Podcast Episode 36

Behind the Scenes of The Water Table

With Guest:
  • Betsy Bonnema of Redstar Creative

A behind-the-scenes conversation with host Jamie Duininck about why this podcast matters and how telling our story as an industry is so important. Jamie is passionate about recognizing the critical role drainage contractors, industry researchers and farmers play in the success of agriculture and water quality practices.

Episode 36 | 30:34 min
I think my passion comes from the fact that it is a great industry that builds wealth for generations to come.
— Jamie Duininck

Guest Bio

Betsy Bonnema is the founder and owner of Redstar Creative, an advertising company with a passion for collaboration. Betsy’s passion for collaboration and love for creating unique educational events for clients and the community, something she’s been doing throughout her career. Through Redstar Creative, Betsy has worked closely with her clients for many years, Prinsco being one of those clients. 

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

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

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

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

Jamie Duininck (00:19):
How misunderstood what we do is.

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

Jamie Duininck (00:31):
Well, welcome back to today’s episode of the Water Table podcast. Thanks for joining us. Today, I have Betsy Bonnema with me, and Betsy Bonnema is the owner of Red Star Creative. Red Star is a marketing agency in Willmar, Minnesota, and Betsy and I have had the privilege of working together on projects for Prinsco for many years, as she has represented Prinsco through her agency. And I thought it would be fun to just have Betsy really take some time to interview me. And as I’ve interviewed so many guests over the last year and a half, just to get some more perspective of things that I’m thinking about rather than what our guests are thinking about. So changing gears a little bit here to start 2022, so Happy New Year to y’all that are listening and hope you enjoy the episode.

Jamie Duininck (01:35):
We have entered 2022. Happy New Year to all of you listeners out there. This year, we’ve got a lot on the tape. We’ve got some interesting ideas in the works that we’re thinking about for the Water Table. I also encourage every one of you if you have topics that you would like us to address, send us an email. Hopefully many of you have had an opportunity over the holidays to check out our new website. If you haven’t, it’s watertable.ag. But you can also send us a message there. And that’d be a place I’d ask you to go to if you have topics you’d like us to address on the Water Table podcast. We’d be happy to do that in 2022.

Jamie Duininck (02:19):
One of the brainchilds of this Water Table odcast has been the Prinsco marketing team, Red Star Creative, and they’ve helped me along the way with producing and editing these podcasts. Betsy Bonnema from Red Star has been with Prinsco, guiding us on our marketing needs. So welcome, Betsy.

Betsy Bonnema (02:42):
Well, thanks for having me. I think this podcast has been exciting to see play out because it’s been talked about for so long. For so many years, Prinsco has kind of tried to lead these discussions and be out there providing information, being educators, and this podcast is such a great tool for you to do that now in a way that you really haven’t been able to in the past. So it’s great to be out there doing it.

Betsy Bonnema (03:11):
I had a question for you, Jamie. So after having done this for a while now, what are you hearing out there? What’s been your feedback on the podcast? And kind of impact is it having?

Jamie Duininck (03:21):
Well I think I’m hearing lots of good things, and one thing I want to talk about is the watertable.ag website that people can go to. And that’s really new. That was launched in November of 2021. And like I just said at the beginning of this, I’m hoping people had an opportunity during the holidays and some downtime to take a look. But I think that’s somewhat of a catalyst to the podcast around a place where we can store a lot of information, people can go back. All of these podcasts are living, breathing podcasts that there’s going to be information on one of those from February of 2020 that’s going to be valuable in February of 2030. And that was the whole desire for us is we’ve seen our industry change, but there’s also a lot of the same questions out there that have been there. And we’ve had, hey, where did we hear that? Where did we hear this comment five years ago? Or how can we educate around that?

