The past month has been one of transition for a longtime leader in irrigation service and supply in Union County.
Precision Rain in Island City, owned by Pendleton Grain Growers for more than two decades, has been purchased by Cortney Forsberg and Kurt Romans of Vale and renamed Romans’ Precision Irrigation. The purchase took effect April 27.
Pendleton Grain Growers, a farmers’ co-op created in 1929, has not been doing well financially and its members voted in 2016 to begin dissolving the company.
Although PGG has struggled in recent years, sales at its Island City store have remained strong, said general manager Robb Rea.
“We have been doing very well,” Rea said.
Since 2014, PGG has exclusively been an irrigation services and supply firm, but before that it also carried items related to animal health and safety, including vaccines, feed and gates, Rea said. The store was named Pendleton Grain Growers through 2014 when it was renamed Precision Rain.
The Island City store’s new owners have a deep knowledge of agricultural irrigation. They have owned an irrigation and supply business in Vale for 11 years. Forsberg said he is very excited about expanding to the Grande Ronde Valley.
“The valley has a very strong agricultural base. There is a lot of potential to grow,” he said.
When PGG put its Island City store up for sale last fall, Forsberg and Romans soon expressed an interest in purchasing, starting a long series of negotiations.
The completion of the sale took place just as the company was entering what is traditionally its busiest season, the portion of spring when Eastern Oregon farmers begin irrigating their crops. Although farmers started irrigating a little later this year because of last winter’s heavy snowfall, almost everyone was doing so by late April and early May. The Island City business has been going at a breakneck pace since then.
“We have been running at 100 miles per hour,” Rea said.
He said area farmers normally begin irrigating their crops over a period of several weeks but this spring “it seemed like everyone wanted to turn on their systems the same day.”
Another reason for the accelerated pace at Romans’ Precision Irrigation is that the hard winter took a heavy toll on irrigation equipment. Rea said equipment was buried under heavy snow and ice for several months, causing extensive damage that, in many cases, was not apparent until farmers turned on their irrigation equipment for the first time.
“Water would be spurting out all over the place,” Rea said.
Alongside helping farmers deal with damaged equipment, the staff at Romans’ Precision Irrigation has also been busy assisting many in installing and operating computerized irrigation systems. Rea said that about half of the farmers in Union County are now operating irrigation systems online or with radio technology.
Farmers whose irrigation systems are online can use a smartphone application to switch any part of their central pivot irrigation systems on or off, adjust the water application rate and monitor it.
“They will send a text message to notify you if a pump has shut down,” Rea said.
The efficiency of farmers is also being boosted on the technology front by moisture sensors. The sensors are placed about 4 feet in the ground and provide a profile of soil moisture. This lets farmers know exactly when they should irrigate and how much water needs to be applied, Rea said.
Sensors are also preventing farmers from wasting fertilizer. Rea explained that moisture sensors let farmers know when the ground is too wet to apply fertilizer. If fertilizer is applied when the soil is too wet, it will sink past the root level and not benefit the plants.
Rea said the former Precision Irrigation is in a better position to help farmers become computerized now that it is under new ownership. He explained that the business can focus more of its energy and resources on helping local farmers without the distractions caused by PGG’s financial problems.