Robert “Bobby” Kempenich started Minnesota Valley Irrigation in 1992. He’s the first to admit he set out to do it with little more than passion and a mission to serve growers better. And though three decades is plenty of time for an entire industry to change, for Bobby, that original passion and mission remain intact and as strong as ever.
Bobby grew up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota, where, shortly before the end of high school, he left a job driving milk trucks to work a summer for a local irrigation company. He meant it to be only a seasonal job; he had plans to go to school that fall to become a diesel mechanic. But instead, it became the foundation for his entire career.
By the early 90s, Bobby had gained a wealth of experience in the irrigation industry. Along the way, he had also become closely familiar with one particular customer: an expanding potato farming operation called R.D. Offutt Farms.
Ready for something new for his career and something more for the local ag industry, Bobby sought a conversation with R.D. Offutt Farms leaders and happened into a chance encounter with Ron Offutt himself. During that conversation, Bobby had the opportunity to share his vision with Ron, who took to it quickly. Before long, the details were being sketched out and MVI was born.
The partnership began symbiotically: RDO Farms was growing potatoes in sandy central Minnesota soil with unique irrigation needs and Bobby and MVI were there to help meet those needs. Though it has expanded in many ways, that essence of the partnership remains at the core of the RDO/MVI relationship to this day, and it’s not something Bobby takes for granted.
“This all started through meeting Mr. Offutt and having his guidance and direction to take this forward,” he said. “I didn’t have lot of practical business experience in the beginning. I knew how to work, and I had the passion to succeed, but all along the way there have been so many people who have given so much time and effort to help us succeed.”
Far from the least of those attributable for MVI’s 30 years, Bobby says, are the MVI team members who helped establish the company’s foundation and continue building on it today. In the company’s first few years, Bobby says it was his team’s dedication to customer service that boosted them through their challenges, and that dedication remains.
“Customer service is paramount, and that’s what we’ve built everything on,” he said.
In the late 90s, as MVI grew with the expanding potato industry, resource conservation began reshaping the ag industry and revolutionizing the irrigation industry. It was a shift in thinking that continues to be both impactful and beneficial.
“We realized we could be just as effective, if not more, while using less,” Bobby said. The results are today’s staples like variable rate irrigation and future trends like intelligent, autonomous, and more complete irrigation systems than ever before. And it’s this shimmering horizon that excites Bobby three decades into his tenure in the industry.
“There are still ways to improve the irrigation system, mechanically, electrically, and technologically,” he said. “In the early years, it was just about getting water on the crop. Today, we’re able to put both water and fertilizer only where it’s needed. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about transporting even more to contribute to planting and harvesting.”
Regardless of what the future holds, for Bobby, it will always be about working with his team to help growers achieve their goals.
“The best part is being with the growers, helping them find solutions for their own farm where they can grow more, better, and accomplish what they seek for themselves and their families.”