A Five-Buckle-Boot Career Serving Drainage Contractors
- Kent Rodelius of Prinsco, Ag Market Relationship Manager
The drainage industry is driven by the unsung heroes of agriculture– drainage contractors. Kent Rodelius from Prinsco reflects on his four-decade career serving these hardworking business owners, many of whom have a multi-generational, family culture. He shares stories about the evolution of the industry and his personal philosophy of hard work which he describes as “a five-buckle-boot day.”
Episode 49 | 64 min
Kent Rodelius has been in the water management industry for nearly 40 years – all of them at Prinsco, helping to build strong relationships, grow sales, and develop key partnerships. Kent is a strong advocate for enhanced conservation practices designed to address the environmental challenges currently facing producers. He also has a passion for staying informed on regulatory and legislative issues which led him to testify before the U.S. House of Ag Committee. Kent is the acting President of the ADMC and is highly involved in both the state and national LICA.
Jamie Duininck (00:00:02):
This is the water table.
Kent Rodelius (00:00:05):
A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.
Jamie Duininck (00:00:09):
A place for people to go find information and education.
Matt Helmers: (00:00:13):
Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.
Jamie Duininck (00:00:17):
How misunderstood what we do is.
Kent Rodelius (00:00:22):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.
Jamie Duininck (00:00:30):
Well, welcome back to The Water Table podcast. As you can see, I have a guest with me today in studio. Kent Rodelius back by popular demand. That means I asked him to be here. Looking forward to just visiting with Kent today. He is, as I’ve mentioned before, and as he’s been a guest on the podcast and shared insights and interviewed guests for us, Kent has almost a 40 year career in the drainage business with Prinsco and lots of knowledge, lots of relationships. Kent is a go-to guy in the industry, whether you’re buying from a competitor of Prinsco or a competitor of Prinsco, Kent has built a career and a and relationships with people, in which he’s just so approachable. And people will ask him questions about his experiences and his knowledge, so I thought it’d be fun to get Kent back on here.
Later this year Kent’s going to be making some transitions in his career and he is currently still a full-time employee with Prinsco, working on some special projects and going to be moving to part-time and working with some of our outside organizations like ADMC, which he currently is a president of the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition and continuing to do that, but not on a full-time basis anymore with Prinsco. So Kent, I thought it would just be fun to just chat about your career and 40 years goes fast, but let’s-
Kent Rodelius (00:02:09):
Jamie Duininck (00:02:09):
I bet we can talk a lot about it in a podcast, so thanks for being here.
Kent Rodelius (00:02:14):
It’s a great privilege to be here Jamie and I look forward to this conversation. And there’s so much that’s happened to me over the years, that has just been an absolute blast to work in this industry. And have just, like you said, made so many friendships and so many strong relationships, and just have seen so many fascinating and interesting things come about. It’s been really an incredible experience to be in this industry for 40 years. And so it’s something I knew absolutely nothing about when I first got into it.
Jamie Duininck (00:02:46):
Yeah. And so let’s go back there. Was it ’84? Is that-
Kent Rodelius (00:02:46):
Jamie Duininck (00:02:52):
’83 when you started, so three years before the first Top Gun movie came out. I went to that last night, so pretty neat. But 1983 and I kind of wanted to mention that just to get a reference, but also there was a lot. We think there’s a lot going on right now, and over the last 20 years in our industry, when it comes to environmental pressures and government pressures within the water management practices. There was a lot going on in that area too and in that timeframe with Swampbusters. And tell me a little bit about how that … Was that something you knew about, that was pressure right when you started? Or did that come about as that happened at the end of ’85?
Kent Rodelius (00:03:38):
That’s a good question Jamie. I still remember the day I drove into the Prinsburg Tile Yard to apply for a job. I’d answered an ad in the Star Tribune and had no idea what tile was. But back then it was called Prinsburg Tile. And drove into the yard and thought, what in the world is this all about? So got hired, went to work. It was something like I said, was brand new to me. I was a city kid. I had been doing some agricultural work, selling silos and harvesters, the big blue silos, so I knew a little bit about agriculture. But I knew very little about tile. I had no idea what tile was or what was coming at me in the industry. But very, very early on, I said to myself, this is something that could be really good. This could be a great career. And just set about learning.
And there were so many people over the years, contractors that I would make appointments to see, that taught me so much about the industry, and answered any foolish question that I had. I was a history major, good grief. How do you apply that? But it’s really been remarkable to make all those relationships, to build those relationships and to be kind of adopted by a lot of people that were willing to share their knowledge with me.
You asked about Swampbuster. That was implemented in December of 1985. So very shortly after I got into the industry and thought that this could be something that could really be great, I wondered about what the future of the industry was going to be because Swampbuster greatly changed the landscape for what was happening in the country.
So in 1985, they introduced the Swampbuster legislation and that passed. And that made it not legal to drain a wetland anymore if you took any government payments, if you were in the farm program. So that was a great game changer. And prior to that, the NRCS had funded drainage projects to drain sloughs, so we had more land to feed the world. So there was a real tension there in that segment of time, many contentious meetings. I went to meeting after meeting, after meeting, and became somewhat informed on that. And that really helped me in my career to be a guy that people could call and say, “Well, what’s happening here and what’s happening there?” It was disconcerting, but in business, there’s always going to be those challenges that you have to manage and come back around and figure out how to survive.
Jamie Duininck (00:06:14):
That’s one thing interesting. I asked you to come on the podcast today and didn’t give you an outline or anything, because I didn’t want to. I just knew this would go a certain way and it would be fun. And here’s a question I didn’t see coming that I just thought of. You mentioned you have gone to meeting after meeting early in your career and that helped you, because you had knowledge that your customers then wanted to tap into. That didn’t end early in your career. You kept doing that, kept going to meetings. You still do.
