining the systems, work as an irrigation consultant, work in management, or even be an auditor for agencies that monitor water usage.

How Much Can You Make?

At the low end these seem to still be decent jobs, but there is not a distinct classification in BLS statistics, so it is tough to pinpoint average wages. Job postings online at the moment range from $24,000 to $102,000 at several irrigation companies, but don't have many details about the work or requirements. I suspect the the sales positions have the most potential. The man I talked to got a livable salary he said, plus commissions, and I suspect that the commission on a $100,000 sale is substantial (and he made three sales last week!).

Of course, owning an irrigation business is a way to make even more money. I suspect the the profit margins on those $100,000 sales are pretty good.

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If you can't get into the sales department, start where you can and look for the opportunity to transfer to sales.

Qualifications / Requirements

Although there are not always formal requirements for positions in the industry, most companies want people with experience. In fact, many want to see five years of experience for sales people or technicians. To get that, you'll probably need to start wherever you can in the company, and then work as an assistant to a technician or in the sales department. To be a irrigation consultant, some are looking for ten years of experience designing of irrigation systems.

Education that can help includes courses in horticulture, crop production, soil chemistry or irrigation. If you can intern with an irrigation equipment manufacturer, that will help as well.

If you want to own an irrigation business you'll probably need years of experience working in the field, and the ability to raise a large amount of capital.

First Steps

Use the resources below to get started earning about the industry. Then look for a job. Part of the irrigation industry consists of companies which deal not with agricultural clients, but with golf courses, and personal lawns and landscaping. These jobs start as low as $9 per hour, but they can provide experience which might help you with getting the better positions in time.

Resources

http://www.irrigationjobs.com - Irrigation business employment postings.

http://www.irrigation.org - The Irrigation Association is a membership organization for irrigation companies and professionals in the industry.


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