Podcast Episode 69

A City Kid’s Impact on Water Management Education

With Guests:
  • Dr. Lindsay Pease of UMN Crookston, Nutrient and Water Management
  • Karl Guetter, Farmer and Ag Segment Lead of Prinsco

We’re on location at the NACADE conference in Des Moines, Iowa with guest host, Karl Guetter and Dr. Lindsay Pease with the University of Minnesota Extension out of Red River Valley in Crookston, Minnesota.  How did a city kid end up in agricultural water management in Northern Minnesota? Listen to Dr. Pease’s story and find out why collaboration is key for growers, educators and the drainage industry.

Episode 69 | 19 min
Most of the Midwest is farms, is agriculture, so if you want to make the biggest impact, why not work with the people that are working the land.
— Dr. Lindsay Pease

Guest Bios

Dr. Lindsay Pease

Dr. Lindsay Pease is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Nutrient and Water Management with the University of Minnesota in the Red River Valley in Northern Minnesota. Her work focuses primarily on nitrogen and phosphorus management in row crop systems with an emphasis on nutrient loss in agricultural runoff. She works with Minnesota farmers to build resilient, sustainable agricultural production systems.

Karl Guetter

Guest host Karl Guetter is Prinsco’s Agricultural Segment Lead and an active farmer in South Central Minnesota. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the ag industry and, being a farmer himself, is a true advocate for managing water on the farm. 

This is The Water Table.

A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

A place for people to go find information and education.

Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

How misunderstood what we do is.

I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie Duininck (00:31):
Welcome back to The Water Table podcast. Jamie Duininck with you.

Just want to introduce an episode Karl Guetter so graciously recorded from the North American Conservation Agricultural Drainage Expo last week, or a couple weeks ago, in Iowa. Karl interviewed Lindsay Pease, soil scientist from the University of Crookston in Minnesota. And they talked a lot about the Red River Valley, Northern Minnesota, North Dakota, and the differences there. And when it comes to drainage, longer winters, snowfall, and snow impact on crop viability in the growing season, and how drainage impacts that. So I think you’re going to enjoy this episode. Please listen to Karl and Lindsay now.

Karl Guetter (01:26):
Welcome back to The Water Table everyone. This morning we have Lindsay Pease, with the University of Minnesota Extension Service out of Crookston, Minnesota, with us. Glad to have you here, Lindsay.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (01:36):
Yeah. Thank you. Great to be here.

Karl Guetter (01:38):
We’re down at the NACADE show in Iowa. It’s the first year of this show. It’s basically a show for drainage and water management, and the drainage industry in general. So this morning, why don’t we just start out by Lindsay, let us know who you are, your background, where you came from.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (01:53):
Yeah. So as you mentioned, I live and work out of Crookston, Minnesota. For those of you that are not as familiar with Northwest Minnesota as I am, we are about 30 minutes east of Grand Forks, North Dakota. And we are an hour and a half north of Fargo, so very cold, almost to Canada. But what I am doing and working on there, I am basically the university’s nutrient and water management specialist, in the Red River Valley region of the country.

And my background is actually as an ag engineer. I got my degree at Ohio State, worked with some of the older titans of the industry back in Ohio, namely Larry Brown and Norm Fausey. And those two just made me fall in love with drainage, and I was looking for a position that I could keep doing that work of drainage in a new region. And the Red River Valley is a great place to be doing drainage research and outreach.

I’m stationed at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston. This is one of the university’s experience stations, and we just really focused on that Red River Valley agriculture there. And I’m the role of the soil scientist in the nutrient water management expert.

Karl Guetter (03:18):
Did you have exposure to the Red River Valley when you were doing your undergrad at Ohio? Or what attracted you to come to Northern Minnesota?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (03:25):
Yeah. So I barely knew about the Red River Valley before I started looking for jobs. But they had the job opening and when I went and learned more about the region, I just really fell in love with it. I think there’s a lot of great parallels, interesting parallels to Western Lake Erie Basin, which is where I had done a lot of my work. I grew up in Western Lake Erie Basin. It’s also a really super flat glacial lake bed. So I looked out at this landscape and was like, “This just felt like home immediately.” And it’s cold obviously, but you get used to it. You really do.

