Years working in irrigation: 9
Years as manager: 9
Number of employees: 20
Size of service area in acres: 68,381
Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 85,000
Main crops irrigated: Corn, soybeans
Predominant irrigation methods: Gravity, center pivot
Matt Lukasiewicz: The biggest challenge today is keeping up with automation and the constant changes in technology. Some farmers use advanced technology and some don’t, so we also need to find a happy medium at which we’re continually advancing but, at the same time, not making it too difficult for some farmers.
Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?
Matt Lukasiewicz: While 2019 was one of those really wet years in which we had to battle flooding, we are still focused on preparing for the next drought year. We are always looking at what could potentially harm us as a district, and drought is one of the top issues. We are looking at ways to conserve water and be more efficient in our operations.
Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?
Matt Lukasiewicz: One of the top issues is finding people with some background experience in irrigation. I also continually find that work ethic can be a challenge. I don’t know if it has anything to do with a generational change. It sometimes seems that millennials are more tech savvy than shovel ready. We need good, honest workers who are willing to work the long hours and 7-day weeks that irrigation districts demand.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of training do you currently provide your employees?
Matt Lukasiewicz: As a manager, I’m not in the field as much as others, so I find employees who I feel are trustworthy and dependable and have proven that they know what they’re doing, and then delegate the training process to them. If it’s something in the office, I do the training myself. When it comes to equipment and spraying applications, I’ve brought in manufacturer personnel from companies like John Deere or Caterpillar.
Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training for your employees each year?
Matt Lukasiewicz: It depends. We try to give them the basics and then let them go out and figure stuff out on their own. For example, I’ve found that no two ditch riders run water the same way. That means that you can’t necessarily train them to do exactly what you want. You have to let them figure some stuff out on their own and figure out what works for them and then guide them along the way.
Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as manager?
Matt Lukasiewicz: Managing employees is definitely the toughest part of the job. You’re dealing with a lot of personalities and a lot of different families. We’re family oriented, and a main focus of our board of directors is taking care of our employees. The other thing I’ve learned is not to take the stresses of management home, so that I can live to fight another day.
Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?
Matt Lukasiewicz: Communication is the most important thing. When a chain of command includes a general manager, a project manager, and a foreman, employees sometimes start getting conflicting orders from three different people.
Just as no two ditch riders run water the same way, no two managers manage the same way. I think you have to find your own groove, depending on your irrigation district, the personalities of your employees, and the issues within your district.
Matt Lukasiewicz is general manager of the Loup Basin Reclamation District, the Farwell Irrigation District, and the Sargent Irrigation District. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (308) 336-3341.