And I know that isn’t, well, I shouldn’t say I know that, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t something that is your favorite thing to do, to go sit in a meeting, and especially one where there’s a lot of bureaucrats and bureaucracy happening at those meetings, because it seems like it moves at such a slow pace, which you aren’t necessarily a slow pace guy. But you did that because you knew that knowledge that you were gaining was important for you to be able to apply in your job and be able to help your customer, and it paid off. But I just, I don’t know if I have a question there, I just want to mention that.
Kent Rodelius (00:06:14):
Jamie Duininck (00:07:27):
I do know that it’s something that has greatly benefited you in your career, that you’ve been willing to do that. And I think it’s a testament to who you are that a lot of times, as people get older, they just decide not to do things that they don’t want to do anymore. And I know it isn’t your favorite thing, but you kept doing it because he saw the value in it.
Kent Rodelius (00:07:49):
Yeah, like I said earlier, I didn’t know much about the industry. In fact, I knew nothing about the industry. And a couple of things my dad taught me and my brothers and sisters were, if you learn how to work hard when you’re young, and you learn how to make yourself valuable, you’ll be just fine. And so that’s really what I sought out to do was to, number one, I wanted to understand what I was getting into. And number two, I thought that if I could do that and have some information and give people a reason to call me and talk to me, and have something to say when you show up, that would be invaluable. And that seemed to have worked out over the years. If you call somebody and say, if I can stop by, you have to want that customer to have you stop. And you have to have something valuable to share with them. You don’t need to waste his time.
Jamie Duininck (00:08:39):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s the old saying goes is if you work hard for a year, you pay yourself for a year, and you work hard for five years, you kind of pay yourself for 10. And if you work hard for 15 years, you pay yourself kind of for your career. And that’s I think what you’re saying there is all, everything you learned was applicable to everything in the future. That you could draw from it, draw from relationships, draw from knowledge and it benefited you. It benefited Prinsco go greatly and your customer base, so kind of neat. And that there’s so many, very few people actually anymore in the industry, that were present during that time, including me, of Swampbuster. So I’m always curious to hear about that, how that came down. And then, what was the mood like from the customer base? Was there a lot of tension around that? Was there a lot of concern about what does the future hold because this is a new dynamic? This is the way we did it before. Now we’re not going to be able to do that anymore.
Kent Rodelius (00:09:46):
Yeah. Up in the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, primarily it was very contentious. There was a lot of mistrust. It was really interesting to watch, back then it was the SCS, and now it’s the NRCS. The SCS was the guy that helped the contractor and the farmer. He’d come out and say, “Here’s what you can do. You can, you can drain this slough and we’ll pay you to drain that down and have that become crop land.” And all of a sudden in 1985, then that NRCS guy was the police. So he’d come out and say, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that.” And the rules seemed to be quite ambiguous. The Congress passed it in the 1985 Farm Bill, like I said. But then what they passed and what the implementers bring about are two different things.
So there was just some very, very contentious days and some contentious meetings. And we were looking for middle ground and how to work through all these questions and problems. A lot of mistrust on both sides. And it really was a shame that it went that way because farmers want to take care of their land and do the right thing. They’re not wanting to drain true wet lands. And it’s still fairly contentious to this day on what a wetland is and what the value of a wetland is. And it depends on what portion of the country you’re in. There’s different rules. I remember an older contractor told me that the Swampbuster rules were kind of like the Bible. Everybody has their own interpretation and that just seemed to be true.
Jamie Duininck (00:11:24):
Yeah. Yeah. And that happened. And like I said, I wasn’t around for the Swampbusters or the what immediately followed. But then it seemed like the industry kind of just bopped along and there was work and there was projects, and people were improving their land on the agricultural side. But then it felt like it didn’t really take another step until the advent of the yield monitor in the combine when people really understood. Before it was obvious that if you can drain a slough, especially a big slough, or there’s no production, and there’s a lot of good soil underneath there, now of a sudden you’re buying land back in the sixties, seventies really cheap that’s water and draining it. And we shouldn’t have done that. We all agree with that.
That was a practice that was just a well known, that’s what you do. You can continue to grow your acres and your bushels by doing that the fastest. But now that’s no longer available to you because of regulation, which is like we say, we all agree that’s a good thing. But so now what, is we just go along and now the yield monitor is invented. I think that was probably ’93, ’94 when-
Kent Rodelius (00:12:46):
Right in there, I think. Yeah.
Jamie Duininck (00:12:48):
Yeah, when that really started to become, most farmers had a yield monitor in their combine. All of a sudden they’re seeing these spikes in their yields. And over the course of a fall or two, they’re realizing that’s really becoming consistent, that spike over a tile line. And that’s when you’re starting to see more now, as you get into the mid nineties, more pattern tiling jobs. And you’re seeing guys doing that and that, and then kind of the industry took off from there again, but talk a little bit about that.
Kent Rodelius (00:13:19):
We were just coming out of the farm crisis of the late eighties. And like you were saying, Jamie, the technology was exploding in the farm industry. And one of the really key portions of that was the tile line, the yield monitors over tile lines. But the farmers kind of had their suspicions that was happening, but you wouldn’t trust a salesman. You need to see it for yourself, so a lot of young college students returning to the farm that were pretty technically savvy, that understood how technology could drive their operations on the farm. And so they’d have conversations with dad and say, let’s look this over. And pretty soon the tale was in the tape. And they could see very clearly that if they would put tile in closer. A lot of the original tile was tile was called target tiling, where there’d be a wet area and you’d go in and drain that.
And what you really did was only move water around on the farm. That water that was there now went to another low spot that wasn’t quite as low, and just went until you chased it off the farm. So people started doing what we call now, pattern tiling, where they grid tile, a whole piece of ground, a whole quarter or an 80 or a 40 or whatever. And they see remarkable, remarkable results. And it was often, that was your worst land. And now it turns into the first land that you can get onto in the spring. You can get it planted all in one pass. It just started stair stepping. And those things came together. And people just saw the great value of controlling the water on their farm.