Jamie Duininck (04:30):
So I’ve heard a lot of support, which I’m really grateful for, a lot of support from our customers. Some of our vendors, even some of our competitors have said this is a good thing for our industry. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about education in our industry. It’s about helping one another to continue to… We all have a level of passion about this industry, and to continue to be good stewards of our industry and good ambassadors for industry. And so I’m just hoping that the Water Table can play a big part in that. And I can maybe play a little part in that. So thanks for asking that question.

Betsy Bonnema (05:16):
Yeah. So why do you think the Water Table is so valuable? What did the industry need? What kind of representation in sort of the bigger world did the industry need to get the story out and help others understand exactly how your industry works, who’s involved in the industry, and the impact you have?

Jamie Duininck (05:36):
I think the industry needed a lot and it still does. And if you look at our last episode to end 2021 was really just a chronological order of what happened in our episodes in 2021. We actually started this, and then we didn’t go through all of them because we didn’t have time, but we started the Water Table in late 2020. But I just shared a bunch of stuff that happened in 2021. And I’m hoping people… The reason I did that, I’m hoping they got from that is, is the bookends of what was shared during 2021 was significant. I mean, from policy to just hearing somebody’s story and their passion on water management, to impacts of pricing and global events that have happened in our industry to help people, to farmland pricing and how tile and tile maps affect that. There’s so many topics that really go a long ways from one another.

Jamie Duininck (06:43):
And so with all of those topics, our industry does need a voice, and I think the Water Table is going to be a small part of that. It’s never going to be the voice, that isn’t what it’s intended to be. But hope fully people can, whether they’re our friends, our customers, maybe even our enemies, that they can go to this podcast, go to this website and find things that maybe help them to see things in a little different light, maybe help them to start a conversation with us that would start in a negative way that maybe we can build a bridge rather than a moat.

Jamie Duininck (07:27):
And so my desire is that this just keeps evolving because our industry is going to evolve. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all podcast that’s going to solve everything because the issues that we’re dealing with today will be different five years from now. But if we can educate ourselves and get a nice base of knowledge about what we do and why it’s important what we do, and why it’s environmentally friendly what we do, and if people can understand that we’re not on different sides, we’re all trying to do the right thing, then when we face the new things that we don’t even know what they are yet, we can face them with a little bit better appreciation for one another.

Betsy Bonnema (08:15):
So I think part of the reason the Water Table works so well is because you’re just so authentic and you have such a passion for the industry. Where does that come from? And how did you decide this was an important thing for you to do personally? And why are you so passionate about the industry?

Jamie Duininck (08:31):
Well, I don’t know. I think I was a little reluctant to do this because it is a time commitment, it’s a significant time commitment. But what I’ve found, I think the most surprising thing for me recording these podcasts on the Water Table has been that I really enjoy it. And when you enjoy something, you’ll continue to do it even if there’s a significant time commitment. And I think I enjoy it because of the fact that I am passionate about the industry, I’m passionate about relationships, and there’s a lot of good people in this industry. I probably, if you told me to name one, which you’re not going to ask this, but if you told me to name one I don’t like, it would be hard for me to think of a person in this industry that isn’t just a great person to be around, and that you can learn something from.

Jamie Duininck (09:29):
So I think my passion comes from the fact that it is a great industry that builds wealth for generations to come. You can’t do that in very many industries. You spend money on a drainage project and it pays you back forever. And we get a bad rap in a lot of ways. We get a bad rap mostly because people don’t understand, not because they just want to be that way. They just don’t understand. And it feels like the Water Table podcast has built some momentum around bringing other people momentum to tell our story, to tell our story in the right way that helps with those people that just don’t understand. They’re not bad people either. They just don’t understand. And if we can pick one off at a time and help people to understand what we’re doing is good, I want to be part of that conversation, I want to be part of that solution. And it feels like I can be.

Betsy Bonnema (10:32):
So this podcast is not about Prinsco, but it is Prinsco education initiative. So why did Prinsco feel it was important to make this kind of investment in the industry?

