Podcast Episode 34

The Birth of an Industry. Eh?

With Guest:
  • Chris Unrau of Precision Land Solutions, President & CEO

From working on a potato farm in the ’90s where he trialed subsurface drainage to building a successful business, Chris Unrau shares his experiences of being a part of the “birth” of the water management industry in Canada.

Episode 34 | 50:42 min

Guest Bio

During his time at a large irrigated table and processing potato grower, Chris Unrau held various positions such as agronomist, project manager, and farm manager and implemented several major land enhancement initiatives – including nearly 4,000 acres of tile drainage, 5,000 acres of land levelling, and several major irrigation and building projects. In 2006, Chris decided to leave the hands-on management of agriculture to pursue a new business venture – Precision Land Solutions, specializing in surface and tile drainage. The business has expanded its offerings from drainage installation to now include full-service agricultural water management. Its geographic coverage has grown from the Pembina Valley to include much of Southern Manitoba and across Canada’s prairie regions.

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

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

Jamie Duininck (00:09):
A place for 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 (00:17):
How misunderstood what we do is.

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

Jamie Duininck (00:31):
Well, welcome back to the Water Table podcast. Thanks so much for joining us again today. Before we start, I just want to inform you about a new website that we have watertabel.ag, is where you can go and find all kinds of information about what we’re doing at the Water Table. All the previous episodes are there. Lot more educational information, and I think you’ll find it as a great resource. So again, watertable.ag is where you can find all the resources from the Water Table podcast. Please check it out after this episode.

Jamie Duininck (01:08):
Today my guest is, Chris Unrau. Chris is a Canadian. He lives in Winkler, Manitoba, and has a long history now in the water management industry. And just wanted to interview Chris and give him an opportunity to tell his story. Chris owns a company called, Precision Land Solutions, and I’ve known Chris for about 10 years, maybe a little bit longer, and had really a fun relationship getting to know him and what his company does, and his story before that and how he is passionate about managing the water on the landscape is something I thought would be interesting for our viewers.

Jamie Duininck (01:50):
And you can learn something because Chris is a passionate guy in general, and I think I would call him very much of a serial entrepreneur. So done different things, not afraid to try different things. And so welcome to the Water Table, Chris.

Chris Unrau (02:04):
Thanks, Jamie, and always good to talk to you. And it’s good to be on here and be able to talk drainage. And yeah, I just… Knowing that I was going to be talking to you, I wanted to just make sure I was prepared, and ready, and had done my homework to get ready for this. So in doing that, I found out one thing I didn’t know before. I’m not sure if you know this but did you know that the Vikings they actually, they do not eat cereal or soup? That’s part of their diet.

Chris Unrau (02:39):
It’s a very strict diet that they’re on. They do not eat cereal or soup. And do you know why? Because every time they get near the bowl, they choke.

Jamie Duininck (02:47):
Well, that would be true. As Chris knows, I’m a passionate Vikings fan, but I can’t even… I can’t laugh at that, and I can’t disagree with that either. But it’s the timing of that joke is a little bit off since we won our biggest game of the year, since we never get to the Super Bowl. Our biggest game is always the Packers and the Border Battle was in the Viking’s hands last Sunday.

Chris Unrau (03:16):
So you guys, you’re feeling pretty good about yourselves now because the wild are number one spot in the conference there or in the division and Packer are the Vikings one.

Jamie Duininck (03:29):
That’s right for the next few days, then the golfers play the badgers and that’s always a rivalry too. And then it’ll go downhill from there I’m sure. But we’ll see, we’ll see. So Chris just wanted to maybe let’s start back. How did you grew up in the prairies of Canada in Manitoba and ended up in the agricultural industry, let’s probably start there. And how did you end up in the water management industry, but you started just in farming agriculture.

Chris Unrau (04:03):
Yeah. It’s an interesting journey how we get brought to these places in life, and how different events have an impact on us and guide our path. And it’s pretty fascinating when you look back on it. I grew up Western edge of the Red River Valley in Southern Manitoba in potato countries. So lots of potatoes growing in the area where I grew up. A couple uncles were involved in potato production, and I just always gravitated towards that.

Chris Unrau (04:34):
I just loved being around that crop and participating in growing that crop. And I didn’t grow up on a farm per se, I grew up on acreage, but we didn’t have our own farm. And I was just always wanted to be involved in AG. That was just one of the things that was deep inside me that I really, really enjoyed that. So coming out of high school in the mid 90s, decided to pursue that and went to University of Manitoba and obtained my diploma agriculture and started looking for work.

