For 40 years, Ray Mayne has sold irrigation systems in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. Since 2000, he has been a dealer for Reinke, one of the largest U.S. center-pivot manufacturers. In this interview, Mr. Mayne talks about the development and growth of irrigation in New Zealand, the shift from boom-type to center-pivot systems, and other changes in the region’s approach to irrigation.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Ray Mayne: I’ve been in the irrigation business in New Zealand since 1981. I had an opportunity to be involved in sales for a local brand of irrigators in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. I kept that up through until 1991, when my wife and I formed our existing business, called Ray Mayne Hose and Fittings Limited. We’re based in Ashburton, which is just south of Christchurch on the South Island. Canterbury is a rural area, and there has been a huge push toward dairying in the last 10–15 years. We’ve got magnificent soil types, great irrigation water supplies, and good growing conditions.
Center-pivot irrigation was introduced in New Zealand around the 1970s, but it didn’t really take off until the 1990s. In the 1970s, pivot irrigation was quite new in most of the country. There was a lot of what we call hand-shift aluminum pipe irrigation systems, which were shifted manually. Later, to reduce the labor demand on farms, there was a move to side-roll-type irrigation systems, which are still available in the United States. These side-roll systems reduced labor needs significantly, but the farmers still had to move them three times per day to ensure that a reasonable area was covered.
In the 1970s, an Australian-designed rotary boom irrigator was introduced into the New Zealand market. Once again, the labor rate was reduced significantly. These systems, known as roto rainer irrigators, were drag-hose systems: 660 feet of 5‑inch irrigation drag hose was dragged behind the irrigator from a centrally positioned irrigation hydrant in the field, allowing 10 acres to be irrigated per shift—a huge improvement from the aluminum piped systems. These traveling-boom irrigators became the main irrigation system in New Zealand for broadacre irrigation for many years. As the boom rotated, it operated a ratchet-type system, which literally winched the irrigator along the field.
When my wife Noeleen and I formed our irrigation business in 1991, one of the first products we sold was an irrigation drag hose that was used for the drag-hose irrigation systems. This hose was manufactured by a U.S. company, Snap-tite, based in Erie, Pennsylvania. Since then, the parent company of Snap-tite has changed a number of times, yet the Snap-tite brand has remained one of the leading brands of irrigation drag hose used in the irrigation market throughout the world. This year marks 30 years of our supplying the Snap-tite irrigation hose to the New Zealand irrigation farmer. Snap-tite is now used on all types of drag-hose irrigators in New Zealand, including irrigation guns, booms, and lateral-type irrigators.
In 2000, Ray Mayne Hose and Fittings became a dealer for Reinke Manufacturing, based in Deshler, Nebraska. There was something about the Reinke brand that was different, and it looked good compared to other brands I was aware of. I liked their system and liked how the machines were put together. Since we became a Reinke dealer, over 700 Reinke irrigation systems have been sold in New Zealand.
Irrigation Leader: How do the boom-type irrigation systems you referred to differ from center-pivot systems?
Ray Mayne: Boom-type systems are completely different from center-pivot systems. Many boom irrigators travel by being winched up the paddock by a wire rope. In many situations, they’re either turbine driven or have what is called a rotary boom mechanism, which is a ratchet system that literally winches the irrigator from one end of the field to the other. The water is fed to these systems via a lay-flat hose that drags along the paddock to the end of the run. Boom irrigators were designed in Australia and quickly had great success here in New Zealand, starting in the 1970s. The wetted width of the machines, or the length of the boom, can be up to 100 meters (330 feet). A lot of their run lengths can be up to 600 meters (2,000 feet). The machine has to be physically shifted from one irrigation cycle to the next run, working up and down the paddocks each day.
Center pivots and linear irrigators, on the other hand, can be run by electric power, which takes much less time. We normally do one irrigation run every 23 hours, leaving 1 extra hour for the farmer to shift the irrigator to the next run and get it going again. Center pivots are a lot less labor intensive because they can be remotely controlled by cell phone apps and so on. This labor reduction for large-scale farms is significant, because 20–40 years ago, a farmer may have had seven or eight of these irrigation systems. Working on the assumption that it takes 1 hour to shift each machine, it would take a labor unit—meaning a whole day’s work—simply to shift irrigators around.
Irrigation Leader: Tell us more about your current business.
Ray Mayne: Our business is family owned. Currently, there are 31 employees. We design, supply, and install all our irrigation systems. We do the complete job: We install pumps, irrigators, and underground pipeline. We have our own spanning crews. I believe that any supplier of irrigation equipment should do all the work from design right through to signing off the commissioning report. Most of our sales happen by word of mouth: The farmer gets in touch with us, and we prepare irrigation plans to suit their particular property. We liaise with the farmer to find out exactly what type of farming they are doing and what they’d like to be doing. Whether we are working with an arable farmer, a dairy farmer, or a mixed arable farmer, we make sure we have the best system for them and their property. We then order the machines from Reinke. Upon their arrival in Ashburton, we unload the containers, check to ensure the inventory is correct, load the systems onto our truck, and deliver them to farm. We first build and assemble the machines, then have our own pivot techs check them, and finally commission each system. Our commissioning process is targeted to ensure that all systems built are built as specified, all componentry has been assembled correctly, and all sprinklers and other devices are installed as per specification.
We have six pivot techs who help ensure that all the systems we provide are maintained during our busy irrigation season. The average irrigation season in New Zealand runs from September (our early springtime) through March or April. An average season can last in excess of 3,000 hours. Our irrigation products get a lot of use, so it’s critical that we maintain them as best we possibly can. During our winter months, our tech guys carry out an intensive maintenance program through which we check all the components of the various systems we have installed. This includes a visual structural check, a check of all electric motors and gearboxes, and their repair or replacement when necessary.