Jamie Duininck (10:43):
So this podcast was never intended to be about Prinsco, and yet once in a while, probably almost every episode, I refer something to Prinsco because that’s really part of who I am is I work there every day and it’s hard for me to separate the Water Table from Prinsco.

Jamie Duininck (11:07):
But at the same time, the reason why Prinsco wanted to invest in this is really just because we want to tell the story. We want to tell the story of water management on the farm, why it’s so important, why it’s good for the environment, why, if we continue to do more, it’ll be a great thing for feeding the world, it’ll be a great thing for managing the water, it’ll be a great thing for managing land and making land values higher and just make the land more productive, better than if it didn’t have our products, our industry products in it.

Jamie Duininck (11:48):
So to me, it just made complete sense that it’s not why would you, it’s why wouldn’t you tell this story. So often our industry is not about advocacy and is not about education. I don’t feel that way about Prinsco. I feel like Prinsco has, for many years led that fight of advocacy for our industry, and education for our industry. And it’s not wrong that somebody else doesn’t, but it just feels like we’ve felt like that’s a place we want to be, because we’re passionate about it, and it’s a place where we can be helpful to our industry and our customers.

Betsy Bonnema (12:30):
So your customers, the drainage contractors, they’re part of the reason this initiative exists because you’re really serving them when you create this content. Why are they the real heroes of the industry? What’s their contribution to making this all work?

Jamie Duininck (12:47):
Well, I think that this work is not easy. The installation side and designing of the right water management system is not easy. It certainly is much easier than it was 50, 70 years ago, and how you see how people, when they were using clay tile and concrete tile, and even before that, when they were digging it in by hand. Some of the hardest work you can probably imagine was done in this industry.

Jamie Duininck (13:19):
But it still is an industry, like others, where you’re working outside every day, you’re working on the landscape, it’s wet, you’re standing in water and digging a connection. It’s basically freezing, windy. And you’re away from home a lot overnight, which is not something that culturally is all that acceptable anymore. People don’t want to work as hard as they used to. And this industry continues to… It needs people that are willing to do those things or it doesn’t work very well.

Jamie Duininck (13:57):
And so obviously we can make the products, we can advocate for why it’s good, but if you don’t have the guys on the ground that are passionately selling their services and the services of our industry to the end user, which is typically the farmer or the landowner, and then doing the work, it’s not going to happen. So they really are to be admired for all of the things they do. It’s a hard life, and almost all of our customers are super passionate about what they do. And if they weren’t, I don’t think they would do that. I don’t think they’d be getting up before light and coming home after dark every day in the spring and the fall, as that’s their go time to install these products.

Betsy Bonnema (14:48):
So a lot of those contractors are multi-generation businesses, small businesses, and you are from a multi-generation business. And you’ve talked about this before, but why does that matter? Why is there such a great culture match between Prinsco and your customers for that reason?

Jamie Duininck (15:05):
Well, at Prinsco our values are hard work, relationships, and integrity. And if you talk to most of our customers, they may have different values, they may state them differently, but they really mean the same thing. A customer might have a value of respect or a value of safety, and just using two examples, those examples to me still have a lot to do with relationships. If you’re going to respect somebody, if you have that as a value, it’s because you want to have strong relationships or integrity. If your value, which I think all of our… Most companies do have a value, whether it’s stated or not, around safety, but that’s usually again, around you want to take care of your employees, you want to take care of your customers. You can have a fantastic year in business, but if you have a fatality on the job or a serious injury, all of a sudden your year wasn’t very good. That’s what’s in your memory.

Jamie Duininck (16:14):
And so I think the multi-generational culture, when it comes to family businesses, are very aligned around values. And that’s why it’s important to us at Prinsco because we have shared values with our customers.

Betsy Bonnema (16:33):
So why does the watertable.ag have so much focus on sustainable practices? What does that topic mean to the Water Table and why does it matter?