Jamie Duininck (00:15:04):
Yeah, it’s so interesting. And we’re just talking today and telling stories, but it’s evident today. And today, just this spring with how much rain we’ve had in the upper Midwest and how cold the spring has been. We’re seeing that the fields that the farmers were able to get on when it was still super wet, was the places where they have their water managed the best and those fields pattern tiled. And then stuff that still isn’t done and probably is going to be prevent planted is some of the worst stuff. And we just have to continue as a society to allow farmers to really manage their best land.
And we probably need to continue to develop and evolve and buffer some of the stuff that shouldn’t be farmed, but as a society, as we see things going, and as our government spend so much money, we have to get to the point where we can, we can perform on the farm without farm subsidies, if we don’t need them. there’s so much evidence of that. When you have water and when you can get rid of your water, you can grow a great crop. And when you don’t have those two things aligned, there’s going to be problems. And you’re not going to be able to make money on the farm, you don’t make money on the farm. We’ve talked about that before, learned that from you. But that’s where taxes come from, that pays for schools and hospitals and local governments. So it’s a pretty awesome thing when it’s working.
Kent Rodelius (00:16:39):
It’s really been interesting to watch. I’ve traveled the Midwest pretty extensively, where a lot of the drainage is done. And there’s been a lot of guys that lived in Indiana and Illinois that understood what tile did before we did up here in Minnesota and North and South Dakota. So a lot of guys sold their acres were able to drive, come up here, move up here, buy a much larger tract of land, and then put the drainage practices on that. And that’s been an amazing thing to watch. And the other thing that I’ve noticed is if you go to Indiana and Illinois and drive the country roads, there isn’t hardly a gravel road. Everything is blacktopped. The farms are all pretty nice farmsteads, nice houses, good out buildings. And as you come west, it just starts to change a little bit.
Iowa is very strongly implemented. They’ve got great systems of tile there, but you it’s almost like you could see the wealth spread, not solely to tiling, but it has had a major impact. But it’s really been fun to say like South Dakota, where there were some pretty rough places and those people have embraced drainage and understand it now, and have started to tile that land. And it’s the energy and the excitement people have in the Dakotas is really fun to see and watch. And like I said, it’s really driven a lot of success on the farm. I always say, in the Midwest, we have the luxury of excess water. And so we have to manage it. And that’s what we’re doing. We don’t necessarily like the word drainage. We like the word water management. It’s much more of what we’re doing.
Jamie Duininck (00:18:16):
Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting you bring that up, because about the wealth transfer from kind of the eastern part of the Midwest over to the western part, you and I have talked about that for years. And it’s been about 22 years since Prinsco has had a plant in Illinois before that. Your experiences in Illinois and my experiences in Illinois were few and far between if any, but we talked about that right away when we got out there was, you can just tell the difference in [inaudible 00:18:49]. It’s another generation or two that’s been on the farm here and has the ability to, has stuff paid for and nicer, their whole, everything. You can just tell by just driving by, the way the local governments are.
And I haven’t thought about that in a while, but you’re seeing that now in the last 20 years, the progress that has been made. You mentioned South Dakota, just using that as an example. South Dakota has in the rural landscape has become much more sophisticated on the farm. And I think, not knowing for sure, but I think that translates to more wealth on the farms, more wealth in the farm families, which is a good thing for those local governments.
Kent Rodelius (00:19:32):
Absolutely. It just makes a remarkable difference. It’s been very interesting to watch that transpire. And prior to that, you would simply go out and buy more land and just farm more land. But now you’re better off tiling what you have and getting that land into shape. And it won’t be long till you’ll be looking for more land to acquire. It’s really fun to watch that, just kind of roll that way and get going, and farmers embracing that. And it’s, I always thought about it when I first started and wondered why more guys didn’t tile. That’s really changed now, but the people that understand and really see what managing your water table does, really took some major steps, pretty fast.
Jamie Duininck (00:20:21):
Kent, you’d been working at Prinsco about 14, 15 years when I showed up. Something pretty early on, I don’t remember exactly when, but it wasn’t very long into my employment, months, not years that you had a major injury where you had tore a muscle off your leg and couldn’t drive for, I don’t remember-
Kent Rodelius (00:20:44):
Tore my quadricep.
Jamie Duininck (00:20:45):
Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what was it, 90 days or something probably that you couldn’t drive. And it kind of worked out well, because they didn’t know what the heck to do with me, so just told me to ride along with you and drive you, basically. So it was like Driving Miss Daisy, never saw the movie, so I don’t know if it was or not. But anyway, I drove view around the country and it’s kind of where we developed a strong relationship, and also where I learned a lot from you about relationships, and met a lot of people in a setting in which, I got to connect with them, because you were there rather than just meeting them. And I didn’t want to mention that because it was a catalyst in my career that was really helpful, but also, just those times were interesting times too. It’s like I mentioned about the yield monitor. It wasn’t too long after that.
Kent Rodelius (00:20:45):
Jamie Duininck (00:21:41):
They were still talking about that stuff. The other thing that was happening then that there was a lot of contentious conversations with customers, was the advent of the farmer plow happened right about then, where farmers were buying their own attachable equipment to a tractor and installing their own tile. And it was a threat, it felt like a threat, to the drainage contractor.
And that was really helpful for me, being a young sales guy and just young working in the industry to watch how you navigated those conversations with people that were your friends, your customers, but that you had a relationship with, and learned a lot. But it’s just interesting now to look back at some of these things. We mentioned a couple with Swampbusters. Contentious, not knowing where the industry’s going. Then another development with the farmer plow that was very contentious and very concerning for customers. And how these things have evolved and the industry continues to grow, but how you were there, and really involved with helping your customer think through that.