As a company, we believe it is critical to offer the best service and knowledge to our farmer clients. Currently, we have approximately US$2 million of Reinke componentry in stock. We can build entire systems from stock on our Ashburton premises. All our systems come from Reinke Manufacturing in Deshler. There is also a well-stocked Reinke warehouse in Brisbane, Australia, but with current worldwide shipping issues, all our stock is sourced directly from the United States.
Irrigation Leader: You referred to the fact that there was an unsuccessful attempt about 40 years ago to introduce center pivots in New Zealand. When you started marketing Reinke center pivots about 20 years ago, how common were center pivots?
Ray Mayne: They weren’t completely new. In the early 1990s, before I got involved with Reinke, a few other U.S. brands, such as T‑L and Valmont, got the market for center pivots and linear irrigators going again. T‑L was probably better represented in those days, because its agent was an Australia-based irrigation company, which, together with the U.S.-based T‑L territory manager, covered a lot of ground in New Zealand. My interest picked up when I saw a Reinke system. Back in those days, I was supplying and installing other farming infrastructure, including pumps and irrigation pipe, to those other brands, but I preferred Reinke’s electrical-driven machines to hydraulic systems.
Irrigation Leader: Was it difficult to convince New Zealand farmers to switch irrigation methods? How did you market and sell the center-pivot systems?
Ray Mayne: The biggest problem we had was convincing farmers to remove a lot of trees and to basically refence their farms. This needed to be done to ensure that the farmers got the most coverage from their pivot or linear-move systems. In the days when we were selling boom-type irrigators, we endeavored to install these irrigation systems within fence lines and tree lines. The biggest mental block farmers had to get over was redesigning the layout of their farms from scratch. They soon came to realize that working the farm around the irrigation system has advantages—the two biggest being labor savings and a more efficient application method and rate. We had to sell them on the idea that when you pull out some trees and remove some fence lines, you can actually irrigate your whole farm more efficiently.
Irrigation Leader: What crops are most of the center-pivot systems you sell being used for?
Ray Mayne: Over the last 10–15 years, dairying has become very popular in our area because of its soil types and growing conditions. Our dairy cows stay outside, because our winters are not that severe. We do get frost, some snow, and rainfall, of course, but the conditions are normally quite good. That’s where the labor-saving advantage of center-pivot irrigation really took hold. With the number of dairy farms increasing, an increase in the area of arable farming was only made possible by center-pivot irrigation. Today in Canterbury, there are thousands of acres of potatoes and arable-type crops. We also grow a lot of conventional wheat and barley crops, and seed crops, such as rye grass, clover, and carrot seed, are also popular. From my perspective, even though dairy has grown exponentially over the last few years, arable has grown hugely as well because of center-pivot irrigation.
Irrigation Leader: Do the center-pivot systems you sell in New Zealand differ from those Reinke sells in the United States?
Ray Mayne: Not really. From a technology point of view, irrigation in New Zealand is changing all the time. We are now much more aware of how and where we are actually applying water. That’s the reason why variable-rate irrigation (VRI), for example, has increased hugely here in New Zealand. I’ve been working with Reinke for several years to ensure that its VRI systems are available here. We design and install them to suit our particular farm type, but the machine is no different structurally from those in the United States or any other country. Any differences would relate how we actually attach our sprinklers and how we make water come out of these machines to ensure we’re applying water as close to perfectly as possible.
Irrigation Leader: Are you seeing the use of center pivots to apply fertilizer and chemicals, and is that something you encourage your customers to consider?
Ray Mayne: I know that in the United States, most farmers inject fertilizer and chemicals through center-pivot irrigators, but it is not really done here. All chemicals are applied by truck or sometimes by aerial spraying. Most fertilizer is also applied by truck. Some farmers have looked at putting liquid fertilizer through center pivots, but most haven’t embraced it in the way that U.S. farmers have.
Irrigation Leader: What are your other current top issues?
Ray Mayne: Nutrient levels are something that we are looking at closely in New Zealand. We’re all aware of what nitrogen application can do to our waterways, so we’re trying to ensure that our nutrient levels are kept to a minimum. It’s difficult to come up with a perfect solution that will suit everyone, but we’re doing what we can.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your vision for the future of your company and of center-pivot irrigation in New Zealand.
Ray Mayne: Every year, when we get to the end of the irrigation season in March or April, we have time to reflect on how well we did and whether we can improve anything. Irrigation is a competitive business, and there’s a lot of center-pivot irrigation coming in, so eventually we will reach the saturation point. Providing our weather conditions remain hot and dry, irrigation will be used. When our dairy farmers are trying to produce as much as they possibly can and arable farmers are trying to grow as many crops as they possibly can, they will require irrigation. Whether it be center-pivot irrigation or linear-driven machines, irrigation will be used for many years to come.
What I can see is technology continuing to improve all the time, with advances like VRI and GPS guidance. VRI is much more widely used here in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. It adds a considerable cost to the machine, but farmers realize that with VRI, they can apply water exactly where they want to. Even in a dairy farming situation in which everything is a pasture-based crop, we can actually apply the water in varying amounts depending on the soil type. The use of VRI will only intensify as time goes on. The next 5 years will be just as exciting as the last 5, because technology keeps moving all the time.
Ray Mayne is the co-owner of Ray Mayne Hose and Fittings Limited. He can be reached at 30 J B Cullen Drive, Ashburton Business Estate, Ashburton 7740, New Zealand. For more information, visit www.raymayne.co.nz.