Jamie Duininck (16:45):
Well, I think that sustainable practices is going to continue to evolve, but it’s so important to the Water Table podcasts and the watertable.ag website because it’s the future. Whether we like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, policies are going to be developed. There’s still 90 plus percent of the people in the world that don’t have a connection to the farm. We aren’t reaching very many of those 90%, we’re trying, and we will reach more. But if you cannot show that what we do is sustainable, you won’t reach them. And it’s just a law of averages over time, that mass of people is going to have influence on what we do. And if we can influence people by images and by videos and by education through podcasts, and by hopefully getting people out on a job site that don’t understand what we do or are at least willing to learn.

Jamie Duininck (17:59):
I know we have customers that do that. We’ve tried to do that. We’ve done that with employees at Prinsco. And we continue to do that with employees. If we have jobs going in fairly close to our plants, we’ll give employees opportunities to take a few hours off, go out and jump in the ground when there’s a hole, and dig a connection, connect a main with a lateral. So they understand how difficult that can be and why what we do is important at Prinsco from a quality standpoint, because it’s tough work and it’s hard.

Jamie Duininck (18:33):
And I only bring that up because it’s the same as our city cousins. When they don’t understand what we’re doing, if we can show them in, best would be in real life, but if not through education in a podcast or video, it creates an opportunity for them to think about things differently. But we have to understand that they’re thinking about it always with sustainability in mind, and there’s a lot of things we do in our industry that are sustainable. And let’s make sure that we understand what they are, and then that our city cousins understand that also.

Betsy Bonnema (19:10):
Another, I think mission of your site is to bring forward some of the really great research that’s been happening and some of the land grant universities and things. So what’s the mission to connect people with that great research? And why does that have a place on your site?

Jamie Duininck (19:30):
So, yeah, we do have a lot of information on our website around research that’s been done at land grant universities. I think that that has also been an area where Prinsco has just always felt like our dollars are well-spent by helping our land grant universities with projects that they’re working on from a research perspective. Sometimes for a guy like me, it’s frustrating it takes so long, because I’m a results-driven person. But if you look at it over a longer period of time, there is some really fantastic significant results out there.

Jamie Duininck (20:13):
And right now some of the things I’m excited about are denitrifying wetlands and what Iowa State has worked on over the last 10 years, and the results that are coming out of that. And again, from a sustainability standpoint, what that can do for our industry and for the world is very exciting and where I can get passionate about.

Jamie Duininck (20:33):
But we put it on our watertable.ag website because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to have from an educational standpoint for others to see this isn’t just what Jamie thinks, or this isn’t just these notable guests that Jamie can get on the podcast, but this is what our land grant universities, who are throughout the Midwest some very well-known researchers on the agricultural side, this is what they’re researching and spending thousands of hours on, and the results they’re getting. So this is real stuff that has a big impact.

Betsy Bonnema (21:20):
Well, so there is a question though, around the evolution of policy, and the importance of educating policy makers and how that impacts how policy is written. Is there any thoughts on that as it relates to this?

Jamie Duininck (21:34):
So I think, just in general, if you talk about policy and politics and how it plays a role in what we do, my personal belief, and I could be way off base on this, but my personal belief is that agricultural policy is going to change a lot in the next 30 years. We did an episode in 2021 on the Midwest Council on Agriculture, which is a group that’s Bill Northey from Iowa, and Colin Peterson, who used to be the chairman of Ag Committee and the House representatives are starting. And their real whole purpose is to bring the six states, Midwest states together and talk about shared issues, bring those to Washington. Some of those issues will be a long ways from water management, but some of them will be very connected to water management.

Jamie Duininck (22:30):
And my fear is that over the next 20 to 40 years, we’re going to see a real decline as we have in the last 40 years of knowledge about agriculture. If you go back 40 years ago, so many people that are in positions to make a difference, positions to make ruling and law, had an understanding, they grew up on a farm, they had a cousin that grew up on the farm, whatever that might be. They could talk to an uncle or a classmate from college and ask them, “Okay, explain this to me. I don’t understand it.”