Chris Unrau (05:15):
Again, gravitated towards the potato thing and got a job with a fairly low, large potato grower here in Southern Manitoba. And just really, really enjoyed that career. I spent 10 years on that farm and did several different positions within that organization, managing crop production, managing projects a lot of project management, whether it was land improvement or buildings and wash plants and things like that.

Chris Unrau (05:48):
And just always really, really enjoyed that, but one of the things that had been going on in Manitoba over the years prior to me joining the farm was this really, really difficult period of excess moisture. And so as a young kid growing up in the 80s I remember the drought of 88′ was, really a big event here in Manitoba there is an absolute crop failure in 88′ because of the drought, 89′ was a little bit better but still dry. And in 1990, the tap turned on and it just didn’t shut off.

Chris Unrau (06:32):
And so I remember in high school in 1990, 91′, working on golf course and just were constantly flooded, just water everywhere. So it changed real quick from dry extreme to wet extreme. And so by the time I got onto the farm in the mid 90s, they had had several years of consecutive excess moisture and had lost a lot of crop to this. So the drive period of the 80s had kicked off a bunch of development in irrigation.

Chris Unrau (07:04):
And so they had been pushing hard to develop irrigation or resources, but then these wet periods were pushing them to try and figure out how do we mitigate these crop losses? And so in Manitoba in that period, there really was no tile. I mean, a couple of experiments had been done. There was a little bit of work that had been started through the Mountable Corn Growers Association just to see what is this tile drainage and what’s it all about, and could it work on our soils, but there really was no local tribal knowledge of tile drainage and how this could work and what it would do.

Chris Unrau (07:43):
So through some of that work that was done in conjunction with the Corn Growers Association and with the Agriculture Canada, a couple of experiments were done. A contractor from Ontario came out and they put some pile in to test it and try it. And well, water came out the end of the pipe. So that was deemed a bit of a success right from the outset. And they started to track some of the results and they started to see some results from this work that had been done. And so the farm I was on we decided to investigate this further and dig in deeper.

Chris Unrau (08:23):
And basically we were looking all around us, so to speak, through the Great Lakes region and seeing that, this tile drainage thing was becoming pretty big deal. It had been going on for a long, long time already, and we weren’t doing it. And we wondered why what’s the difference here. And so we toured around, went to see some growers in different regions, Southern Ontario and Great Lakes region of the US, and just started gaining that knowledge of what others experiences were, and why they were doing this and what was happening.

Chris Unrau (09:01):
So back in Manitoba at that period of time, again, with the lack of experience and lack of knowledge we had, our initial reaction to managing excess water was to increase surface drainage. And so there was a lot of farms that were putting a lot of effort into whether it was ditching or land leveling, or some surface shaping in order to get the water to move off the surface and to not pond.

Chris Unrau (09:40):
And through that process of doing that and still seeing that, yeah, it helped, but our crops were still suffering and we were still getting big losses. There’s a couple things I remember pretty clearly. And one time I remember going out to the field with my boss, and we had a scraper going and we were lawn leveling and it was barely dry enough to move dirt.

Chris Unrau (10:08):
And I remember pretty clearly, we were walking around and you could watch this scraper driving, and it’s like, it’s driving on top of sponge. And every time the machine drives by, you can see it just sink in and pop back.

Chris Unrau (10:24):
And even if you would stand there on your feet and jump up and down, eventually three foot circle around you turns into jello and you can actually get water to come right to it’s jumping in the same spot. And so those are some of those… One of those formative moments where you have this light bulb moment where it just hits you. It’s like, “Oh!” Our soils are completely saturated. We’ve moved the water off the surface, but the rest of the soil profile is completely saturated.

Chris Unrau (10:59):
There is no oxygen, there’s no air in that soil. And when a plant root tries to grow in that, it just suffocates. So that was one of those moments where we hit on that, “You know what? This tile thing it’s got legs. We think this is really a direction we need to move, and we need to get serious about this and not just play with it, but we need to commit to it and move towards that in a big way.”

Chris Unrau (11:29):
So we did the farm that I was on we bought our own plow at the time. It was older D-8 with a crack plow on it out of the Bush in Ontario, and brought it here to Manitoba. And I was tasked with trying to figure out how to put tile in.

Jamie Duininck (11:45):
What year was that Chris, when you started?

Chris Unrau (11:48):
That would’ve been 1997.

