From milking shed to float valve factory

When a milk buyer shut down one of its routes, this farmer decided he couldn’t leave his workers in the lurch so he started a factory. Today his float valves are sold nationwide – and pay nine salaries.

In a former dairy on the farm Sweetwater outside Wepener in the Free State province of South Africa, specially designed float valves are made and sold nationwide in the retail outlets of agricultural companies.

The Ingrams started the float valve factory 11 years ago after their milk buyer in Aliwal North closed its Wepener route. Ben Ingram wasn’t keen to lay off his dairy workers so decided to create jobs for them.

There was a need in their livestock enterprise on Sweetwater for an improved water supply when all the animals came to drink. The existing valves delivered too little water. Ben’s son MG, who trained as a mechanical engineer, farms with his father and set about designing the valve for their personal use.


A Sweetwater float valve installed in a trough. Photo: MG INGRAM

The Ingrams mostly built the equipment for the factory themselves with a few standard machines, iron and parts from other second-hand machines. The lathe used to do the welding on one of the components, for example, was made from an old drill and gearbox.

The float valve was such a huge success that it was not necessary to dismiss any of the former dairy team. The factory now pays the salaries of nine full-time workers, and much more.

Seven of the factory workers also help with the farm work. Ben farms in the morning and works in the factory in the afternoon.

A welding lathe in the factory was made from an old drill and gearbox.


The Sweetwater valve delivers water at a high rate, does not burst when the water freezes, doesn’t get easily clogged and is very robust. It is regarded as the strongest valve on the market, although it is still very affordable.

Unlike traditional float valves that are made of copper, the Sweetwater valve is made of steel that is then electroplated and powder-coated to protect against corrosion.

The valve also never calcifies, thanks to the design of the mechanism. It consists of a rubber valve which closes against the outlet by means of leverage. The valve is designed in such a way that it will stay soft for three to four years. Since there is always movement in the valve as water flows through it, lime does not build up on the valve and pipe opening.

The float valve factory in the Ingrams’ former dairy shed pays the salaries of nine full-time workers

The valve has a high delivery rate thanks to its large inlet. It is available in two sizes with a diameter of 20mm and 32mm respectively. Included in the pack with the 20mm model is an enlarging adaptor that enables you to increase the inlet by up to 25mm; the 32mm model pack includes a 40mm adaptor.

The 20/25mm model’s thread size fits a 14.5mm water inlet, and the 32/40mm model’s thread fits a 25mm inlet. An extra valve and two adjustable arms comes with each float valve pack.

The 20/25mm model costs R165 ($12,14), the 32/40mm model R250 ($18,40) and the rubber valve costs R15 ($1.10). The prices include VAT.

Ben Ingram

ENQUIRIES: Ben Ingram, cell +27 84 500 1702; email: sweetwaterben@gmail.com.

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