Podcast Episode 62

A Water Management Industry Insider Shares How Management Practices are Improving and How You Can Benefit

With Guest:
  • Kent Rodelius of Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), President

From ‘what in the world is happening with harvest?!?’ to some dramatic advancements in water management practices, Jamie’s conversation with industry insider, Kent Rodelius, President of the ADMC and Prinsco Ag Relationship Manager, covers it all. Cover crops, carbon sequestration, denitrification, automation, crop insurance, batch and build…and the list goes on.

Watch the full episode on YouTube!

Episode 62 | 26 min
Kudos to the farmers and the way they work and how they understand things... a great percentage of it is risk mitigation of having your water table managed, and that’s really come to the forefront of a lot of farmers’ thinking.
— Kent Rodelius

Guest Bio

Kent Rodelius has been in the water management industry for nearly 40 years. He started his career at Prinsco and has helped build strong relationships, grow sales and develop key partnerships for the company. Kent is the current President of the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) and has a passion for staying informed on regulatory and legislative issues. He is a strong advocate for enhanced conservation practices designed to address the environmental challenges currently facing producers.

Jamie Duininck (00:02):
This is The Water Table.

Kent Rodelius (00:05):
A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Jamie Duininck (00:09):
A place for people to go find information and education.

Speaker 3 (00:13):
Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie Duininck (00:17):
How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent Rodelius (00:22):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie Duininck (00:32):
Welcome back to The Water Table podcast. Today, I have Kent Rodelius back with me and I wanted to just talk a little bit. We’re here close to the end of 2022, and we’ve had a lot that’s happened. Like every year, a lot’s happened this year and a lot of things we couldn’t predict and couldn’t see coming. But there also is a lot of things that have happened that correlate to things that our industry has been working on for a long time in Ag Industry in general. And Kent has been, from a Prinsco standpoint, involved in a lot of those industry associations and involved for many years in where are we going, what kind of technologies can we use, what’s new out there to continue to improve what we do, both for production agriculture and for the environment. So, want to just talk a little bit on how the year of 2022, and what’s on the horizon have kind of collided in some ways. And to me, it’s pretty exciting how you can see things that are happening and why what you’re working on and your groups are working on is important.

So, when we look at 2022, we had a, really throughout the entire Midwest but specifically up here in the upper Midwest, really wet, cold spring. Didn’t think we were going to get anything planted. It got really frustrating for farmers, for people that are installers of water management systems and for those of us that make pipe. But then, when it turned around the 1st of June, crops got in really late, then it was incredibly nice. Not much for moisture. We did get very timely moisture. So pushed the crop into being, for the most part, if you listen to some of the podcasts earlier on crop reports, a really good crop, not the best ever, but a really good crop, and pushed it to where we harvested on time and even, in some cases, a little bit early because of the growing days. Growing day units was amazing.

But, within all of that that I just said, there’s periods of prolonged dry spells, there was some heavy, heavy rains, especially early on in that. And that’s all stuff that farmers have to manage, and we really have to manage our industry and have some of the keys to that with products like water management systems and some of the things that go along with that, such as control structures and things. So, just talk to me a little bit about what’s… Probably start with what’s happening, Kent, at the Agricultural Drainage Water Management Coalition level, which you guys are working on. And a lot of it relates, like I said, to 2022.

Kent Rodelius (03:32):
Thanks, Jamie. And it really is remarkable when you think what happened this year. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and every year you think you’re going to write out the script of how things are going to go and what would be perfect, but you don’t have that ability, thank goodness, as we’d really screw it up. But, really, if you told a farmer, “Here’s what the year is going to look like this year. You’re not going to be able to get into the field. It’s going to be a rush to plant. We’re going to get some really, really heavy rains. And then you’re not going to have any more than an inch in August or September.” You couldn’t think that we could possibly get the kind of crop that we did.

But it’s just kudos to farmers and the way they work and how they understand things. And it has to do with technology of seed and fertilizer. And, for a great percentage of it, it’s the risk mitigation of having your water table managed. And that’s really, really come to the forefront of a lot of farmers thinking, is that, “Until I manage the water on my farm, I’m not going to be able to fully utilize whatever my corn index is or whatever I’m planting and growing.” So, there are some really significant things going on.

Jamie mentioned the Agricultural Water Drainage Management Coalition. That’s a group of industry people that come together and work on common issues we’re facing. And then we’re also partnered with the Conservation Drainage Network, which is researchers from most of the land grant universities. So we’ve got a lot of research going on, and we’ve got a lot of studies going on. And together, those two organizations are trying to bring that information together and develop practices that are very conservation and economically sound. Some of those things that we’re doing are even more easily adapted than others. In the upper Midwest, they say there’s 30 million acres that could be benefit of some kind of drainage water management, whether that’s controlled drainage on a whole field or a mitigating bio reactor or denitrifying wetland or a saturated buffer. There’s just all kinds of things and practices that we could talk about to reduce nitrogen and phosphate into the water.