Jamie Duininck (11:50):
Okay. And that was with your form… So just for listeners that was working with your former employer and they bought the plow and you were the project manager or the-

Chris Unrau (12:01):
Yeah. So in 1997, we started tiling on the farm and we did two quarters that fall, we learned a lot. And really got cut our teeth on a couple projects there. There was no capacity, or there was no manufacturing capacity anywhere near us at the time. So we were hauling pipe in from Southern Ontario. And even in the late 90s, the freight was ridiculous compared to what the cost of the pipe was. And that’s how we got started. And so it was a little bit of the birth of an industry here in Southern Manitoba.

Chris Unrau (12:39):
And so we continued to do work on our own farm. We spun that unit off as a custom unit, and it did work for our farm and for some others, and by about the mid two thousands, I was ready to move on to something else. I had spent 10 years at the farm there. And the opportunity came up, at that time there was a contractor from Ontario that had been coming out on occasion to do work here. The market had been slowly growing and yeah, he was tired of driving back and forth from Southern Ontario.

Chris Unrau (13:22):
It seemed like there was enough work in Manitoba to keep this machine going. And so I made the big leap to leave the farm and buy that machine, and start my own company. So that was 2007 was when we started our company Precision Line Solutions. And so we started with one plow and I kind of thought I would always just be riding this dusty, old cat down the field, putting pipe in, but it’s been incredible journey from there, we’ve grown a lot.

Chris Unrau (13:56):
We’ve seen a lot of opportunity in our province and elsewhere in Western Canada, but it certainly hasn’t been easy and there’s still a lot of challenges in our way, even now. And so you talked about it a little bit before about educate and I see it as, yeah it’s education, but it’s also culture. And our culture in Manitoba and Western Canada is not traditionally a culture of drainage or water management.

Chris Unrau (14:34):
When I got into the business in 2007, my biggest competitor was other land because tiling was relatively new people, they would come and talk to me and say, “Chris, you know why should I tile him on field? Like, “You are going to charge me 750 bucks an acre to tile this ground. And I can go and buy a quarter from my neighbor for a thousand bucks an acre. So why would I ever tile?”

Chris Unrau (15:03):
And that was a pretty common conversation. And that was fair game. And I can understand that, but that was just traditionally the way it was. If you wanted to expand your farm, you just went and got more land because there was almost an unlimited amount of land available. But then as land prices started to increase, those conversations started to change pretty quick. And in the early stages of my career with PLS, I always sensed that the trigger was $2,500 an acre.

Chris Unrau (15:40):
When the price of land went above $2,500 an acre, then people started thinking about improving their land instead of just buying more. So we saw that pretty routinely in several regions, and so people would come and talk to us and say, “Well, price of land is getting expensive or I can’t buy more because there’s too much competition. There’s large farms that are buying there’s colonies. There’s all different buy that are competing for land. And now I’ve got a son or daughter that wants to join the farm and we need to do more with what we have. So we’re looking at improving.”

Chris Unrau (16:21):
So that’s how those conversations really started to change back around the late two thousands. And that was when we really started to see a lot of growth in our industry and we were continuing to be fairly wet, and as more, and more producers got experience with tile and saw firsthand results, it was pretty dramatic. And so we saw a really strong uptake from our clientele. We came into the industry with our business model was that we wanted to provide the complete solution front to back that if you were a farmer and you wanted to get tile put in, you didn’t have to do any, but call Chris at PLS and then write a cheque.

Chris Unrau (17:17):
But our model we was to service, service, service provide all the service we possibly can. And it was really, really accepted. Well, because the progressive farmers are busy, they know that their expertise is growing and marketing their crop, they’ve got their hands full, they don’t have time for this, they want to be assured that it’s done well. They’re willing to pay for the expertise to get it done properly and not have any nagging questions about whether it was done right or not. So that was our model and it’s been quite successful. We still help and support people who put their own tile in.

Chris Unrau (18:00):
We still think that’s a great place for people to start. We think there’s definitely a fit for some people to do that. It’s not for everyone, but we see the industry as a pretty big place and really any tile that’s going into the ground as long as it’s being done well is a good thing. And whether it’s myself or Self Tyler or another competitor, we love seeing tile go in the ground. It just, it helps grow the industry as a whole. And it helps people see and understand that this isn’t something to be feared.

Chris Unrau (18:34):
This is something that will revolutionize agriculture. It will produce stronger, more bountiful communities. It’ll provide resiliency and sustainability and all those things. So we’re profile in every which we way. And even if it’s not us putting it in.

Jamie Duininck (18:51):

Chris Unrau (18:51):
So that’s kind of, I think in a real nutshell how we got to where we are now and now here in Manitoba, we’re back faced with a new challenge and that’s a drought. And throughout my 15 years of put in tile, we’ve never faced a drought like what we did in 2021.

