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A tale of two Roberts – and a partnership for growth

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Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. Insurance is the lifeblood of an economy. Without them, either is effectively doomed to fail.

A tale of two Roberts – and a partnership for growth Sprinklers in a centre pivot irrigation system. (Image: AgriLife Today)

In the South African insurance landscape, the Hollard Insurance Company stands out in a few respects, not least because it started out as a family business. It had its origins in 1980, when Robert Enthoven and his son Patrick purchased the motor book of failed insurance giant IGI.

Today, Hollard is South Africa’s largest independent insurance group (and the country’s second-largest short-term insurer), providing a wide range of short-term and life insurance products.

It is also a multinational company, with more than 4 000 employees in 18 territories around the world. And it is still majority-owned by the Enthoven family.

In the agriculture space, Valmont Industries, Inc. is a leading international player when it comes to irrigation systems – in particular, centre pivot irrigation. And like Hollard, it began as an upstart family business.

It all began in 1946, when American Robert Daugherty invested $5 000 – his life savings – in Valley Manufacturing, a small company based in Valley, Nebraska, and began fabricating farm elevators (the machinery that moves grain into and out of silos).

The very next year the first centre pivot irrigation system was invented, by a man named Frank Zybach. He had little success with it at first and in 1954 licensed his patent to Valley, which spent a decade improving his invention. And the world of commercial agriculture was about to change forever.

In a nutshell, centre pivot irrigation involves sprinkler equipment hundreds of metres long, slowly rotating around a central pivot and watering crops in huge circular patterns.

This form of irrigating crops holds several benefits. It uses less labour than most surface irrigation methods, because furrows and channels don’t have to be dug. Soil also doesn’t have to be tilled as much, reducing water run-off, soil erosion and soil compaction. And water usage can be closely managed, especially with today’s high-technology equipment.

Centre pivot irrigation revolutionised post-World War II agriculture, particularly in the US. That country’s semi-arid High Plains, characterised by droughts and crop failures, and resulting in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s (immortalised in Great Depression-era novels such as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath), was transformed into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

Pivotal (no pun intended) to it all was Valley Manufacturing, which became Valmont Industries in the 1960s. It continued innovating with both centre pivot and linear move irrigation systems over the decades, and today is one of the largest irrigation equipment companies in the world.

And Robert Daugherty was the company chairman and CEO until 1993, just shy of 50 years after he had sunk his life savings into Valley Manufacturing.

Like Hollard, which remains headquartered in Johannesburg and is resolutely proud of its African roots – it refers to its international expansion as “Afro-globalisation” – Valmont Industries still operates out of Douglas County, Nebraska, where the city of Valley is located.

Here in South Africa, the two companies enjoy a fruitful relationship. Hollard is an insurance provider for Valley centre pivot irrigation systems (the equipment branding retains Valmont’s original name).

Neither company would have existed, had it not been for their respective Roberts – Enthoven and Daugherty – and their drive and determination to build something great from the ground up.

Today, both partner with farmers in growth, both the nutritious and economic kinds. And while we may not always realise the roles that they play in our daily lives, we’re all better off for them. – Andries Wiese, head of Agri, Hollard Insure


Follow the @HollardInsure Twitter account, visit the Hollard Insure LinkedIn page and watch our YouTube video.

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