Profitable research

Profitable research

A Houston-based irrigation company develops a scientifically based program to boost and maintain plant health, and grow the bottom line.

July 27, 2012
Lindsey Getz

Like many other irrigation companies, Gallion Irrigation, under the Gallion Services umbrella, has put its emphasis on water conservation and water saving technologies through the years. But the founder of the Houston-based company has gone a step further than that and actually invented his own products. He’s also invented a system, MicrobeMagic, that uses a biological water conservation soil restoration program to reduce lawn watering requirements. The result has been green lawns with less watering, keeping Gallion’s high-end residential clients happy.

“We’re able to put water and air back into the soil at deeper soil depths and save the water through capillary forces,” says Gallion owner/founder Gene Barnes. “Through our treatment process the average grass root depth goes from about 2 inches to 10 inches, significantly decreasing watering frequency requirements.”

About 12 years ago, Barnes started the research that would lead to his current findings. The business has always done a lot of high-end residential estates where the clients are focused on getting good products for their money. They want green grass and an efficient irrigation system. “In Houston that means the system must be designed to be micro-climated so as to not over water the plants,” says Barnes.

“It’s such a fine line. We originally designed our system to be micro-climated and as efficient as possible and yet we were still overwatering due to scheduling miscues. We began looking for ways that we could get water into the soil and extend the time between watering events, thereby reducing over saturation. That goal is where all of this began.”

Years of Research. Since Texas is such an agriculturally-focused state, Barnes had resources within his reach. He actually began dealing with Texas A&M Extension to do some testing and study the problem. “We started working on a method to take the soil and actually change its structure,” he explains. “Changing the soil structure would allow more oxygen to get inside. After all, oxygen is the main component of a good water conservation system.”

Once he had a concept, the next step was figuring out how to implement it. Part of that process included learning more about the biology of the soil. Barnes learned that the microbe that attaches to the plant is a fungus. “We learned that we had to be able to put the microbes back into the soil,” says Barnes. “Because of compaction, which happens from mowing every week and over watering, the open pore spaces were becoming closed down and not accepting water. In the natural world, those pore spaces take decades to come back via microbial action.”

Barnes wanted to find a way that he could take that long-term process and speed it up. He purchased a fracturing machine, which is typically used in the golf course industry. After seeing how the machine worked, he created his own, giving him the ability to inject compounds directly into the soil. “We failed many times over the years when it came to putting just the right compounds and components into the soil together but I kept data about everything,” says Barnes. “Ultimately we were able to produce the right microbes, which could make it through the machine and into the soil. This was the single most important breakthrough in the advancement of our process.”

The big question, says Barnes, is where the water goes after it hits the soil. Figuring that out was part of the solution. “What we’ve done with our process is allow the soil to absorb and take in water so much better that even an inefficient irrigation system can be sufficient with proper scheduling,” he says.

Greener Grass with Less Watering. About three years ago Barnes really began to see fruits of his labor. All of that hard work and research was paying off in the form of healthy green grass. “Those large turf jobs we’ve been doing went from watering every other day to having to water only every four to six days – even in the middle of July in scorching Houston heat,” says Barnes.

The crux of the entire idea, says Barnes, has to do with root zone depth and soil types; multiplying those two numbers together producing the plant’s available water supply. “This is all about math,” says Barnes. “It’s not sleight of hand. Everything that we do is based on many years of scientific research and equations of soil science. After many years of research, we learned to take all those hard components needed in the soil, put them in a liquid form, and inject them into the soil. The result is a thriving lawn.”

Now Barnes won’t take any new jobs without doing a complete soil analysis. He knows that’s the key to success. “When we do a soil analysis, we send it to the lab for an organic matter, PH, mineral, and salinity contents as well as the soil type,” Barnes says. “We also do a biology test. When all of this comes back to me I can have a clear understanding of exactly what needs to be done. Again, it all comes back to math.”

In fact, this part of the business has become so successful for Gallion that Barnes has started to put more focus on it. He’s not taking on a lot of new construction jobs these days and is actually beginning to move away from the design/build end of things. “When you’ve been in business for 30 years, you have a lot of long-term customers and you get a lot of service calls,” he says.

“We’re selling what we know. We can go out to Mrs. Smith’s residence and analyze the problem and leave them with a solution which is providing an important service for the customer. We are good at solving problems and clients are willing to pay well for diagnostic work. Any time one of our service trucks goes out and comes back, it’s brought revenue with it. When you send a construction crew out, we’re not always sure it’s going to bring in revenue. Our biological water conservation and soil restoration program is where we will continue to put our focus and the Instant Deep Root Watering process is the future of our company.”