Chris Unrau (19:16):
And it flips back to that culture thing where I think in more established regions where tile has been ongoing for decades, a drought probably doesn’t affect the market as much as it does is here in Manitoba. And so I think our culture is just that we haven’t been doing this long enough to realize that, “Oh yeah, we’re going to have a drought and then we’re going to get wet again.”

Chris Unrau (19:42):
And the drought is actually a fantastic opportunity to put tile in, but our growers tend to be probably a little more reactionary. And so it’s been dry. So our demand had dropped off quite a bit this year, just because of the crop was so poor and the cash flow just wasn’t there. So, yeah, it’s been a bit of a tough season for us here. We have a lot of projects that got deferred till next year.

Chris Unrau (20:11):
Our clients, aren’t saying they’re not going to tile because it’s dry. They’re just saying we’re going to defer it because we don’t have the cashflow right now. So that’s something that’s been a bit of a challenge for us this year, and we’re just going to continue to work through that and keep going again. Because we know it’ll get wet again, it always does.

Jamie Duininck (20:29):
And I just wanted to up off and talk about a few of those points and first culture I didn’t… We talked a little bit about what we wanted to visit about in this podcast, and this was not something that I saw coming, but I want to mention it because I’ve faced it many times before just working in the industry and it’s so true what you’re saying that there just isn’t a culture of drainage in Manitoba and that’s a fact and it’s a little bit less, but still isn’t the culture in the Dakotas or in Western Minnesota, like there in the state of Iowa.

Jamie Duininck (21:08):
Our friends in Iowa, our friends in Illinois where water management is a right in those states, it’s been around so long. That it’s a right. So it’s interesting how you describe that. How I usually describe that as more around the regulation side is up in the Dakota and the Prairie pothole region of the states, we start talking about regulation and about things going on within NRCS and USDA. And people in Iowa look at us like, “What are you talking about?”

Jamie Duininck (21:41):
And it’s the same country, it’s national laws. They don’t see them the, the same. They don’t interpret them the same in those areas. And I really believe that’s a cultural thing. That is what it is, is it’s the people living and governing in those regions don’t understand, or don’t see drainage as a right, like they do in Iowa and Illinois. And so that starts down there as really a strong culture of water management in Iowa.

Jamie Duininck (22:09):
And then it fades as you get north and then it really fades as you get in across the border. So interesting you say that I just wanted, I don’t think all of our listeners totally understand that because we manage water in one part of the Midwest doesn’t mean it’s accepted the same by the general public, or even by like the banking communities. I’m sure you’ve got stories around from where you started to today on how bankers accept drainage and loan on it compared to when you started.

Chris Unrau (22:45):
Yeah. And there too it’s because I call it culture, but when something is new… And then obviously if it’s new, it’s not part of our culture, our history. And so for us, the comparison is always to Southern Ontario, where they have right to drain legislation. The government recognizes that what you cannot produce a sustainable farming economy without water management. It’s just not possible. That’s what they fully recognize and accept.

Chris Unrau (23:14):
And here water management is new. And so then some people are just outright scared of it. And like the old saying goes with skis, for drinking and water is for fighting. And we see that all the time here where we’ll approach a regulator, whether it’s a rural municipality, or a watershed district, or some area where water management is new and their initial reaction is no, it’s no, you can’t do that because they don’t know what it is.

Chris Unrau (23:46):
They have no idea what this tile drainage is. They think that you’re installing some pump underground. That’s going to manufacture water in unlimited amounts and flood everybody downstream. And so it’s taken a long, long time for us to get to the point with our main regulators that they understand that this does not manufacture water. We cannot create water out of thin air. I certainly wish we could because that would’ve helped this year, but it’s just taken us a long time to get there. And it’s slowly changing.

Chris Unrau (24:18):
And I think it will transition eventually, but it’s the water culture thing. And then there’s also the urban, rural agriculture divide. And I think that plays a big part into it as well, because our regulators are, I’m sure it’s no different in the US as it is here, but our regulators are working essentially for the politicians who are trying to get votes. And if the popular thing of the day is protecting Perry pothole, or any environmental movement, if that’s, what’s going to buy votes, then that’s where the policy is going to go.

Chris Unrau (25:02):
So we struggle with the same thing here in politically with the rural urban divide. And I think one of the bright spots of the pandemic was people seeing and realizing a little bit more where their food comes from, and the issues around food security, and now with the different logistics problems that are in supply chain problems that are going on. I think that’s highlighting some of the risks in our society. And I’m hoping I’m really hoping that’s going to translate into some better, more balanced policy in the future.