Kent Rodelius (00:22:51):
Yeah, that certainly was an interesting time. The genesis of a drainage contractor was very often, there were three or four boys on the farm. There wasn’t enough for everybody to do. So dad went and bought an old wheel or an old trencher and they started tiling a little bit on their ground. And then pretty soon the neighbor wanted them to come and do some tiling. And there were a ton of drainage contractors that came out of that scenario. And so it was all right for them to do that. But what really happened was the speed of people wanting to get their water table managed just took off. And there wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough contractors in the industry. So a guy was waiting two to three years for the drainage contractor to show up. And if you do the math on what it costs you not to have your tile and your ground, it could be paid for very easily in that time.
So the invention of some of these pull behind small tile plows, I’m sure that, I know that a lot of drainage contractors felt like they were eating out of their lunch box and taking the work away. But guys just simply could not afford to wait. So there was a lot of, again, new technology that became simplified for design and layout. So people knew how to tile ground more closely. Some of the land grant universities started putting on schools. That was very contentious with drainage contractor as well. But most of that got over pretty quickly. And then what would happen is the farmer would want to do another piece of ground and he’d call the drainage contractor and say, “Will you come and put the main in for me?” So it worked itself out, but there was a lot of hard feelings and a lot of emotion in some of those days as well.
Jamie Duininck (00:24:40):
Yeah. And I think 20 years removed now from that, there was a lot of people that bought a machine with a lot of dreams around what they would do with it. And a pretty small percentage of those have evolved to really doing all their work. There’s a mix between people buying a machine and then selling it a year or two or five later when they realize they just they got too much going on and can’t get enough done. Or to those that have developed into actual contractors, working for hire for other people. And then everything in between. And I think that’s the way any type of market goes, but it’s easy for people to forget how contentious that was while it was being figured out. And there was a lot of confusion.
Kent Rodelius (00:25:29):
Well, it’s kind of like if you hire somebody to put a new roof on your house and they come and they have all the equipment and all the tools and all the knowledge, they make it look easy. And when a drainage contractor would show up, he’d have everything he needed. He’d have the work crews and the backhoes and the excavators and the support equipment. And a farmer would scratch his head and say, that went in pretty fast. That’s maybe I should look into that. But I think that you talked about the number of people that bought small tile plows to pull behind their tractors. There’s a lot of those in the Grove, because tiling is not a fun business. It is work. It is hard work in crappy conditions. You’re in the wet and the mud and the cold. And a lot of farmers tried it for a little while and said, you know what, this isn’t for me.
And so I give a ton of credit to the guys that install tile professionally, because it’s a very challenging form of work, because you have to mobilize and mobilize and mobilize. You might be on a farm two days and then you go to the next one. You got to move equipment, you got to stage product. It just it’s very … And then you fight the weather day after day, after day. And you think you have a plan and then it doesn’t come together and you have to shift gears and go somewhere else. So it’s, there’s a lot of crabby contractors, but they get over it. And for the most part, they just love being outside. They love nobody looking over their shoulder. They just work hard [inaudible 00:27:02] it’s a great, great business to be affiliated. It’s real people doing really hard work that really matters.
Jamie Duininck (00:27:09):
As I’m listening to you, I’m just thinking, and I’m reminded that you’re a guy that isn’t really all that fond of confrontation. And yet you’ve found yourself over the years in a lot of it, with all these dynamics that have happened in our industry. And I just find that interesting, because you’ve navigated that quite well, even though that isn’t by any means your preference.
Kent Rodelius (00:27:32):
No, it isn’t my preference. And I’m surprised you figured that out after 40 years Jamie/ no, I don’t like conflict, but I value helping people above that. And if you can be a resource and give a guy some guidance and some hope, the vast majority of people want to do the right thing. And so the contractors are just really hard working, good people that want to go out and work hard every day and put pipe in the ground. If they could just do that, they’d be happy as a lark. But managing some of this other stuff is necessary and it takes a lot of hard work.
Jamie Duininck (00:28:11):
Yeah. And it gets more and more distracting with everything going on in the world around us every day. It’s harder when it comes to, whether it’s finding employees, all kinds of dynamics that are just more challenging each year. Another thing as we’re kind of going through history and talking, thinking about things, you and I went, well, I know exactly when it was, it was 21 years ago. About a week and a half ago or two weeks ago, it would be 21 years ago. We went and met Peter Darbishire, who was the editor of Drainage Contractor for years and years over in Ontario. Because we wanted to see what they were doing there and what was going on. And Ontario at the time was so far ahead of what was happening in our part of the Midwest. And they were like 40 foot spacings and 30 foot spacings. And we thought that was amazing. And I was just at a meeting here two weeks ago and talking to some guys from Ontario and they’re talking about now that a lot of stuff is being done on 15 foot spacings.
Kent Rodelius (00:28:11):
Yeah, it’s amazing.
Jamie Duininck (00:29:23):
And so it continues to evolve. And one thing that’s always been head scratcher to me is why that information doesn’t transfer faster. And why if somebody’s doing something in the same soil types in Ontario and it’s working well, why wouldn’t it adopt faster in Manitoba or in Minnesota or in Iowa? But it just takes time.
Kent Rodelius (00:29:49):
It certainly does. And I think about that a lot too. And I think what happens is that if a guy puts in a standard drainage system, it’s so productive and he likes it so much, he can’t hardly believe it could get better. And so that he probably goes on to the next piece of ground rather than fully finishing what he’s doing. But now we see him circling back and splitting tile lines. That’s another reason why farm plows work is they just split tile lines. If they’re a hundred feet, they split them to fifties or whatever. Tile is now put in quite a bit shallower. It’s just a much more efficient drainage system that way. And so there’s just all this evolution and all these new practices that are coming at us that are certainly worth looking at. But in the scope of the farm, they can only support so much of what they’d like to do on the land.
