Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Mark Zirschky: Pioneer Irrigation District Caldwell, Idaho

Years worked in irrigation: 27

Years as manager: 12

Number of employees: 16

Service size in acres: 34,000

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 150,000

Main crops: Alfalfa hay, sugar beets, potatoes, onions, corn, grain, wheat, seed crops

Irrigation methods: Gravity, drip

Irrigation Leader: What is the top issue facing your irrigation district today?

Mark Zirschky: Around 75 percent of the district is being affected by urbanization. We are experiencing a large increase in hours spent to cover our service area, due to delays caused by additional stop signs, traffic signals, an enormous increase in traffic, dust, pedestrians, and even feeding waterfowl. All this has been a real strain on our budget, as overtime has escalated drastically

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?

Mark Zirschky: Either our staff is going to have to grow or we’re going to have to see an increased budget for salaries to compensate for overtime. To put it in perspective, the last year that I rode ditch was 2004. I rode ditch for employees that had left right before the end of the season. The amount of time that it takes to ride ditch has almost doubled between 2004 and now. I was amazed at the amount of time that it takes to cover the everyday duties of a ditch rider after the new development of the past 15 years.

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?

Mark Zirschky: Employees are seeking other employment that allows them more time or better wages. There’s also been a push for better insurance benefits.

Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide your employees?

Mark Zirschky: We provide them with the training and certification for their commercial driver’s license. If it’s applicable to the employee, we provide them training in licensing for their professional applicator’s license. We do safety training monthly, and if there’s any necessary certification for that, we provide it. We’re looking at implementing firearms training, medical training, and CPR training to keep them up to speed. 

Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training for your employees each year?

Mark Zirschky: It varies depending on whether we have new employees or not. Most of the time, the training that we get for medical or safety stuff is free. Training doesn’t represent a great expense, other than a few hundred dollars here and there for licensing when we get new employees.

Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as manager?

Mark Zirschky: There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There isn’t always one right answer. There’s always a way to compromise and reach the end goal.

Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?

Mark Zirschky: Employees find comfort in being heard and feeling that their input matters, which it does. Taking the time to listen to them is important. There’s always something to learn from engaging with them as well. Being a strong speaker and being comfortable in your ability to speak is important. It’s important to have a basic knowledge of water operations. You need to understand how the district operates, have the ability to listen, and have a fairly mellow attitude. 

Mark Zirschky is superintendent of Pioneer Irrigation District in Caldwell, Idaho. He can be contacted at mark@pioneerirrigation.com.