Jamie Duininck (25:35):
Yeah. And whether you’re in Canada in the United States, those of us are our city friends that aren’t educated in water management and agriculture just don’t understand. And that’s part of what we’re trying to do here is at the Water Table is just bring more education and they just don’t understand how water management works. And they look at it in very simple terms that you’re taking water off the landscape. So that must be bad. It’s polluted water, it’s gone forever. And you’re reducing the amount of water going into aquifer and all that stuff is wrong.

Jamie Duininck (26:15):
And one of the things I thought I would ask you as an example of that is you told me this several months ago, so I got to probably jog your memory here a little bit. But with the drought in Southern Manitoba, some of the local wells were drying up in the towns, or maybe I said that wrong, there was some water restrictions on, in the cities and people couldn’t water, their lawns and their gardens. And you had a solution to that that maybe didn’t help everybody, but helped some people. Can you talk about that and tell listeners what happened and why that worked out?

Chris Unrau (26:56):
Yeah. I was actually just thinking about that while we were talking, it was a good example of one of the things that we’ve tried, to try and help nudge the bar on this water education and helping people understand tile a little better and just a bit of a PR thing. But yeah, earlier in the summer water restrictions started coming on here. So it’s a little bit of a bizarre situation. We sit on top of this enormous water aquifer that’s about 150 feet below us. And again, our government, our regulators are so worried about the potential environmental impact and which I think goes to the impact on the environmental vote that they restricted how much water we could take out of the aquifer.

Chris Unrau (27:45):
And so our, all our shallow wells were going dry, but we had still had lots of deep water available, but anyways, they put on these restrictions so that people couldn’t water their gardens, they couldn’t water their lawns. And this all hit right at peak spraying season. And so we’ve got these water wells in our area for the farmers to use where they can pull up, and fill their water tanks for spraying. And what was happening was because people couldn’t use their domestic water, they were getting all these, I’m not sure we call them a thousand liter coats.

Chris Unrau (28:20):
They’re like a cube, one of wire cage, a plastic tank in a wire cage. And they’d throw them on the back of their pickup truck or on a little single axle trailer behind their car. And they would go up to these rural water wells and start filling them up with water to bring back to water, their gardens and their lawns and stuff. And so now there would be like 10 or 12 people in line at each well, and then the farmer pulls up and wants to spray as crop.

Chris Unrau (28:45):
Well, he’s got an urgent need and really that’s what these water wells are there for. But Joe public is standing in line and holding this up. So we started thinking a little bit. We built a new yard a few years ago. It’s a beautiful place, beautiful yard, but we’re in the rhetoric valley where there can be different things going on underground with sand channels and stuff. And so we tiled our yard to get it a little firmer and it’s just the way it is. You hit something where water runs you.

Chris Unrau (29:26):
And so there was one road right next to our yard that was really, really bad, really spongy. And so the RM wanted us to tile that when we did our yard, so we did that. We ran some tiles along this road, and it really firmed the road up, but it’s just an example of how things going on underground can affect the infrastructure and the road. So anyways, this tile runs pretty steady, not a hundred percent of the time, but it runs pretty steady.

Chris Unrau (29:53):
And so even in this drought, we had water coming out of our tile system that goes under our yard and down this road. So what we did was we set up a tank and we started pumping this water into this tank and holding it there. And then we put a sign up saying free water. And the people from the towns nearby could come and fill up for watering their gardens and lawns and stuff. And our hope was that we would relieve some pressure from the rural water wells, where the farmers wanted to get water to spray with.

Chris Unrau (30:23):
And so it was accepted extremely well. And we had a lot of traffic there this summer picking up water. And the couple times that we did, we also… That comes off our roof and from our gravel yard. And the couple times we did get a 10th of rain and the tank would fill right up, plus whatever’s coming out of the tile would just keep that tank topped off. And it was really, really well accepted by the community and really appreciated. So for us, it was just a good story of showing how we can use tile to help manage water resilient, see even when water supply is tight and this isn’t about draining and throwing water away.

Chris Unrau (31:09):
It’s about managing it and using it wisely. And so there’s a really good story behind it. And I think it just helps people understand it a little better. And we had a lot of good conversations with people who stopped by to pick up water and you get to tell them that story of, “Yeah, this is where it’s coming from.” And then people would make comments about, “Well, yeah, why doesn’t the government do this everywhere they should pay for the farmers to hold their water in tanks so that we can use it.” And so anyways, it stimulates conversations with the public to help them try and understand.