And I think it’s such an exciting place to work, because there are a lot of really motivated farmers, really passionate farmers in the region. And trying to show them how drainage can work for them has been a really fun thing for me to work on. Yeah.

Karl Guetter (04:20):
So talking about the farmers up there and I would agree, they’re passionate about their work. And I think one thing that’s unique about the Red River Valley is that they really grasp technology quickly, right?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (04:32):

Karl Guetter (04:33):
And they kind of move at a faster pace maybe than some other parts of the country. Is it challenging to get them to agree to work with you? Or what’s the relationship like between the extension service and the growers?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (04:44):
Yeah. We have some absolutely fantastic collaborators that are willing to try things. Like you said, they’re not only quick to pick up the technology, but they actually have been really excited to try things out on their farm. They are experimenting on their own anyway.

And we actually work with a lot of the commodity groups to help find like-minded farmers, that are willing to maybe run a strip trial, or let us do crazy things on their farm, or let me run to their tile outlet, and collect drain water samples. So we’ve actually had no problem finding growers to work with. It’s been great.

Karl Guetter (05:25):
So speaking about test projects, what are you guys working on today? What’s the current projects you got then?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (05:30):
Yeah. My biggest kind of marquee project is… Really when I started this job back in 2018, I worked on installing a full scale drainage outreach and demonstration plot in Crookston. So I always say, “We have the coolest drainage plots in the country, by annual average temperature.”

Karl Guetter (05:53):

Dr. Lindsay Pease (05:53):
Yeah. We’re monitoring different aspects of how the water is moving, but then also how nutrients are cycling in the soil. So looking at that whole aspect of not only water management, but how that affects the fertility recommendations that we might be making, and how nutrients are cycling, how microbes are processing the different carbon and nitrogen fractions. But then obviously too, looking at phosphorus, which is a big issue in the Red River Valley also. So yeah.

Karl Guetter (06:25):
Right. Right, right. Well, those are all topics that are definitely hot topics in the drain industry right now. I understand the relationship with the grower. What can the drainage industry… I sit here as a representative of Prinsco, we kind of represent and we talk about drainage industry types of topics. But what do you need from the drainage industry? Whether it be a manufacturer, whether it be a contractor, what do you need from us as far as help to try and move your work along?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (06:52):
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think really a big part of what I’m trying to do, is just let people know that the Red River Valley is out there, and then we’ve got this kind of great area that is just ready, ready for opportunities, ready for education. And I think partnering with the industry on getting some education out there for farmers, for growers, would be really high on my list I think of what we need in the valley. I promise it doesn’t snow all the time.

Karl Guetter (06:52):
Just three or four months of the year, six months maybe.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (07:27):
Just maybe six months. Yeah.

Karl Guetter (07:31):
So as an industry, as a drainage industry, if we have things, a topic, subjects that we want work done on, what would that process look like getting those ideas to you? How does that work? Or what would the process look like?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (07:48):
Yeah. I’m really involved in a group of drainage researchers and also industry, that is called the Conservation Drainage Network. I’m the current chair this year of the Conservation Drainage Network. So that is just a group of like-minded drainage individuals. We meet formally once a year, which isn’t necessarily the best time for contractors. We meet in April. So we’re talking about maybe changing that, because a meeting like this is always a great way to interact with people.

I think a lot of my work is really flexible. I try to be really practical. So if people want to come to me with ideas, reach out, I am happy to have a conversation, and think about what we can work on together. I love the collaborative research and being really practical, and then practical applications of what we can do, and where we can test things. Yeah.

