By Carol Kinsley

Robert Mapp, founder of Delmarva Irrigation and Millwright in Laurel, Delaware, has roots that go deep on the Delmarva Peninsula. “I’m told the family came to these shores in 1626,” he said. While he can’t relate the family’s history on the Lower Eastern Shore of Virginia that far back, he knows farming goes back several generations in his family. 

After his buying out his brother Joe, Robert’s grandfather, Thomas (Puck) Mapp and his father established Mapp Farms in 1974, eventually farming 1,500 acres. Both of them had apprenticed at the Newport News Naval Shipyard as fitters, and they brought back to the farm knowledge of how to weld and work with metal materials.

“When I grew up, all I wanted to do was farm. It’s how I was raised,” Mapp said.

He recalls a talk with his father in 1994, when all the bills were paid and things were good. “We were fortunate to weather the 80s, but then came some dry years,” he said.

“I remember riding in the combine with Dad, going over nothing. I also remember one morning when he opened up a check for a string bean payment, and although he didn’t have much to say, I will always remember the look on his face.”

Crop insurance did not help enough to relieve the burden, and by the end of the century, the farm was looking at heavy debt.

When his grandfather passed, it made a difference for his father. “It hurt him,” said Mapp, who was then a teenager, watching the farm disappear. He did not understand why and sought answers from his father. A rift developed between them.

“Imagine if you did everything as right as you could, and things still didn’t work out. That’s when I began to understand farming a little.”

To get by, he and his father did HVAC work, welding fabrication and farm repair. By 2010, he started seeing a new trend. Farmers were starting to replace equipment rather than have it fixed. “Other farmers were doing well. Why weren’t we a part of that?” he wondered. “To this day I regret the pressure I must have put on my father. That’s one of life’s lessons, I suppose.”

In 2012, they decided to get back into farming while continuing the repair business. “Farming alone wasn’t going to pay the bills,” he said.

His father passed away in August that year. 

“I still had to have a job. I pursued farming about 225 acres in addition to custom nitrogen application on about 1,000 acres. I was enjoying welding more and more,” he said. Virginia’s Eastern Shore, though, has only a small land base, which limited the amount of work he could find. 

“Around my third year of being in business, I got contact information from two local elevators for Messick and Gray, a commercial millwright company in Bridgeville, Delaware, and Westwood Farms, a company in Millsboro, Delaware, that deals primarily with grain storage and handling. Those two companies helped us get our start in Delaware.”

Each year there was more and more work off the farm. He married Amanda, a school teacher from Indiana, in 2017, and ran the millwright business out of the home they purchased in Virginia, and one they rented in Delaware.

When approached by T-L Irrigation, an international company headquartered in Nebraska which needed a Delaware dealer for center pivots, Mapp accepted. It was his first experience owning a dealership. 

“It was a real struggle for a while, gaining the trust of farmers with existing T-L center pivots who had not had the kind of service that Delmarva Irrigation was ready to provide.”

Mapp continued, “I was young, chasing all these things. It came to a head in 2017,” Mapp said. “I saw opportunity here, but we had to relocate from Virginia,” he said.

It was a tough decision to stop farming and leave the customers and family that had been supporting him for so long.

“There is a lot to be said about moving from your heritage. I never planned to do it, but it was the right decision. It was worth the tough times that we went through. The years 2017 through 2019 were really tough. Once I decided to move full time to Delaware, I lost most of my employees. I began to rebuild the business and was taking care of the customers the best we could.”

Amanda joined him in the business, taking on administrative work, and now is president of the company. 

She does more than push papers. “She has been out there,” Mapp asserted. “We do what we have to do. Amanda has been inside a grain bin pushing bolts when it was 100 degrees outside.”

Mapp was pleased to be so well accepted by the farm community. “I’ve never not had a warm welcome,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed our customers. Some of their center pivots were in bad shape. For two years all we heard was how horrible things were, but farmers “put their trust in us to do what we said we would do.”

It was Jim Walsh, whom Mapp met in 2015, who gave Delmarva Irrigation the big push it needed to succeed. Walsh, who has a strong background in business management and finance, came out of retirement to join the company as a part-owner.

“I begged Jimmy for two years to come on board. And when he did, it was like drinking from a firehose. He has a vision for us to grow and become a big company.” 

The business relocated to 11027 Delaware Avenue in Laurel, from which the company serves customers in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.

Seeking to grow the millwright side of business, Delmarva Irrigation became a full product line dealer for Sukup Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest family-owned and -operated manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment. 

Then the company took on a dealership for Brandt Industries Ltd., makers of the premier brand of portable augers and more.

Mapp has adopted as his own his father’s motto, adapted from the shipyard: “We shall build good ships here. At a profit—if we can. At a loss—if we must. But always good ships.”

Mapp said, “Our goal is customer satisfaction. We stand behind what we do. We offer a free, two-year maintenance program for all the equipment we sell.” 

The practice pays for itself, both for the company and the customer.

For new grain or irrigation systems or questions about existing systems, visit www.delmarvairr.com, contact Delmarva Irrigation at 757-678-3926 or 302-490-1588 or by email at de****************@gm***.com.