Jamie Duininck (05:54):
There are all kinds of things you can talk about and a lot of it that we’re going to have to talk about. One of the things that’s really, in the last five years, has boiled up as being a topic that just seems to be almost an everyday topic is that of cover crops and carbon sequestration and how carbon sequestration is important and it’s going to be a challenge to do nationally. Probably a little bit easier to do some of that in agriculture if we change our agricultural practices. And a lot of that has to do with cover crops.

And, this year was interesting because I think we’re in a place up here in the upper Midwest where we have to learn for a while and understand many, many times that by the time the crop gets out, it’s not really enough time to grow a cover crop before you have a frost or freezing. This year, maybe that could have gotten going. But again, this year we had a different issue that cover crops probably would’ve helped with and that is, it was really, really dry and just holding that soil together. We had a lot of very windy days in late October, early November, and we saw a lot of soil erosion and air pollution just due to that soil leaving because of really strong winds. Talk to me just a little bit about what you know about how we’re addressing the whole issue of cover crops and drainage together.

Kent Rodelius (07:38):
I think it was Jeff Strock from the University of Minnesota, the research center down in Lamberton. I think he said one time, I heard him say that, “There’s no silver bullet to correct all these problems, but there’s some silver buckshot.” And that’s kind of what these practices are. There’s quite a variance of what we can do to the landscape to try and mitigate some of the problems we’re having. Soil health has really come to the forefront and part of that soil health component is cover crops. And in this area that’s been a real challenge to get those crops planted timely after harvest. A lot of times it gets pretty late for us. You get south a little bit, it’s easier to use cover crops and they make a lot of sense. The whole soil health on your farm is really a concern that guys are addressing pretty quickly. And it has to do with drainage, it has to do with controlling your water, it has to do with-

Jamie Duininck (08:36):
Cover crops and having more…

Kent Rodelius (08:39):
Yeah, just more tools in the box. And it’s easy to talk about cover crops being the total answer, but that just isn’t the case. It would be nice if that was the case, but it’s not.

Jamie Duininck (08:49):
Yeah. Yep. And I think the other thing that I’ve wanted to share because the cover crop thing is a little bit on the newer side and people are wondering, “Well how is this going to work?” And I actually get a lot of questions about it more from the general public than I do, obviously, from farmers. They know more about it than I do. But is, we need to do this and a lot of times these questions that I get and I talk to people, are people that aren’t necessarily gung-ho about water management.

And I kindly remind them every time around cover crops are going to mean you’re going to need a intensely drained farm in order for them to work, especially in the upper Midwest where we don’t get a lot of good farmable days in the spring that aren’t too wet, too cold, those kind of things. And so we need to have that ground if it’s not black because it’s not been tilled, there’s cover crops on, we need to have that ground be able to dry out so that we can get it planted for the next year. So there’s going to be a significant correlation between cover crops and a pattern tile drainage system.

Kent Rodelius (10:01):
There’s such a up-kick in keeping your soil on your ground if you’re a no-tiller, where you can keep that trash and keep the field from being completely black, you’re not going to get the erosion. And all of us have driven around and seen ditches in the winter that are just turned black. The snow is turned black and covered with soil and that’s the farmer’s greatest resource and he needs to protect as much of that as he can and cover crops and no-tiller are going to be helpful with that. But again, they’re not the end all be all, but they’re important practice.

Jamie Duininck (10:37):
So we’ve seen it all this year. I think from the standpoint of every side of the equation of seasonality and weather, from, like we said, really cold, wet spring, but then dry and hot and timely rains, which I’m not sure, I’ve been around a while now, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a year like the upper Midwest where we had that timely rain where if we didn’t get that one rain, I think things could have been drastically different to the negative, from a yield standpoint. And yet that crop held on a lot longer than what I thought.

So that technology, the drought resistance, chemical, all of those technologies have come so far and is exciting to see. But you’ve been involved in a lot more on the Ag Drainage Management Coalition in regards to what they’re promoting now. And just talk a little bit about that and where you see things developing the next year around drainage water management. And I think there’s maybe some things on denitrification of wetlands, stuff like that you’re working on.

Kent Rodelius (11:51):
There’s just a ton of stuff going on. It’s really important to recognize how closely the ADMC and the Conservation Drainage Network, which is most of the researchers work together. Over the years there’s been so much research done and it’s not really been applicable for the common man, like myself, to understand. So we’re working hard to get it reduced to the point where we can understand what’s going on in layman’s language and there’s a ton of funding. It’s just continues to come out. I think Iowa has a $100 million set aside for Ag clean water, Governor Reynolds did that. And in Minnesota we’ve had a program for a couple of years where there’s been 500 million set aside for clean water. And that’s been facilitated through the NRCS and that money has been literally untouched. There’s been very, very few of those practices adopted.

