Clayton Houweling - Southern Irrigation, Oliver
If it moves water, Oliver’s Southern Irrigation can do it
“If you don’t have irrigation here in the Okanagan, you’re not going to grow anything,” says Clayton Houweling, front-counter and logistic lead at Oliver’s Southern Irrigation.
“It’s not just less crop,” he adds. “It’s no crop.”
That’s not quite true in the Chilliwack area of the Fraser Valley, where Houweling grew up on a dairy farm. But with climate change, irrigation is also becoming more common in parts of Canada that are not as dry as the Okanagan.
“When I was farming in Chilliwack, we never needed irrigation,” Houweling says. “It rained a lot down there.”
With warmer summers though, irrigation is increasingly necessary.
Chilliwack is home to Southern Irrigation’s headquarters, and it was the first location for the company that has since expanded to seven locations across Western Canada. It’s also where Houweling got his start with the company in July 2018.
Southern Irrigation is owned by four (previously five) Oostenbrink brothers who are based in Chilliwack. It now also has locations in Kamloops, Williams Lake, Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Saskatoon. An eighth location is opening this year in Woodstock, Ontario.
The Oliver location opened in December 2018 when the company purchased the former Nulton Irrigation at the same location on Sawmill Road.
Houweling moved to Oliver in January 2020, and he says he loves the community.
“I had never known Oliver [previously],” he said. “My family and I love it here. The weather is great. We bought a piece of property on Road 2 and it’s just a dream.”
The Oliver operation is managed by German Barahona, the location lead, though some functions such as marketing are handled from the head office in Chilliwack. The different locations also work together closely.
Houweling, who is formally front counter and logistic lead, has a supervisory role, but typically pitches in where needed.
“I wear many hats,” Houweling says. “I do a bunch of inside sales as well and work on operations. It’s hard to put a title on it exactly.”
Although agriculture is the bulk of the company’s business, they also support residential irrigation, civil work, septic and other applications all involving water.
“If it moves water, we carry it,” says Houweling.
The range of products and services varies somewhat between locations, reflecting the different growing seasons and types of crops. Oliver’s busy season typically starts in March, although spring arrived late in 2023. In contrast, locations such as Chilliwack or Lethbridge may not get busy until May.
This means the company can send team members from Lethbridge or Chilliwack to help in the Oliver location during the busy spring season.
“We get really, really busy here,” says Houweling. “So it’s a huge relief to have that help.”
The Oliver location typically sells to contractors and do-it-yourselfers. Other locations, such as Lethbridge, are more likely than Oliver to send installers to do jobs such as subsurface drip irrigation (SDI).
The type of irrigation varies considerably depending on the crops and location. Vineyards usually use drip lines and sometimes use overhead. For tree fruit, micro sprays are often used. Ranches may use impact sprinklers for pastures. The Kamloops team often installs pivots, where sprinklers are moved in a circular pattern around the central pivot to water a field.
Aside from these and other kinds of irrigation, Southern Irrigation also supports other water applications such as pumps, water treatment, dust suppression, fire suppression, civil works, and landscaping.
The company works with greenhouse operations, especially in the Fraser Valley. That area also includes blueberry fields, market gardens, and various ground crops.
Among its testimonials is a glowing recommendation from licensed cannabis grower Pure Sunfarms, based in the Fraser Valley, where Southern Irrigation installed a drip system in its greenhouses.
The local store has also supported the irrigation for an outdoor cannabis operation, Houweling said.
The Oliver store serves a large area between Keremeos and Creston and from the border up to Vernon. They may serve customers beyond that area, in Princeton for example, but for some products and services, stores in Chilliwack or Kamloops might also deal with those more distant customers.
They have some competitors in the Okanagan Valley, but Houweling notes that Southern Irrigation is so broad in its scope that few competitors can match it across the board for products and services.
Much of the marketing is handled by the Chilliwack headquarters using social media and other online marketing, Houweling said. However, word-of-mouth is also very important.
“The farming community here is very close,” he said, so when one farmer has a successful irrigation installation, a neighbour may ask who they’re dealing with.
An important aspect of Southern Irrigation’s business philosophy is its work culture, which pays particular attention to customers, employees, and the community.
“We’re definitely very proud of our work culture, our teamwork and the environment,” says Houweling. “We like to work hard, but we keep it fun. We like to be a team. It’s like no other place.”
As you walk into the newly expanded warehouse, you immediately notice a ping pong table where employees can take a break. This fits with the work culture, Houweling said.
The focus on the community often takes the form of charitable projects and volunteering with non-profit organizations as “the Blue Crew.”
“We really love helping our customers,” says Houweling. “I think that’s one of the standout things here.”
Story and photos by Richard McGuire
5830 Sawmill Road
Oliver, BC V0H 1T9