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Mississippi King: Entrepreneur Journeys to Expand Family Business and Make a Difference

by Corby Bender | Jan 26, 2022

Valley 365 Grower

Valley® Irrigation recently acquired PrecisionKing™, a Mississippi-based ag tech company. In this blog, we introduce you to a few of the people behind that company. You will see that their culture of innovation and service – both to customers and humanity – match our values.

Nick King is a born entrepreneur. He grew up in the small town of Lexington, Mississippi, which had an official population of 2,628 in 1980. But the town's limited size was no barrier to his big goals.

"Even from a young age, I was making products, marketing them and selling them," he says. "As a child of 6 or 7, I made handmade crafts and sold them on the town square. As a teenager, I had a lawn care business and was the local paper boy, and at age 15 I started a firewood business that I operated for 15 years … all while I worked in the family business."

King's passion came ingrained, but that family business narrowed his focus. "My dad had a private agronomy and consulting business. When I was 14, I started scouting cotton, corn, sorghum, peanuts and soybean fields. Those were truly some of the best years of my life, working with my parents and brother."

Expanding the Family Business

King went to college at Mississippi College and earned his undergraduate degree in accounting, then studied entomology and got his consulting license with the state of Mississippi. He married the love of his life, Ann, as a junior.

After college, he came back to work in the family business and looked for a way to branch out. He discussed it with his dad, consulted with area growers, and started a full-service irrigation scheduling business with manual-read soil moisture sensors. Back then, he explains, "telemetry products were expensive and my clients were not willing to invest in that technology for that price point. But necessity is the mother of invention, and that phrase fits how PrecisionKing was started."

King needed an affordable, remote soil moisture device. That led him to contact a college buddy named Daniel Cole, who King describes as a "mad scientist." Cole had just built his own lawn sprinkler controller and figured building a remote soil moisture unit couldn't be that different, and that's how PrecisionKing started.

"Over the next few months we built our first soil moisture device, and the next growing season we launched a pilot year to field test our product," King says. "We sold and deployed 50 units. We took that growing season to weed out the bugs, and created the app. At the end of our pilot year, we started building a dealer network."

Their first product was a remote soil moisture device, and they developed five other solutions quickly. Within 18 months, they had also created a weather station, a water level product for rice, a pivot control device, and pump control. We saw early on that the company that had a product line would be the company that would succeed and win market share. That was the outlook we had, and it proved to be the correct outlook.

In the Mississippi River delta, farmers grow a wide variety of crops, including cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, peanuts, sorghum and rice.

PrecisionKing products bring efficiency to irrigating each of them. "Our goal is to make farming easier through irrigation technology," King says. "It isn't very often that a conservation practice makes a farm more profitable, but that is the case with irrigation technology."

Aligning with the Leader

After establishing their core business, they began to evaluate where the industry was going. The mid-south is primarily irrigated by flood irrigation, and PrecisionKing began to develop automated flood irrigation systems for rice and row crops. "Within one growing season, we developed the first automated rice field. This was a huge advancement in irrigation technology," King says.

"Rice growers historically maintain a high flood because that's how they've been taught to grow rice," Cole explains. "Today, research shows that rice growers can use significantly less water than they have been by allowing the water level to draw down during certain stages of the crop. This practice of allowing the water level to drop creates great savings in water use.  Additionally the lower water levels can allow the dirt to be exposed to oxygen, killing the methane-producing bacteria that can thrive in flooded rice fields."

King goes on to say that the biggest development in creating these systems was adding automated butterfly valves and creating an emergency blowout for the pump if a malfunction occurred. These automated systems bring efficiencies that have not been seen in flood irrigation before.

Their market share and reputation grew, and Valley took notice for several reasons: as a way to expand their geographic footprint, as a way to grow their technology portfolio, and because PrecisionKing had assembled a team of amazing people and established a customer-first culture of go-getters who haven't been afraid to tackle any project or obstacle, according to King.