Jamie Duininck (00:30:40):
Mm-hmm. Yep. I remember that trip, like I said, I know that was 21 years ago because my daughter was born in early May. And that was the first trip I made after with you over there. And we both have been over the years, energized by opportunities to watch how other people in other areas are doing things and how we might be able to learn to share that information with our customers and maybe apply it in different areas.
And I know you have been … You traveled kind of the whole Midwest and saw things going on. And when we went on special trips to Ontario too. But whether it’s Illinois or Iowa, and then what happened up in the Red River Valley around the same timeframe, early two thousands, where we had some trips where, talking to people that really smart farmers that I would call using technology way beyond what they’re using it in other areas. And just wouldn’t embrace the idea of what managing your water table with subsurface drainage could do for you. And so we had a lot of pound your head against wall days that have turned out well now, but just interesting to see where that was and where it’s gone.
Kent Rodelius (00:32:05):
It’s hard to figure that out. Because there are people that were using precision farming way ahead of most people and they were spending a ton of money on that. And my experience is that with the guys that adopted to manage their water table and then implement precision farming, was much more lucrative to do it than to do it the other way around. Until you manage your water, your fertilizers and your seed and technology really cannot fully be embraced until the water and the soil is managed the way it should be. And once that light bulb comes on, that’s what we’re seeing up in the Valley. I remember when that got going, the rush of contractors up there to try and get a business going, and to take that work on was phenomenal. And now it’s weeded back and quite a ways down. And just the guys that are serious about it are doing it, but that was certainly a fun scenario to work in and to watch. But those guys are just figuring it out up there day after day. And it’s just really been intriguing.
Jamie Duininck (00:33:13):
Yeah, it really has. And things have changed so much too. Now they know what drainage can do for them because there’s so much going on in the Dakotas, Western Minnesota, Red River Valley. But also the opportunity that’s coming with water quality and managing your water on your farm, things like that. It feels to me like people in those areas are probably going to be, I don’t know if it’d say in a better position, but probably more willing to embrace it, because it’s a newer concept. And it isn’t what I’d call in Iowa, Illinois, drainage is sort of an entitlement because they’ve done it so long, and they’re going to do it that way. Whereas these new areas, they’re just willing to think of it differently because it’s new.
Kent Rodelius (00:34:04):
Yeah. That has somewhat to do with the Prairie Pothole Region. One thing I didn’t say earlier that I’d like to make sure to go on the record, is that any drainage that’s done now is legally permitted. There’s many agencies you have to go through depending where you live to be able to do just standard drainage on your ground. Farmers are not abusing the environment at all. To watch that transfer of knowledge has been amazing.
And you were talking about water quality that’s of course, right on everybody’s lips is what’s happening with water quality. And I think what’s really driving some of that concern is I don’t know how you feel about climate change, but there’s no denying that the weather patterns are different, that we’re getting large rains and that’s bigger challenges for farmers and bigger challenges for water quality. And again, these guys just want to do the right thing, but there are limitations. But it’s interesting to see and watch some of the developments we’ve got coming at us that really can make a difference in water quality. Every state in the Midwest has a nutrient reduction strategy that’s set by the Environmental Protection Agency. And there’s a great scramble to try and get that nutrient reduction, especially of nitrates under control by the year 2025. There’s new technology and new practices that really can help us benefit that.
Jamie Duininck (00:35:26):
Yeah. Yeah. And I think one thing just as we visited today, that I just encourage listeners that are farmers or contractors, is there’s been a lot of change over the last, over your career, from Swampbusters to yield monitors, to farmer plows, to new markets, emerging markets, new technologies in pipe with flexible dual wall. That’s brought us into projects that would be very difficult to do if we didn’t have that product. And we don’t know where all this is going, but it seems like the guys and the contractors, farmers that have embraced some of this and said, “Okay, there’s confusion and disruption out there, but confusion and disruption gives me an opportunity, even though I don’t necessarily know where that opportunity is right now,” are the ones that win. And we’re going to see more disruption and more confusion when it comes to water quality, water storage, compounding water, nutrient reduction, all that kind of stuff around the environment.
It’s all good, too. It’s going to make us have a better environment and better farms. And there’s going to be people that are going to just be set in their ways and say, “I don’t want to. I’m put my head in the sand.” And there’s going to be those that embrace it and figure out how to get ahead. And I just, I would use this conversation to see where we’ve come in 40 years on certain things that there was a lot of unknowns out there and scary times. I would use it as energy, if I was listening to this, and somebody that was younger that has a runway in front of them and still sees things as, boy, I don’t know where this is going. Use this conversation as some energy to stick with it and find those opportunities within that. Because there’s a lot of good things coming.
Kent Rodelius (00:37:19):
I would certainly agree. There’s great strides made on edge of field practices with saturated buffers and bioreactors and impounding wetlands, just all kinds of things. Water recycling in systems, sub irrigation systems, where we both drain and then you capture the water, and then pump it back into the field to water the crop. There’s just amazing technology. There’s about 30 million acres in the Midwest that one of those types of practices would benefit the water quality. And water quality isn’t going to go away. It’s largely misunderstood and everybody … Nobody’s not in favor of water quality, but we have to figure out how we can work together on funding that and making it realistic and adaptable to be.
Jamie Duininck (00:38:13):
Yeah, yeah. Denitrification of wetlands, the results they get is pretty amazing. And the fact that it isn’t taking off faster is surprising to me. But because of the results and the opportunities are there, I’m a big proponent of the fact that we’re going to see more and more of it. Whether you and I talk about it, whether you and I push it doesn’t matter, it’s going to happen. So it’s just exciting.
Let’s switch gears a little bit. I’m just curious in your career, there’s so many different people that you’ve run into and that you have … Run into is a good way to put it, because some of them have come and gone. And then there’s people that have been constants in your career, but tell me, just name a few. You’re not going to name them all, but maybe some mentors in your career or people that you feel we’re a big part of what energized you and what made you stay in the industry for a long time.