We have such good tools in the box now and they really need to be considered more closely by farmers. But it’s kind of a combination where the drainage contractor has a ton of work. The farmer has a lot going on. They go to the NRCS office and they meet and ask what I can do. The NRCS offices are largely understaffed. They’ve got a lot of things to do. And so it just gets frustrating because a farmer can’t wait if he’s got a tile of field and he can’t get a plan and get the funding and get understanding where he’s going to be on this project and what we’re doing, they just can’t stand to wait. A lot of the guys have been waiting a couple of years to get their drainage done and it’s just such an important part of what they do that they have to get their water table managed. And when they have an opportunity to get the contractor to come, he comes and it’s, again, it’s a new wrinkle for a lot of contractors.

We’re starting to get a lot more interest from contractors. The ADMC just did some training, a couple of different training systems. We had about 180 people go through that training. A lot of them were contractors, a lot of them were from the NRCS, quite a few farmers. And through that you could become certified in Ag drainage management layout. You couldn’t completely design it. Most of it takes a engineer to sign off on. It’s not like the old technical service provider. So just too complicated and layered. And so there’s a lot of frustration. But we have, like I said, such good practices. There’s so many exciting things. And if you think about drainage water management and say you have a fairly flat laying field and you want to store some water, if you put a control structure at the end of that system and that control structure allows you to put boards in it and keep the level of water on your field and managing that. The best thing about those systems is you can hold water back when you need it.

A typical drainage cycle with controlled drainage would be when you’re done harvesting, you would put the boards back in and you’d store as much water as you wanted on that field, what your desired level of that is. Then when you’re getting ready to plant in the spring, couple of weeks before you take those boards out and reduce the water down to where you want it, not emptying out the field, then you plant your crop. And when you plant your crop, you want those roots to go down. So you want that water table down a ways. And so they can have to put strong firm roots into the system. That’s one of the key elements of managing a system.

And then in the summer, if you’re needing rain, if you’re needing water, if you’ve stored some water, you can release that to your field and then if you get a timely rain, you can just let it manage itself. One of the things that’s really becoming useful is that we’ve got some automation now, so a farmer doesn’t have to physically go out and do it, but he can do it through technology at home, on the computer, on his cell phone. So the economics of having the water at the right time on the right field is really, really immense.

Jamie Duininck (16:08):
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting around the technology side, is I think there’s a lot of general public that know a little bit about farming, but I think there’s a lot of things they don’t know too. But one of the drastic things, if you are a long ways away from agriculture in America, is the technology increases and it’s everything. It’s from seed, it’s from the drainage side and what we’ve done, it’s all of the technologies and equipment and it’s just mind boggling to know. And I think that’s part of starting this podcast today and the type of year we had, it’d be very, very difficult to believe that a year could end for the vast majority of farmers in the Midwest very successfully, 25 years ago.

When you think of our equipment changes and how fast they had to get the crop in because it was a tough spring and there wasn’t very many workable days. And then the seed technology and the drought resistance and all of the things that have developed there, and then our drainage technology and water management technology and how that has played a role this year, every step of the way throughout the year feels like if technology wouldn’t have come as far as it did, we would’ve had stumbles and struggles. So fun to mention that because I think most people have no idea how far agriculture has come when it comes to driving technology into what we do in Ag.

Kent Rodelius (17:49):
I just recently listened to a webinar with John McMaine from South Dakota University talking about crop insurance and what the top claims are in 2017, ’18 and ’19. It was either drought or too much water. So that was the things that the farmers were looking to solve. And that’s exactly what we can do with this technology. There’s been so much prevent plant in the upper Midwest that’s extremely expensive to this country, millions of acres across the upper Midwest that a farmer can’t plant. So they can take the Prevent Plant Program and get partial income on that land when he can’t farm it.

Jamie Duininck (18:35):
Yeah, it’s amazing. Even states like Iowa have had some in the last 10 years, but as you go north and into the Dakotas and in western Minnesota, I know back 10 years ago or 11 now, in 2011, there was over 7 million acres of prevent planting those and just in that geographic area. And then I think North Dakota in ’13 had almost 3 million more. And then back in 2019, North Dakota had a, excuse me, 2018 in the fall, north Dakota had a really big snowstorm in, I think it was October 10, that snowstorm affected them to where they didn’t get a bunch of the crop out that year.