Jamie Duininck (31:41):
Right. And you have, which I can just make the comment, I can’t really go very deep into this because I don’t even understand how it works, but I certainly know what happens is you get into that area where you are, and there’s many geographical areas like this throughout the world, but for sure that whole Red River Valley, whether you’re in Canada and or the US where you get these sand channels and water moves through the soil, it it’ll move it doesn’t have to come to the surface to move along this soil. I can move miles, and miles, and miles underneath the surface and not go vertical.

Chris Unrau (32:30):
Yep. We have a lot of that where again, right where we are right on the edge of the valley, you go up the escarpment, that’s where the water infiltrates a lot of it in those Prairie potholes. And it comes down and hits these sand channels and then starts to move laterally and it can move for miles. And the problem in our area for a lot of people is the salinity that, that brings along with it.

Chris Unrau (32:51):
So when the water does eventually make its way to the surface, it brings with it salt and then water evaporate and you’re left with salinity patches. So it’s also been a big part of our business is working with farmers to try and make improvements to a lot of their land. And that’s, again, it’s an enormously good sustainability story because we’ve got land out there that’s salty, that’s producing a poor crop or no crop.

Chris Unrau (33:20):
And yet we’re still using fossil fuels to run up and down the field and get over and across these patches, we’re still spraying chemical, putting fertilizer on all these inputs are going into this really, really poor land that has one problem, it has too much salt. And if we can reverse that process, if we can and get the water to move down in the soil profile, instead of up, we can make that land so much more productive and long term sustainable that it takes pressure off of producing, getting new land into production for food production in rainforest areas and that kind of thing.

Jamie Duininck (33:59):
Right. And again that’s when you say, if we can, you’re being pretty humble because it’s pretty, you can, and you know that as it’s pretty simple to get rid of those salinity issues with water management, it’s not easy to get rid of them without it, but with it installing subsurface pipe in the ground, what is it a couple, three, four growing seasons of average rainfall that you see significant positive results from that? Is that correct?

Chris Unrau (34:32):
Yeah. Again, it depends on how much rainfall is coming down, but we say, generally between three and 10 years, if it’s really dry, then it’s going to take closer to 10 years, especially the areas here that are really, really saline. So the higher, the salt concentration and the lower the amount of natural precipitation, the longer it’s going to take. But we’ve seen complete turnarounds in three to five years easily. And we’ve also visiting with one of our clients the other day.

Chris Unrau (35:05):
And they talked about on potatoes and some of those wet years that their payback on tile drainage was instantaneous. It was instantaneous because it made the difference between getting a crop or no crop. And so we’ve seen quite a bit of that in our region as well, where you can put tile in when it’s dry and it feels like, “Oh, why am I doing this? And what’s the need for it.” But our weather patterns can change so quick that the payback can be instantaneous or really, really quick, even on non vegetable crops.

Jamie Duininck (35:42):
Yeah. And how does that people are asking, how does that work on those salinity issues? It’s really as simple as it sounds when the water is coming to the surface and it’s got salt in it. And then it evaporates, the salt stays on the surface and when you’re getting rains and you have a way to get rid of that water through tile drainage, that as the water goes down through the soil profile takes the salt with it, but you have to have the rains to just wash it and keep washing

Chris Unrau (36:15):
Yeah. And we’re also seeing too especially with all the technology that’s out there where a lot more growers are starting to use [inaudible 00:36:24] or EM technology to map salinity. And so now when land is selling, then you’re seeing land get discounted for poor production areas. Because you can see the track record for the… I mean digitally, you can see it for the last 20 years, what this is produced. So it’s starting to click with a lot of people now that this is the way to manufacture land is to tile it because if I’m going to sell a quarter and it’s got 20 acres that are salt affected.

Chris Unrau (36:55):
And so those acres are going to get discount it to almost next to nothing on a sale. But if I tile it and improve it, basically I’m creating new land. Because now when you go to sell it in 10 years or five years, you’ve got land that has been completely transformed. And productivity is even across the whole field. So we are seeing a lot more of that as well, where people are looking at the technology and really starting to see why this makes sense.

Jamie Duininck (37:28):
Yeah, it’s the same scenario as when guys in his combine and sees, the yield monitor bounce to 200 or two 20 bushels an acre. And it’s like, “Man if I could just do that across my field, it would be an awesome year.” While it’s the same thing when you go to sell your land is if I could get that high price across the board, I’d be really happy. But in order to get that high price, you got the whole, farm’s got to be good. Not just the valleys these are the areas that produce the most so for sure.