Kent Rodelius (00:39:17):
Just thinking about some of the contractors that I’ve spent a lot of time with. There’s a guy from Sauk Center by the name of Dave Bailey, who had a drainage business that he has now sold. It’s called MBC. And two young guys are just making that business go crazy. But Dave was so patient with me, and so willing to show me how things worked, and always available, and would take a call. And if I needed some information or an opinion, I could call him anytime. And I certainly miss Dave a lot, not being able to make that call. But there’s just a myriad of other people that are in the same boat. Industry people like Charlie Schaffer has been a great resource for me. Peter Darbishire, a great friend. John Downey was the ag lead for Trimble. John and I spent a lot of times at shows together, talking about the industry and where it was heading.
A lot of the manufacturers of plow equipment, those kinds of people. One thing that’s just been so interesting to me is that it’s such a small industry. It’s really not very well known. If you ask someone about tile, they don’t really know what you’re talking about. But it’s a great industry and it’s driving so much profitability and so much production. So there’s just an excitement about the people in this industry that get and understand that, so coming together and working with those people … I remember Kurt Dieter from Rinky Newnan. He and I worked on a lot of stuff and he’d give me good opinions. Now John Cole and others there are doing a great job with that. I just feel like I have so many friends that I look through my customer list once in a while, and just lost a good friend. Myron Halverson was a great guy to work with.
So some of those guys were just so great for me, because I could relax and ask honest questions and we could chew the fat a little bit. And see where the thing was going. The years that you and I have spent together, Jamie have just been sheer joy to me. I’ve told so many people that since the day you came to work, I’ve had 10 times the fun I had since, in all the years prior to that. And we just have had a great connection, and it’s helped me to relax, and to work hard, and just do the things that I think matter.
Jamie Duininck (00:41:45):
Well, I might not be good, but I am fun. I’ll tell you that. So some of the fun things that happen, and I know there’s a lot of other people too that are connected to a lot of these stories, but that you just … I’m assuming this happens in other industries, but when you’re in an industry where you travel rural countryside and rural America, you get to meet a lot of interesting people and real people. And some of the things sure that I experienced with you were egg coffee with Patty Cringle and didn’t know what that was. But I can’t even, maybe you can explain what egg coffee is, but it’s really good. I know that. It’s a Scandinavian thing I think. Isn’t it?
Kent Rodelius (00:42:29):
Yeah, pretty much.
Jamie Duininck (00:42:30):
And being able to leave early in the morning and go see people and stop at the Cringle’s place and get a cup of egg coffee was, was pretty amazing, because it was just different and neat, and it breaks up your day. It makes you more interesting when you know things and you talk to other people about. I remember sitting at, I think it was Dennis Wolf who was Doug’s brother, but we were out at his place. And it was lunchtime and they just invited us into the house for lunch. And they had some homemade strawberry ice cream. That’s like 25 years ago. But I remember this because it was just an interesting dynamic of watching how people live, how they connect to what they do and their kids, and they just invite you in and while you’re there, you’re kind of just part of their day.
Kent Rodelius (00:43:29):
Yep, that’s for sure. And I’ve had so many interesting experiences. I can’t even begin to talk about them and there were so many times that I wish my wife Kitty would’ve been with me and seen what was happening or you were some other friend. And we could have shared that experience because they were just slices of Americana, just [inaudible 00:43:49] slices of Americana. I remember 10 years ago probably, we were driving through a town. I was going to little dinky town. I was going to take a contractor to have lunch. And we drove by a house and a woman was standing in her driveway and she waved. And so this guy waved at her. And then she did much more animated waving. And so Myron stopped and backed up and he said, “What do you need?” And she said, “Well, Myron, my husband died five years ago. Could you come in and help me flip the mattress? I haven’t flipped the mattress since he died.” So I said, “Well,” I said, “we got to help this lady out.”
So we went in and she just was a great gal. And we went into the bedroom and I said, “Why don’t you get the vacuum? I’ll vacuum under the bed too. I’m sure that hasn’t been done.” Well, she said, “That’d be great.” So we vacuumed under the bed and got her going, and then went and had lunch. But where in the world is that going to happen to you? There’s so much good stuff that happens in rural America, in small towns, and people helping in supporting each other.
Jamie Duininck (00:44:51):
Yeah. I’ve heard that story before and it’s a good one. I thought where you’re going with that is I sent Kent one time up to check out an opportunity, way up in Saskatchewan. And he got to this guy’s place and it was in the middle of nowhere. And he left but he had his wife with him, because he was going to do a little trip. It was in the summertime, and so Kent had his wife Kitty with him. And Kent just left Kitty sit there and came back a couple hours later and Kitty was in a cardboard box playing house with the kids, because there’s nothing else to do there. And so it was a family affair working in this industry, which is pretty funny.
Kent Rodelius (00:45:35):
They had put on a play, and they had gone and fed the chickens, and now they were playing hide and go seek. And it was really quite an experience. A lot of that kind of stuff happened that you just couldn’t make up.
Jamie Duininck (00:45:49):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it’s how you end up building relationships too. Right? I mean, is just by being out there and being in a position where you might need somebody. You and I have had a situation where, when we were developing the market up in the Red River Valley 20 years ago, where we’re in the middle of nowhere and in the evening, just got dark and we hit a deer. And people maybe don’t recognize or remember this stuff, or understand this, but we were like 80 miles from the closest hotel at the time. And so we stayed at a guy’s place that we were calling on, and that was just natural for them, because they know what it’s like to live in those areas.
Kent Rodelius (00:46:36):
One other guy I thought of that has had a big impact on me, a couple of guys, Bill Bow down in Southeast Minnesota, been a great friend and confidant and helped to me. And then Jamie and I, talking about some of the same people up north, we got to know Todd Stanley. We did a podcast with him early on, but Todd was really an early adopter for tiling up in that area. And just a great joy to be around, and great energy for life, and for doing things right. And the only guy I’ve ever seen with a commercial milk machine and his milk dispenser in his house. So when I start thinking of things, it’s just amazing to me what’s happened, and what I’ve had the ability to work in and enjoy.
