Years working in irrigation: 10
Years as manager: 6
Number of employees: 58
Size of service area in acres: 160,000
Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 1,000,000
Main crops irrigated: Silage corn, potatoes, sugar beets, alfalfa hay, barley, winter and spring wheat, beans
Predominant irrigation methods: Center pivot, sprinkler
Alan Hansten: I would say keeping up with ever-changing federal and state laws. The irrigation business interfaces with so many agencies associated with the environment, transportation, and employment that it is a real challenge to stay compliant with all the relevant rules.
Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?
Alan Hansten: Many of our concrete structures date back to the original construction of our system in the early 1900s, and some have degraded to the point that they need to be replaced. In addition, the Eastern Snake Plain aquifer in southern Idaho, which interfaces with the Snake River, has been declining for the past 60 years. The state and water users have been working together to decrease demand and develop recharge projects to reverse the downward trend. We have a real interest in improving the aquifer to help sustain spring flows on the river that contribute to the company’s water supply. The company also wheels rented surface water to lands that have historically been irrigated with well water and works with the state and others by using the existing canal system to recharge the aquifer.
Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?
Alan Hansten: The current unemployment rate in southern Idaho is 3 percent. We are seeing growth in the food-processing sector and in other commercial businesses in the area. All this makes it challenging to find employees with agricultural skills and a desire to work in the irrigation business.
Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide to your employees?
Alan Hansten: We provide commercial driver's license training to employees so that they can operate 10-wheel dump trucks and heavy equipment haulers. We also provide training for pesticide application, job safety, explosives, heavy equipment operation, high-density polyethylene pipe fusing, Bureau of Reclamation canal operation, and ditch riding.
Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training for your employees each year?
Alan Hansten: $6,500.
Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as manager?
Alan Hansten: I thought when I became general manager that my business and engineering background would greatly help me in handling many of the issues that were to come my way. I soon found out that I would need all that and much more. The irrigation business interfaces with so many public and private entities that there seems to be no end to the issues that come up. Every day, a new challenge presents itself that forces me to shut up, read, listen, think, and learn to make wise decisions. It’s impossible to ever know it all.
Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?
Alan Hansten: A background in day-to-day business operations; a general understanding of civil engineering principles related to earthwork, hydraulics, and construction; a general understanding of legal matters related to the irrigation business; and people-empowerment skills. I can say from personal experience that it is important to recognize when to be a teacher and when to be a student; when to be a leader and when to be a follower. Managers have to be able to listen; make educated decisions while recognizing risks; negotiate effectively with people; maintain a positive attitude; and, above all, remain as calm as possible.