Jamie Duininck (38:05):
Yeah, your business is you’ve been doing this now for a little more than on your own for 15 years and you’ve been doing it for 25 years, but on your own for 15 years and have really grown up business significantly. When you look at that timeframe you’ve worked in Northern Ontario and then lot of your work, most of your work is in Manitoba, but then also in Saskatchewan and some in Alberta. So really all over Western Canada got quite a story. What, what are you most passionate about Chris you’re personally? What makes you get up in the morning?

Chris Unrau (38:48):
There’s a lot, I guess a lot of things the industry that we’re in as just been a lot of fun to work in because we work with basically the best of the best. And so they are progressive producers who are passionate about farming, about growing their crop, they’re passionate about doing things well and doing things right. And that’s really what’s made it’s so much fun and in a lot of ways, so easy. And so for me seeing land improve and seeing farmers who are happy because their stress has been reduced, they can sleep at night because they know that their crop isn’t in danger of drowning out.

Chris Unrau (39:36):
Those are always the success stories. And then there’s the personal side of working with people and you don’t grow a company like ours without working with a lot of people. And I think, you know that as well, like it’s not just Jamie that runs [Presco 00:39:50], there’s an entire team around him and with him and that’s of moving this ball forward. And so for me, that’s been the other part that I’ve really enjoyed is working with people, seeing them grow and develop, and seeing them become passionate about land improvement.

Chris Unrau (40:08):
And so I’ve got a couple plow operators right now that are just really on fire for are turning land around and improving it and watching those guys in the field and how they are the ones who are seeing the ideas of how to do this better, how to make improvements. And when you see the spark in their eye, that is for me is really, really rewarding. And that’s one of the things that really keeps me go. So yeah that would be… It’s definitely, I don’t get up in the morning because I want to work with government regulators.

Jamie Duininck (40:47):
Yeah. Understood. And I think you have your own customer base and you have great eight relationships from your installation side of your business, down to the people that are writing you checks and hiring you and putting their confidence in you. And it’s the same at Presco. And I don’t really talk a lot about Presco on the Water Table, because it’s a little different, but it the same. And I think it’s why I made a connection with you.

Jamie Duininck (41:22):
I think it’s why I made a connection with pretty much everybody else I’ve had on this podcast is it’s shared values is we have a lot of the same values. And I think it’s the same for you and your customers. But you at Presco our values are hard work relationships and integrity. And I would say just knowing you value the same things, you value that relationship with your customers, with your employees and seeing them, like you say, get excited and passionate about what they do and you like to work hard.

Jamie Duininck (41:55):
It’s what we were made to do and to be out there making a difference. And then the integrity side its what we do. And you certainly have that too. So it’s just interesting as we talk and we build relationships with people, the ones you stay connected to are whether it’s in your personal life or in your business life seem to be the ones that you have some like-mindedness around.

Chris Unrau (42:20):
Yeah. Absolutely. No, it’s been a lot of fun and yeah, we’re not sure exactly where the future will take us, but we got to get through this drought and start moving the ball forward again.

Jamie Duininck (42:37):
Sure. And Chris you’re the kind of the guy that likes to try different things, do different things. And I know one of the things you’re super passionate about besides your work and your family is this aviation thing. You enjoy your company has an airplane to make life easier for business. And so when you’re in Canada, you say you work in Manitoba. Okay. That’s a little different than saying you work in Central Minnesota or in Western Iowa, you work in Manitoba. That could be three or 400 miles away and still be in the same province.

Jamie Duininck (43:17):
Not that you do that that often, but you have had projects long, long ways away from each other. And then you’ve also been able to use that airplane somewhat for pleasure, because you’re passionate about aviation and you want-

Chris Unrau (43:32):
We can record another whole podcast as, so just talking about aviation, if you want to see me get excited there too.

Jamie Duininck (43:38):
Well, if we end up doing that, our listeners will definitely know I’ve run out of topics, but it would be fun. It would be fun. But I just mentioned that as so people can get to know who Chris Unrau is, if you won’t know you very long, less than a day to know that, that’s a big part of your life.

Chris Unrau (44:01):
Yeah, aviation has pretty much always been a big part of my life. And I’ve really grown to love it as when you work in water with water management. And if you can start looking at world from above instead of just horizontally and then to me, there’s just so many more things that make sense. And in our area I can get up in the air and I can scout in a region pretty quick and see what’s the natural drainage patterns. Where does water want to run? Where was it originally running? How was this landscape formed?