Jamie Duininck (00:47:19):
Yeah. Yep. And that’s, part of what I wanted to get out of this little bit here, around situations you’ve got into and in relationships, was that’s a perfect example. I didn’t think of it, but to go into somebody’s house and they’ve got a milk machine in their house, and I’ll never forget that either when you and I went in there. “Would you like a glass of milk?” Was Todd’s comment. And story after story, we could probably do a whole year, episodes on-
Kent Rodelius (00:47:48):
Jamie Duininck (00:47:48):
Think of stories. So another thing Kent, I just wanted to ask you about is over the years, there’s things that come up that were unexpected. Give me an example or two of things that happened to you over your career. One of them we already talked about was kind of how we got close was you had an accident with your leg and I had to drive around. I think that was unexpected. But what’s another kind of career unexpected challenge or opportunity that happened to you?
Kent Rodelius (00:48:19):
Well, I guess I would have to think about something I never expected to do that was unusual was, Congressman Peterson from the seventh district in Minnesota who was the, he’s the ranking Democrat on ag committee in Washington, DC, the national ag committee. And he called and asked if I would be willing to testify before Congress about wetlands and Swampbuster and water drainage management. And I didn’t want to do that very badly. I laid awake a lot of nights on that one. But I did eventually head out to Washington, DC in March of 2016 and testified before Congress. And that’s certainly nothing I ever thought I would ever do.
Jamie Duininck (00:49:01):
Yeah. That was pretty neat. I happened to have the opportunity to be there with you and to sit in on that. You did a great job, number one, but number two, it was just, which has happened other times I’ve been to Washington too, which most of those times have been on trips with you, but there’s just very few people that have, it’s a small industry of course, but that have the knowledge. And every time you go there, you’re amazed by. And for me it’s made me appreciate the people that work in the government that know about it too, whether it was Anne Simmons or Don Parrish.
Kent Rodelius (00:49:40):
Don Parrish, yeah.
Jamie Duininck (00:49:42):
The list is pretty short. It includes Ann Simmons, Don Parrish and Kent Rodelius. But it’s pretty short, of those that have that knowledge, and have been willing to, there’s probably others that have the knowledge, but that have been willing to share it, and willing to on that stage. Because for the most part, the divide in this stuff is knowledge. People don’t know because they don’t have the right people sharing their expertise and their information on what it is. They’re just hearing one side. And so, okay that’s … I don’t hear another side, so that’s what I think.
Kent Rodelius (00:50:17):
Jamie Duininck (00:50:18):
And so it’s pretty important that you’re willing to do that. Like I said, you did a great job. And as we talk about it, it is pretty cool that it is certainly something that you never saw coming in 1983.
Kent Rodelius (00:50:32):
No, that’s for sure.
Jamie Duininck (00:50:33):
Talk to me a little bit about what you would have to say to younger guys in our sales at Prinsco, or just somebody in this industry about your experiences and what you’d want to tell them, really to keep them inspired and excited about the future.
Kent Rodelius (00:50:52):
I think there’s so many fascinating things happening and so many interesting things coming down the pipe. I spent some great years when I traveled my own territory. And you’d get up every day, you’d have a loop that you were going to drive. You had people you wanted to see and then other people that you hoped to catch in between. And you could go up and down all day long. Some days were going great and other days not so great. But yet there was always a guy that needed a load of pipe tomorrow. And it was just so invigorating to me to get to know these people that worked that hard, and took that good care of their customers. I had to take good care of them if they were going to be successful.
So early on when we started this today, I talked about making yourself valuable. And if you can do that and be honest and do it with integrity, and have the great support of a good company behind you, it’s a great, great opportunity. Maybe one regret I have is every day I got up and left home. So I didn’t build a lot of relationships in the business community and in Wilmer where I live. But I’ve got friends all across the Midwest that I wouldn’t trade anything for. But this is an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. These guys work so hard and are so devoted to taking care of their customers, it gave me a lot of drive to do the same thing.
Jamie Duininck (00:52:26):
And I think that’s neat. And I’ve always, maybe it’s a little bit of what we tell ourselves when we’re gone a lot. And we travel a lot, but I know you and I have the same experiences. There isn’t too many places where we could travel to and if we needed something, we wouldn’t know somebody that knew somebody that lived there, so-
Kent Rodelius (00:52:48):
Yeah, that’s true.
Jamie Duininck (00:52:49):
Which is pretty cool. I always liked that. And I know it’s annoying to some people. I have a habit of asking people when I meet them, “Where are you from? What do you do?” And I do that because a lot of times there’s then a connection, that I can make a connection with that person if I know that.
Kent Rodelius (00:53:09):
Very often. Yep, for sure.
Jamie Duininck (00:53:11):
Kind of wrapping things up, but another thing that I think was always fun for employees at Prinsco was we have meetings and sales meetings and employee meetings. And a lot of times you would share some of your philosophies on leadership and you did some neat things around using some visuals, whether it was a five buckle boot or a couple [inaudible 00:53:41] cans or a lunch pail. I forgot about that one, but talk a little bit about that. And what is your, philosophy maybe is the right word, on leadership and how to go about your day to get a good day’s work done. You’ve talked a little bit about that already, but share a little more on that.
Kent Rodelius (00:53:58):
Those were just practical things that came out of my life experience. I heard somebody talk one time about his dad being an honest, go to work every day, lunch pail kind of guy and carried a lunch pail didn’t bother him, thought it was the right thing to do, and just being ready for the day. And there’s nothing extraordinary about any of us. You just have to develop your own style and be comfortable with who you are. I think that’s one of the things that I would encourage people to do the most is just get comfortable with who you are, because people can see if you’re not real. But that had to do with the lunch pail. And I had an old beat up lunch pail that I still have in my office, just as a reminder of how important that is.