And then there was a bunch of prevent plant again in ’19 because of it. So sometimes that stuff is going to happen like that snowstorm, but I think the rule is good to have it in there. But there’s so many ways, especially with proper water management, that we could drastically reduce that number and work together where the government would, I think they should fund farmers to do more water management so that they don’t have to pay out on the prevent plant claims.

Kent Rodelius (19:49):
There’s a study done in Iowa, from 1950 to 2010, and with soybeans, too much moisture caused a 27% loss of crop. And in soybeans and in drought caused 40% drop. And on corn it was about 27% and 28% for drought or too much water. So obviously it’s a huge problem on the farm to manage the water and have enough on hand when you want. It’s by far their biggest risk, I think.

Jamie Duininck (20:23):
Yep, for sure. Well, that’s a good kind of rundown, Kent. Thanks for joining me today. Just of little bit of a, I don’t know if we want to call this a year in review, but just talk about where we were and how we managed through that. And I think everybody’s pretty grateful for the type of year that we ended up having in our side of agriculture. So fun to visit about a little bit of the past and then where it’s heading in the future with a lot of the things you’re working on. Grateful that you’re involved in that. Thank you for that. And thank you for what you’re doing to help move the industry forward.

Kent Rodelius (20:58):
I’m really excited for the position that the ADMC finds itself in right now. The ADMC is a strong voice in agriculture right now, and there’s a lot of people coming to us looking for help. I would just like to reference a study in Iowa, not a study, a project in Iowa where Polk County Watershed came to us and said, “Would you manage it if we provided the funds to go to Polk County, which is right around Des Moines, and go through the watershed and see where are the most critical spots to put a bioreactor or a saturated buffer?” Last, in 2021, we installed 50 of those projects along that watershed. And this year we did another 50, Story County, which is the next county came and said, “Will you guys manage this for us?” And so we were able to, they did actually about 20, or have got 20 designed.

So it’s no cost to the farmer, it’s cleaning up the watershed, showing people what’ll be done. That’s attracting a ton of attention. We’ve got, we call them batch and build because you can get a contractor to come in and be interested in taking on a project where there’s many saturated buffers or many projects to be done, not just mobilize and come and do one, but he’s actually economically able to build those systems out. And that’s just like it’s Prairie Fire spreading. Minnesota is looking at some now, Ohio, there’s a lot going on out in the Chesapeake area. A lot of large corporations are coming, a lot of the large environmental groups are coming and asking for our help. Keegan Kult, who you did a podcast with recently, who is our executive director for DMC, has really done a wonderful job and been a great asset for us. So there’s really exciting things coming and we do have a lot of answers to a lot of this, and I think we’re going to just have to find a way to work together better.

Jamie Duininck (22:58):
Yeah, for sure. And it’s exciting, I’m glad you bring that up because I think what we’re going to see is five years from now, things are going to look quite a bit different. There’s still going to be a lot of the same and traditional or conventional drainage projects, but we’ve been talking about this stuff for many, many years, probably more than 15 years. And to see it now starting and when it starts, it’ll go fast. And so it’ll be fun to come back and talk about this stuff periodically and see what’s changed, what’s changed in that amount of time. And especially when we see that we’re getting more production in production agriculture and we’re getting better waterways, cleaner waterways at the same time, and less nitrate going out of a field because we have denitrification wetlands and things. Those are things that our industry has done, and we should be dang proud of it, rather than always be the one that has to scramble and answer questions. Let’s tell our story and the good stories too.

Kent Rodelius (24:06):
That reminds me, Jamie, about denitrifying wetlands. They’ve been working on that a ton in Iowa over the years, and they’ve kind of been the leaders down there. And Dr. Mike Castellano did a study down there on denitrifying wetlands, and he just recently did a podcast that you could find that talks about the economic value and the conservation value of putting these systems in. And he said on that something roughly close to this, that if you would take 5% of the watershed out of production and build denitrifying wetlands, you could reduce 75% of the nitrates coming out of the soil. Well, that’s huge. And there’s a huge gain for the sportsmans, the environment. You can build a really excellent wetland now, that technology is out there and they’ve been doing that. But there’s win-win situations like that all across the landscape and these are exciting times and the challenges aren’t going to go away, but we really are fast approaching things that are taking the second guessing out of fixing some of these problems.

Jamie Duininck (25:17):
Yep, for sure, for sure. Well, thanks for joining us, Kent, and for all you do. Like I said earlier, there’s a pretty small group of people in our industry that are driving a lot of this at that policy level and at the research level, and you’re part of that, and we’re just grateful for all of you. So thanks for all you’re doing and let’s keep in touch, keep this dialogue going periodically for our listeners.

Kent Rodelius (25:47):
Sounds good, Jamie. Thank you.

Jamie Duininck (25:51):
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.