Family-Owned Dealership Thrives in Canada’s Wide Open Spaces
Jan 28, 2020
Chris Ford was born to be in the irrigation business.
“I’m the third of four children, and I was born the year my mom and dad opened their family business,” he said. “So, I’ve literally been with the company all my life.”
Opened in 1974, Highlands Irrigation is the oldest and largest family-owned irrigation company in British Columbia. Owners Dick and Donna Ford now operate two locations – the main office in Williams Lake and a second location in Kamloops.
“My dad is a sheep farmer from New Zealand. He met my mom while he was working in England, building fences on farms. She was traveling abroad from British Columbia,” Ford said. “After they got married, they returned to New Zealand for a while to help manage the family farm, but they returned to British Columbia in 1969. My dad was offered a job as an irrigation salesman and the rest, as they say, is history. One opportunity after another led to my parents opening their own business in the small town of Williams Lake. They named it Highlands Irrigation after my granddad’s New Zealand farm, Highlands Station.”
While the dealership has three divisions – agriculture, domestic and industrial – Ford said agriculture is the backbone of their business.
“Right from the start, my dad believed in center pivot irrigation. He built his first center pivot system in 1978 when his competitors were still focusing on wheel line and hose reel systems,” he said. “We joined the Zimmatic family of dealerships in 1983 and ever since have been committed to helping growers put the right amount of water in the right place at the right time.”
Ford and the Highlands team of 10 full time employees pride themselves on exceptional customer service – both in store and across the wide expanse of rural British Columbia.
“We get our service teams out in a matter of hours, which is important, because it may take six or more hours to drive to a customer’s operation,” he said. “We also use FieldNET® remote management technology to see what’s happening with our customers’ machines. Sometimes we can diagnose the problem without having to make a trip to their field – which is a big benefit to us and the customer.”
As for the future of farming in their territory, Ford believes it’s bright and full of great opportunity.
“We live in a very sparsely populated area, but we’re seeing a lot of expansion up into the interior of the province. The farmland here is much more affordable and with irrigation, growers can produce as much as they would in the fertile Fraser Valley,” he said. “Because the beef industry is king, alfalfa and corn are really important crops. But we also have customers who produce potatoes, onions and other vegetables. We even have laterals working over very unique endives. Our growers are dynamic and open-minded. They welcome the development and expansion of technology to ensure their success.”