And my grandpa used to say, if I said, “What’s going on today, grandpa?” He was a dairy farmer. He said, “Well, it’s a five buckle day.” He said, “We’re going to put some work in today.” So it was probably cleaning out the calf barn or something like that. And just being ready to do the hard thing. There’s days when you just have to strap it on and go through some stuff that you really don’t want to do very badly. But if you’re with a good company and have good support, it works out. So still have the five buckle boots in my office as well.
And then I had a great uncle Louie who was kind of a character, loved to hunt and fish and just a good old guy. And he had a job to do. I think he had to insulate underneath the house. The houses used to not have basements. And so he had to put some insulation up on underneath the floor. And it’s an old family story. And he said, “How’s today going to be Louie?” And he said, “Well, it’s going to be a two tin day.” It was going to take two tins of snuff to get that done. So again, just be prepared for the day, work hard, be honest, and just get after it when you need to. So those are just some of the things I’ve shared, but just a little bit of my own philosophy.
Jamie Duininck (00:56:00):
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s been something that I bring it up, only because it’s been something that’s kind of lived on with, because you’ve shared it and people have embraced it. Whether it’s people that have worked for you worked with you, some customers, have all heard these stories and can apply it, because it’s reality in their lives too. And how they might not have thought of it that way, but it’s their thinking of it, and it can really relate to what you’re saying. So-
Kent Rodelius (00:56:30):
Well, I want to clarify it. I don’t have two tins of snuff in my office.
Jamie Duininck (00:56:34):
You might in your pocket.
Kent Rodelius (00:56:35):
Jamie Duininck (00:56:37):
We’re on video now. So you can tell you don’t have it in your pocket. But it’s been really fun and it would be super easy for me to just have conversations like this for every episode of this, because I like to reminisce. I like to think about where we’ve been, and also some of the opportunities in front of us, and just talk about things that the reason it’s so exciting is to both you and I, this is interesting. This is a interesting industry, and we’re passionate about where it’s been, where it’s come to, and where it’s going, so that’s what makes it easy. But anything else you want to kind of leave us with?
Kent Rodelius (00:57:18):
We’ll just tell you, honestly, I’m really struggling with slowing down in the industry. I love what I do. I’ve had great, great days, 99% of the time. I’ve just seen and experienced a great amount of joy. And I feel like what Prinsco has done is mattered. And my small part of that has mattered. And that’s really important to me in my work, not doing something that just goes unnoticed or somebody’s tired of. But we’re, like you said before Jamie, I’ve often said that it’s we’re building wealth, we’re doing something that matters. We’re increasing the chances the next generation has to make it. We’re building schools and churches and community centers and tax bases. And it’s just really good stuff. And that at the end of the day, that’s mattered greatly to me. And we’ve been able to do that.
Jamie Duininck (00:58:17):
Yeah. And you can be a part of that over time. And you also, even for me, who I haven’t been around as long as you have, but it’s pretty rewarding to see customers that have grown and customers that have gotten from one generation to the second, or from the second to the third. It’s pretty rewarding to see that.
Kent Rodelius (00:58:17):
Yeah, for sure.
Jamie Duininck (00:58:43):
And they’ve done that. We haven’t done it for them. They’ve done it, but we’ve been a little part of helping. And there’s nothing more enjoyable than when they call and ask for some advice around, “How’d you do this? Or what do you know about this? Do you have any contacts that could help us? We’re just struggling in this area of our family business.” That’s pretty rewarding, because we know that when they do that, that they’re seeing us as somebody that they trust. And I know you started that at Prinsco and built that, so thank you for that.
Kent Rodelius (00:59:19):
I remember another story of, there were some guys, there was a guy that was a good customer of mine, and he took on a partner. And I called one day and said, “I’d like to come out and buy you lunch.” And the guy said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” And so I got out there and I said, “Does your partner want to go, your new guy want to go with?” And he said, “Well,” he said, “I don’t think we’re going to go to lunch today.” He said, “I’ll call you later.”
So I wondered what was up with that. So he called me that night and he said, “I’m sorry that didn’t work out.” He said, “I would have loved to have lunch with you,” but he said, “But this new partner of mine said that I shouldn’t get to know you. And if I go to lunch with you, I’m going to start to like you better. And then you’re going to just want to buy pipe from me without beating me up on the price.” And so that just really stuck in my head that people should want to see you and people should want to know what you know, and people should want to share a meal together. So it was just an interesting, another and little interesting episode.
Jamie Duininck (01:00:22):
Yeah. And I mean, if all you have to offer is to, that’s something I’d encourage people is, you got to have more to offer than just a product. And that’s what we talked about first half of this whole thing was, your experience and knowledge that you gained by going to a lot of meetings and learning stuff that your customers didn’t have time to go to. Some of them probably wanted to go and were interested in that stuff more than you. But you felt like it was an area where you could bring back information to them that was valuable.
Well, Kent, thanks so much. I certainly would like to have you back on the podcast as time goes on and we’ve talked enough about things change, and there’s going to be things we don’t see coming. And I’m sure your expertise and knowledge would be helpful to share back on here in the future. So this isn’t the last, but it sure was fun to visit about what’s happened here over the years. And maybe we should just do one sometime just on stories, because there’s lots of them that I didn’t want to drag on and on. Because maybe they’re only funny to you and I, and then that’d be boring, but they sure are good to you and I.
Kent Rodelius (01:01:32):
That’s for sure. It’s been a fun session going down memory and lane a little Jamie.
Jamie Duininck (01:01:37):
Yeah, for sure. Thanks for always being that advocate for this industry, on Prinsco’s behalf of course, but you did it. This benefited far more than Prinsco and I hope that people listening can appreciate that too.
Kent Rodelius (01:01:53):
Well, thank you. It’s been amazing.
Jamie Duininck (01:02:00):
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.