The "Mad Scientist"

The core PrecisionKing team is King, Cole and Richard Pickens. Cole graduated with a BS in Computer Science from Mississippi College and worked as an IT director for 13 years doing a bit of everything from traditional computer and network support to custom development. He has been married to his wife, Bethany, for 12 years, and they have two boys "Nick and I were having babies at the same time we were birthing PrecisionKing," he says, "so lots of the credit for PrecisionKing's success goes to Bethany and Ann."

King says the team members each have unique gifts that they bring to the table. "Daniel has a brilliant technical mind and you would be hard pressed to find someone as smart as he is. He designed, developed the source code, created our app, and engineered our products. He is a one-man show when it comes to technical and engineering. My strongest qualities are business planning, marketing, and building and managing a team. Richard is a jack of all trades, handyman, and has strong personal skills with customers. He manages our day-to-day customer service and dealer relationships, and does a great job."

Among the next steps for the PrecisionKing team are bringing their technology into the Valley network, including water level monitoring and management in Valley 365®, along with pumping automation in Valley 365 in the near future.

"At PrecisionKing, our focus continues to be automating irrigation," Cole says. "Valley is the hands-down industry leader in irrigation, and we are PrecisionKing are working to bring automation to other irrigation methods such as furrow and flood irrigation though valve and pump automation."

Cole says he believes PrecisionKing is a great fit with Valley because PrecisionKing has been a company that strives to meet the needs of customers above all else. "Putting the customer first has not only created an environment of repeat business, but is has created relationships with our growers where they trust us to bring new solutions to their farm year after year. This fits with Valley so well because  their customer-first attitude goes hand in hand with the PrecisionKing way," Cole says.

"We all understand that serving our customers is the most important part of our job," King agrees.

Giving Back with Gracewater

While serving the customers he knows is important to King, there is another thing that motivates him: serving people he has never met before, half a world away. "As we were gearing up for the 2016 sales season, I really began to feel a desire to give back if this company took off. At this point I still didn't know if PrecisionKing was a success or flop, but I felt a strong feeling that the Lord was leading us to start something."

He and his wife soon felt called to help supply clean water to people who didn't have access. "It was a natural fit," he says. "Professionally we are helping farmers conserve water through technology, and our passion is to help people access clean water through drilling water wells. We could have easily found a group doing that kind of work and donated to their cause. But, being an entrepreneur, that wouldn't be adventurous. I am a believer that where we grow personally and professionally is through the journey."

With that in mind, King and his wife – who recently celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary and have three children – started a non-profit organization called Gracewater, with the mission of "giving grace with water." Gracewater partners with a local pastor or missionary whose community has a water crisis. This could mean members of the community have to go long distances to fetch water or their community has an unsanitary water source. Then Gracewater will dig a well. The ministry meets both physical and spiritual needs, says King. "At the well dedications, our partners tell the Gospel story and celebrate the opening of the well. Since 2016, we have drilled more than 30 water wells and given more than 30,000 people clean water, primarily in the African nation of Zimbabwe but also in Zambia."

King says it has been a huge blessing for he and his wife, and they're not done; after PrecisionKing was acquired by Valley, he felt called by the Lord to do two more things. First was to spend more time in Africa. Secondly, to start a vocational school for orphans. "My wife and I took a large portion of the sale of the company and bought a farm in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Over the past year, we have created the Grace Institute. It has been an amazing journey to build the team, and we currently have a team of farm experts and an on-staff minister to disciple the young men. We created a partnership with a government orphanage, and we currently have our first class of orphans being trained in farming and poultry production. These are 18-year-old young men who are orphans with no family. Currently, we are housing these young men, giving them employment, feeding them, and teaching them how to grow chickens, cabbage, lettuce, corn, onions and garlic. They just finished growing a batch of 32,000 chickens."

Nick King started his entrepreneurial adventure in a small town and now it has taken him to another continent. "It has been an amazing blessing to be a part of this journey, and it's hard to believe that it all started with the need to create a soil moisture device."

To learn more about how PrecisionKing integrates with Valley 365 and how Valley connected crop management solutions are saving water around the world, visit valleyirrigation.com. To find a Valley Dealer near you, visit valleyirrigation.com/dealers.

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