- Robert B. Daugherty, 88, a Nebraska manufacturer who reshaped the landscape of rural America by pioneering the use of mechanized center-pivot irrigation systems that watered fields in a circular pattern, died Nov. 24.
- His chief breakthrough occurred in the 1960s, when he developed an efficient way to manufacture the revolutionary center-pivot system.
Robert B. Daugherty, the man who pioneered center pivot irrigation and founded Valmont Industries in Omaha, Nebraska, passed away Nov. 24, after a short illness.
Daugherty retired in 2004 from Valmont's Board of Directors after serving for 57 years.
"We've lost much more than our founder," said Valmont's Chairman and CEO Mogens C. Bay. "We've lost a great leader, mentor, innovator and friend. His vision laid the groundwork for a global industry. He literally changed the surface of the earth."
Born in 1922 in Omaha, Nebraska, Daugherty was a graduate of Central High School in Omaha and Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. After graduating from Carleton in 1942, Daugherty served in World War II. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, first serving in the Pacific Theatre, and later in China.
After the war ended, Daugherty married his junior high school sweetheart, Marge Kruse. At the time, Daugherty was considering a career in the Marines until his uncle and mentor, Frank Daugherty, convinced him to consider post-war business options.
Daugherty made a small investment to acquire a half interest in a Valley, Nebraska farm machine shop that produced built-to-order grain elevators for area farmers.
Later, in 1953, Daugherty purchased the licensing rights to manufacture the center pivot from inventor Frank Zybach. After the company's engineers spent years perfecting the design, VALLEY'S center pivot mechanical irrigation equipment revolutionized agriculture, not only in the United States, but also throughout North America, South America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Middle East.
Under Daugherty's direction, Valmont later expanded into the tubing, galvanizing and structures industries. Today, Valmont spans the globe as an international company, and is a leader in the industries it serves.
In addition to his leadership role at Valmont, Daugherty was widely respected for his many contributions as a business and civic leader, and as a philanthropist. He served as Chairman of ConAgra's Board of Directors Executive Committee. He also served as a Director of K N Energy, Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., and FirsTier Financial, Inc. He was a trustee of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, a Director of Creighton University and Clarkson Hospital, and was a Trustee of Hastings College. In 1988, Daugherty was awarded the Manresa Medal, Creighton's highest non-academic honor. Daugherty also served as Chairman of the Board of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1967.
In April 2010, Daugherty committed $50 million to the University of Nebraska to found the Global Water for Food Institute, a multi-campus center for research, education and policy analysis relating to the use of water for agriculture. The Institute will allow the university to develop solutions to the challenges of hunger, poverty, agricultural productivity and water management. Daugherty summed it up by saying, "Improving agricultural productivity has been my life's work."
"Bob has been the guiding force in the evolution of our company," said Bay, "and all of us at Valmont owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. We will continue to extend his visionary legacy into the future as Valmont continues to grow and adapt to the global business environment. The essence of Bob's life, what he accomplished and what he believed in, will live on in our company and in our hearts. He surely will be missed."
Daugherty is preceded in death by his wife, Marge.