Karl Guetter (08:44):
Were you working on a lot of nutrient stuff right now? Your specialization is contaminant hydrology, water quality and nutrient management. You mentioned there’s a lot of nutrient management, water quality stuff. Where do you see your projects going in the future? Or what’s on your mind, as far as after this set of research you’re doing now is done?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (09:03):
Yeah. I think really a big focus of my work is not only looking at how the water management interacts with these different soil fertility and nutrient cycling pools, but also just evaluating how some of the practices that are being done elsewhere in the Midwest, “How can we implement that?” There’s a lot of different drainage practices, whether they be saturated buffers or fire reactors, those sorts of things. Phosphorus removal structures that I think drainage, water recycling, even those types of big projects, I think would be really well suited for the region. And so I think a lot of what I’m doing is just testing those, or looking at maybe a small scale to see, “Can we roll some of these practices out? Or do we need to change them? Do we need to change them for the different crops in the soils and climate obviously that we have in the Valley?”

Karl Guetter (09:59):
You mentioned large scale. I think that’s one thing that the industry, the drainage industry as a whole, likes to see. Because it’s one thing to make it happen on a very small scale. You obviously have to have your control, but would it be challenging, do you think, to find enough cooperators to do large scale projects if you wanted to do 35, 40 buffer strips, or large numbers?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (10:27):
I think it probably would be hard to find cooperators for quite that many. But I think because we’re still in that phase of introducing these practices to farmers. But once they start to see and understand a little bit better… And part of that is my job too. I think we would have no problem. Once they can understand, get their head around it, we could easily start to pull those people in, and get them to try things on their field.

Even just using cover crops as an example, a lot of farmers just start experimenting with cover crops in their farms. So drainage is a little bit more of a step, a bigger step for them. But also I’m finding a lot of interest in that, a lot of curiosity. So based on my past experience, I have no doubt that we’d eventually be able to find people. We just would need to kind of baby steps first. But I think over time, yeah.

Karl Guetter (11:24):
So you mentioned cover crops.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (11:24):

Karl Guetter (11:25):
And I have a little hobby farm as well. When I put my farmer hat on… And I did some cover crops on our farms this year. But curious what you’re doing in Northern Minnesota. I mean Crookston is chilly. It gets chilly quickly in the fall. I don’t know what your annual, or your average first frost date is, probably sometime in September. What are you doing up there to get those cover crops to take off?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (11:47):
Yeah. So we have a few different cover crop experiments that we are starting out with. We had our first year doing some of them back in 2020.

One of the projects we’re doing is looking at how easy it is to just green seed soybeans into rye. Because in the spring, as you know, with things being cold and wet, you may not necessarily have time to terminate the rye, and then go back in two weeks later and plant the soybeans. So we’re just looking at what happens if you terminate and plant the soybeans all the same day. We had actually pretty good results in 2022, even though we had a late cold spring. Rye is one cover crop that does really well in our cold climate. It can survive the winter, which is always a concern. But we do tend to run out of time, as you mentioned in the fall, getting those cover crops established can be a real challenge.

So we’re starting to look into, “Can we do any interseeding?” Try to get them a little bit of a head start before, like you mentioned, because the crops are coming off at the last possible minute in October. And so if you’re also planting a cover crop, you can imagine how that goes, it doesn’t always take off. But yeah, we’re looking at interseeding and other ways to help widen that window, and give the cover crops a better chance.

Karl Guetter (13:09):
I think the industry, the drainage industry, we obviously have a place in that whole process. And I think growers overall, see a lot of the advantages of cover crops. I think that first, that early part, “How do I get it in, and get it to actually green up?” Because there’s nothing more disheartening, I think for a grower, than to go through the effort to try and get the cover crop to grow and then it doesn’t grow, right?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (13:09):

Karl Guetter (13:28):
So let’s switch gears a little bit. Talking about the extension service. How do you guys work with other… You talked about sharing information, right? I see what they’re doing in other places of the country, bring it here. I know I think in Iowa this next year, is there a convention, or an annual meeting for extension agents in Iowa this next year?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (13:54):
I don’t know. I don’t know, actually.

