2019 North America, Ambassador Winner

Valley Agronomics - Pocatello, Idaho

Location Manager Sean McCarthy (top right) with his crew at the Pocatello, Idaho, branch of Valley Agronomics.

In search of gold during the late 1800s, settlers transformed Pocatello, Idaho, into the “Gateway to the Northwest.” When the gold rush ended, many of those miners stuck around while this time banking on farming to be their jackpot.

More than a century later, Valley Agronomics is serving that same agricultural community in southeast Idaho. And fittingly enough, much of what the ag retailer is doing is turning to gold.

“Valley Agronomics will continue to be on the leading edge of agricultural and environmental responsibility,” Eric Holbrook, the company’s Director of Marketing, says. “It is a simple formula: If you are bad for the environment, it is bad for business. Clean facilities equal prolonged existence for the equipment and products. Environmental responsibility also sends a message to the community and patrons about professionalism and sets the standard in quality.”

The Pocatello branch is one of 24 that is operated by Valley Agronomics in the Pacific Northwest. It is the newest of those facilities (March 2017 debut) and largest (12 acres). The previous property was in American Falls, which offered no dry storage and minimal liquid storage. “It’s night and day,” Location Manager Sean McCarthy says. “Valley Ag’s Hansen and Idaho Falls locations had previously received all of the dry product and liquid product prior to this facility, and they are 60 miles from here in each direction.”

The decision to relocate in Pocatello was obvious — all rail in the Pacific Northwest has historically gone through the city. In fact, Pocatello was named after the Shoshone Tribe chief who had granted the railroad a right-of-way through the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. “We’re the first fertilizer operation in Idaho that is capable of receiving a unit train,” McCarthy says. “We can receive 70 to 100 rail cars at a time. That’s probably our biggest reason for the location being here. We’ve been able to do a lot more. When we were traveling 120 miles between both ways, we couldn’t get to every grower and do everything. But since opening this facility, we’ve been able to work with a lot more growers on a larger scale. We’ve grown five times from what we were before.”

Meanwhile, that same Fort Hall Indian Reservation, which covers 814 square miles on the Snake River Plain, sits just 38 feet from Valley Ag’s property line in Pocatello and represents a “big part of our growers,” McCarthy says.

“The environmental aspect over there is more intense than it is in a lot of other places,” Connor Lankford, the company’s Precision Ag Manager says. “One of the major concerns is nitrogen leaching into their watershed, with the American Falls Reservoir and Portneuf River here. We met with them to talk about nitrogen that is designed not to leach. We try to take the initiative to do things like that rather than wait for them to come talk to us.”

Valley Ag’s environmental objectives are made easier by Lankford’s customized precision ag product, Platinum Precision. The subscription service, which has grown to 600,000 acres of coverage area since being introduced in the fall of 2016, provides technology tools to 5,000 growers in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

“As we make applications, we want to make sure that we put the right product in right place at the right time, so that we don’t have runoff issues in which we leach nitrogen into the watershed,” Lankford says. “This branch probably does more variable rate than any of our other locations. Pretty much every potato grower we work with is doing some form of variable rate. Potatoes are pretty high management; sugar beets as well. We’re putting fertilizer on in the fall and the spring and all summer long. Potatoes are disease prone, too. Because of this high management, there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.”

Fortunately, they typically don’t. “(Precision ag) is not always the easiest thing,” McCarthy says, “but that still doesn’t stop it from being the right decision.”