Jamie Duininck (23:06):
Today, that’s very different from that. I often like to tell the story about how, when I was in school, and I grew up in rural Minnesota, but half of my classmates lived on the farm. I still live in rural Minnesota. My kids, it’s hard for them to name more than a half a dozen kids out of a couple hundred in a graduating class that actually live on a working farm.

Jamie Duininck (23:36):
And so that’s how it’s changed in the last 40 years. How is it going to change in the next 40? I don’t know, but my fear is it’s going to change to the point where we aren’t going to have the advocacy if we don’t continue to do things like the Water Table and help people understand. The Midwest Council on Agriculture partially was formed because of that. Now there isn’t any Democrats left in rural America that are in farm districts. They’re all Republicans. If you’re me, you might say that’s a good thing if you’re a conservative. But where it’s not a good thing is the fact that both sides are represented in the House Agriculture Committee. And if you have Democrats represented in that committee that are from New York City or Phoenix, Arizona, or somewhere that has no interest or knowledge or reason to know about agriculture, it’s going to be harder for them to understand ag policy, and for them to want to continue with some of the things we’re doing now.

Jamie Duininck (24:47):
So I do have significant concern that some of the policy that we currently have could have some whiplash, and change dramatically to something that isn’t very good for us. I think policy should always evolve as time moves on, but evolving and drastic change are two different things.

Betsy Bonnema (25:09):
Is there any perspective on 5, 10 years from now, what the industry’s going to look like? Are there changes to the industry that you see coming?

Jamie Duininck (25:19):
If I look ahead in what my thoughts are on the future of our industry, obviously I don’t know where it’s going, but there’s a lot of excitement from where I stand around… I do believe that our climate is changing. I’m not here to be an advocate for climate change or against it, but when you look at the rain events, the weather events that we’ve had, it gets drier for longer periods of time the last 10 years, it gets wetter for longer periods of time, we have bigger events. We just had right before Christmas, a snowfall in the Twin Cities that was supposed to be six to eight inches, that ended up being 20 inches. And things like that just weren’t as common as what they are today. And that’s something that is going to need water management if we continue to face.

Jamie Duininck (26:21):
So it doesn’t really matter what you think about whether it’s real or not real, if we continue to have rain events and weather events like that, we will have a need for what we do.

Jamie Duininck (26:32):
I also think as we have a growing world population, we need to farm the best and buffer the rest, and we need to continue to grow more and more on the best acres that we can. Water management is very critical to that.

Jamie Duininck (26:52):
When you add all that stuff into that, we can do this sustainably. We can do this by making the pipe products out of recycle plastic. And we can add in denitrifying wetlands, that’ll take out 90% of the nitrates. And we can have buffer strips. There’s so many practices out there. Not one of those practices are a silver bullet, but when you add them together, they all can benefit sustainability in a really significant way. That’s exciting, and that will bring our industry a long ways.

Jamie Duininck (27:30):
Well, it’s been a fun discussion today, Betsy. This kind of was just an impromptu conversation, which ended up kind of being you interviewing me.

Jamie Duininck (27:44):
No, Betsy, I really appreciate you being on the Water Table today. And it was a little bit of an impromptu thought around how do we get more on the table about what I’m thinking, because I’ve been pretty focused in 2020 and 2021 on interviewing others and telling their story, which has been fantastic, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. But again, I find myself enjoying today, even though it was a little bit more about some of my thoughts. But I think that just comes back to the fact that I am passionate about seeing this industry continue to make progress.

Jamie Duininck (28:25):
And so I’m grateful that you were willing to ask me some questions and join me today, and grateful for our working relationship between Red Star and Prinsco. So thank you for that. And thank you for being on the Water Table.

Betsy Bonnema (28:43):
It was an honor. Thanks for having me.

Jamie Duininck (28:45):
So join us again in a couple weeks. We’ll have another great topic for you. Thanks for joining the Water Table.

Jamie Duininck (28:59):
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.