Chris Unrau (44:35):
And it all kind of clicks when you can get up and see it from 3D. So for me, the airplane is one of the ways that I reset my bearings with mentally just seeing the world that we live in and how is created and how it was made, and how we’re managing some of that now? What the impact of mankind has been on the landscape? And you can see even in our business where there’s a lot of natural drainage, that’s been interrupted by infrastructure or development and that kind of thing.

Chris Unrau (45:08):
And so just gaining that perspective it always just resets my perspective when I get up in the air and see really how small and insignificant we are in the scope of things. But then also just as a tool for doing business and travel. I mean even now, especially in the pandemic with border issues and that kind of stuff we had crew going into Northwestern, Ontario, and normally we would cut the corner through Minnesota, just cutting the corner across to toward Rainy River there.

Chris Unrau (45:46):
And we would be about a three hour drive, but because of the pandemic we couldn’t get through the states. So guys had, would have to go up around past Canora. Well, that turns it into seven and a half hour drive, but in my airplane it’s one hour. And so that the airplane really helped us through that period to be able to get people back and forth to Northwestern, Ontario, and even going further west. I can get up in the morning, open the hanger door and go have a meeting with a client in Saskatchewan and come home and close the door at night and go home for supper. So it’s an incredible tool and it really, for me, it’s a time machine.

Jamie Duininck (46:24):
Yep. Aviation is a fun thing. And I bring it up only because a lot of people have an airplane for their business or enjoy flying whether it’s personal or vacation with family, but you are one guy that definitely is very passionate about that. And it’s a big part of your life. So I wanted to share that with listeners

Chris Unrau (46:52):
And I was almost going to bump this podcast, recording Jamie, because I’m working on getting my multi instrument rating. And there was a chance that my multi-test was going to be this morning and I was going to have to boot you because that was going to get priority over you.

Jamie Duininck (47:09):
Well, and it should, it should.

Chris Unrau (47:12):
But it did. So I think we’ll do that later this week.

Jamie Duininck (47:14):
Sure. Sure. Well, good luck on that. Good luck on that. So as we wrap up here today, anything you want to leave the listeners with, what are you thinking about when it comes to this industry and future, and what’s going on Chris under his mind here as we wrap up 2021?

Chris Unrau (47:38):
Yeah, I guess the times that we’re in right now are just bizarre. We just… With everything that’s going on with pandemic and climate and now logistics issues, and different things like that, it’s just a whole new world that we’re living in it seems, but I think the one thing that’s just going to remain steady and constant is that we need to produce food. We need to produce it sustainably. We’ve got limited resources when it comes to land.

Chris Unrau (48:15):
And I think anything we can do as a community and as an industry to help educate and promote, and help people to understand the necessity for sustainable water management is a good thing. And I think our industry as a whole, and whether it’s the water management industry or agriculture in general, needs to band together to carry that message, that this is one of the things that’s going to be important going forward, especially with climate change. If climate change is going to have the impacts that they say it’s going to have, then we need to be prepared for excess moisture events, just like we need to be prepared for drought, that what we’re going through right now in Western Canada.

Chris Unrau (48:59):
So I think the importance of that is the one thing that I think our industry can just… We’ll never fully achieve it, but we need to keep working together to carry that message forward.

Jamie Duininck (49:11):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, thanks for that. And thank you for joining us today on the Water Table. And I hope that our listeners can gain a little insight from you and it is pretty interesting, you’re you are definitely seeing you in Western Canada as a resource and a knowledge beyond anybody else in regards to subsurface water management and yet 25 years ago, which isn’t that long ago, you knew nothing about it.

Jamie Duininck (49:43):
So to me, that’s pretty inspiring around you are the go-to guy up there when it comes to, and there’s others, there’s others that know stuff too. But as far as having the history and the time put in and seen a lot and made some mistakes and then learned from them, it’s pretty inspiring to see that… That’s only 25 years ago, and that might seem like a long time to a young guy, but to you and I 25 years and that long anymore.

Chris Unrau (50:13):
Yeah. Yeah.

Jamie Duininck (50:15):
Chris, thanks so much for joining us today on the Water Table and have a great day.

Chris Unrau (50:19):
All right. Good talking to you.

Jamie Duininck (50:21):
Yep. Thank you.

Chris Unrau (50:21):
We’ll talk to you again.

Jamie Duininck (50:22):
Yeah. Bye-bye.

Chris Unrau (50:23):

Jamie Duininck (50:26):
Thanks for joining us today on the Water Table. You can find us @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.