Karl Guetter (13:55):
All right. So how do you work with other extension services trying to move that information around and make that information visible?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (14:01):
Yeah. A lot of us come to… As you mentioned, we do go to a lot of different meetings and try to go to industry events and talk to each other there. I also have conversations and meetings with other folks that are doing extension research in the same area. So a lot of it’s a pretty tight-knit community of us, so that we can help collaborate where we need to, and learn from one another. I think it is… We’re keeping in touch just at different events, and sometimes over Zoom too. There’s a lot we can do anymore with technology, just calling each other up on Zoom, and having a chat and collaborating that way. Yeah.

Karl Guetter (14:51):
Great. As a manufacturer in the industry… And I think this probably speaks… I think I could probably speak for the entire drainage industry, in saying that, “We’d like to support the activities that you guys do. We like to be involved in research projects.”

One thing that I think we would like to do more of, and that is be more exposed to your students. Labor is one of the biggest challenges any company faces today. How would the drain industry, or a company like Prinsco, “How do we get more exposure to your students? How do we get on the radar? How do we talk to them?” So maybe we can try and get them excited about water management, which maybe isn’t the most exciting topic for a senior in college.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (15:34):
Sure. I’m kind of an excellent example of the possibility of drawing somebody in, who is not from a farm background, just showed up, a city kid at a big, large land grand institution. I went to Ohio State, like I said, but it’s the same thing at any of these different universities.

I think giving students opportunities to even just… Things that attracted me, getting out in the field, seeing the practices, learning about them, seeing a drain plow. Opportunities like that for students, I think for that kind of hands-on opportunity, or maybe participating in a design project.

A lot of the engineering departments, for example, will have opportunities for the students to work on a small design project, as part of a course curriculum. And that would be one really great way. You have a project and you kind of put this out for a group of senior engineering design students. And that would actually be one way to for sure help introduce students to the drainage industry. I think that is definitely one way. I’m sure any ag engineering department in the country would have a department like that.

And I’m also happy to help make connections where possible. And for me, my first summer job was as an undergraduate research assistant, just working, helping with drainage research, and then I really fell in love with it. So I’m a convert to agriculture in general.

Karl Guetter (17:16):
That’s a great story because… And today, I don’t know what the exact number is, 3 or 4% of the population that still lives on a farm, or comes from a farm background. But I do feel like agriculture in general, and specific, the drainage industry, we touch more than just agriculture, we touch natural resources, right?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (17:16):

Karl Guetter (17:35):
So all these other areas where I think there probably is some passion with some of these youngsters, or young students or older students, whatever you want to call. So if there’s some passion there, there could be some excitement, as long as we can figure out a way to get them exposed, get them into our industry, and just surround ourselves with a ton of bright, young individuals.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (17:54):
Yeah. No, I totally agree. And that was a big thing for me. I came to the university thinking, “I am going to help the environment, but what does that mean?” And then I think through that exposure, realizing that most of the Midwest is farms, is agriculture. So if you want to make the biggest impact, why not work with the people that are working with the land? And that’s been super fulfilling for me too, and understanding that the goal is not just to make a quick buck, right? It is to actually be a good steward of the land, and all of these things just go hand in hand with one another. Yeah.

Karl Guetter (18:32):
Awesome. Well, do you have any questions for us, Lindsay?

Dr. Lindsay Pease (18:36):
I don’t think so.

Karl Guetter (18:37):
All right.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (18:38):

Karl Guetter (18:39):
Well, we appreciate you coming on The Water Table, today. I appreciate the conversation, and hopefully, we can have you back again sometime soon.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (18:44):

Karl Guetter (18:45):
Thank you.

Dr. Lindsay Pease (18:45):
Thank you very much.

Jamie Duininck (18:49):
Thanks for joining us today on The Water Table. You can find us at watertable.ag, find us on Facebook. You can find us on Twitter. And you can also find the podcast on any of your favorite podcast platforms.