25 years ago, Bobby Kempenich had an idea. An idea to launch a business that combined his knowledge of irrigation equipment, a partnership with a local farming operation, and his passion to deliver the best service to farmers. Today, that idea is MVI, a full-service Valley irrigation dealership with five locations across Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
This year, the company celebrates 25 years of partnership and dedication to improving irrigation practices for customers. As part of the company’s ongoing 25-year celebration, Bobby took a look back on MVI’s beginnings, its evolution throughout the years, and what’s on the horizon for the future of irrigation technology.
History of Excellence
After working for an irrigation equipment dealer for several years, Bobby felt it was time for a change. He began discussing the idea of his own irrigation dealership with one of his biggest customers, Ron Offutt, a fourth-generation potato farmer and founder of R.D. Offutt Company. In addition to providing advice and encouragement, Ron agreed to embark on the journey with Bobby as a partner in the business. The two sought out to establish a Valley irrigation dealership in west central Minnesota.
“I was confident that Bobby had the knowledge, drive, and relationships to succeed in his own company,” Ron recalls. “I also felt opening a dealership in the area was a smart business move; there was opportunity to partner with a leading irrigation company to better support customers.” That irrigation company was Valley.
Familiar with Valley equipment from his experience in the industry, Bobby felt it was the best product and company in the industry, and knew it was the business he wanted to partner with. It also seemed like an ideal opportunity as, “Both Ron and I were aware that Wadena County was an open territory for Valley,” he said.
Taking the chance, Bobby called the company, then submitted the paperwork and request to join the Valley dealer network. Less than three weeks later, the response he’d hoped would come did. Starting off in a single, small store, with a team of just four employees, MVI officially opened its doors in January of 1992 as a partnership with R.D. Offutt Company.
MVI’s first expansion came close to home, as the company quickly outgrew its small store in Wadena. The team moved to a newer store, a former John Deere equipment dealership just one block away, to better accommodate the business and customers.
Next came MVI’s first venture outside of Minnesota, into Bismarck, North Dakota in the late 90s. Seeing the opportunity in the area, Bobby acquired an existing Valley dealer in neighboring Mandan and moved the operation to Bismarck.
The company’s next expansion, into Montana, came in 2014, when a Valley dealer approached Bobby, “looking for help with direction and focus for the business,” he said. With their interest piqued, the MVI team looked at the irrigation business in the area and saw great opportunity.
“Everything that was or could be irrigated was being irrigated, but with non-traditional methods like flood or solid-set. Only about 20 percent was center pivot,” Bobby said. That, paired with water conservation being huge and the environmental push showing no signs of slowing, the team moved forward with acquiring the stores and grew MVI’s footprint to the cities of Billings and Great Falls.
Powell, Wyoming soon followed the Montana stores acquisition, and MVI, a company that was once a single store and four employees, had expanded to five stand-alone stores and more than 70 team members.
“We have slowly but effectively evolved and grown our business to meet the changing needs of farmers, and expanded to serve areas that we feel would greatly benefit from what we can offer,” Bobby said.
Around this same time as the Montana and Wyoming expansion, MVI was integrated as a division of RDO Equipment Co., the equipment division of R.D. Offutt Company. This move greatly benefits MVI, providing access to the staff and resources at RDO Equipment Co.’s headquarter office, the Field Support Office, in Fargo, North Dakota.
In addition to the benefits of shared resources, the move to bring MVI under the RDO Equipment Co. umbrella offers the opportunity for closer collaboration. Not only does RDO Equipment Co. have an agriculture equipment division, hallmarked by nearly 50 years of partnership with John Deere, the company also has an irrigation division, RDO Water.
With stores located on the west coast, desert southwest, and in Mexico, RDO Water provides irrigation services, from micro-sprinklers to subsurface drip, to full consulting and design. RDO Water’s business is an ideal complement to MVI’s expertise in pivot irrigation, and the relationship between the two divisions is already resulting in quality exchanges of ideas and knowledge, according to Bobby.
“Becoming part of RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water has been very positive for us,” Bobby said. “They’ve grown, diversified, and gone through acquisitions throughout the years – all that experience brings a new wealth of info to us.”
An Evolving Industry
Just as the MVI team has expanded and evolved its business to keep with modern farming practices and customer needs, so too have the technology opportunities it and Valley offers to farmers.
Bobby recalls, “Back in the early 90s, everything was high-energy, big horsepower, the goal to pump a lot of water,” he said. Then, in the mid-90s, the conservation effort came about, so low-pressure, low-energy, and very precise, precision application was in demand.
In the mid-2000s, MVI reached the point where it had converted everything to keep with the continued push for water conservation. Then, Bobby says, the technology boom caught on, hallmarked in the irrigation industry by Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI), which Bobby explains began as, “Programming into the panel. More water, less water, faster application, slower speeds. And now we’re at the point it’s site-specific, varying application rates on the same field for different soil types, crops, and other factors.”
As the first center pivot manufacturer, Valley has always been a pioneer in the industry and still today continues to lead in key areas like VRI, panels, and GPS solutions.
The Next 25 Years
As Valley continues to advance irrigation solutions, the team at MVI is continuing to see success based on traditional values and the foundation on which the business was built.
“We’re a service-focused company,” Bobby said. “That has always been our number one priority and it will continue to be our focus.”
While he may hold traditional values, Bobby and his team recognized the impact new technology and products have on farmers, and strives to keep with their proactive approach on promoting it and educating customers. From customer events to team members consulting in the field, MVI offers numerous opportunities for customers to learn more about solutions positively impacting their business.
Building on the relationship and new opportunities with RDO Equipment Co., MVI recently began a partnership with the company’s Service Support Center to provide an additional line of help to MVI customers across the company footprint. RDO Equipment Co. established the Service Support Center as a unique above-and-beyond offering, featuring trained team members who are able to offer direct support to customers.
“Our business was built on service and, especially as we’ve grown and expanded, we need our customers to have access to experts who can answer their questions,” Bobby said. “They can call with their questions and a trained expert is ready to help.”
When he looks ahead to the future of irrigation technology, Bobby sees VRI, which is, “Still in its early stages,” becoming more pronounced and widely implemented. He also feels satellite imaging is another area of potential major growth on systems. But he’s also quick not to put too much of a boundary on the possibilities.
“The sky’s the limit,” he says.
The same words that he could have told himself 25 years ago when MVI was an idea waiting to become a reality.