Podcast Episode 6

Q & A: You Asked. We Answered.

With Guest:
  • Kent Rodelius of Prinsco

Jamie and Kent sit down to answer questions listeners have submitted since the launch of The Water Table. Listen to dive deeper into ag water management topics.

Episode 6 | 33:39 min

Guest Bio

Kent Rodelius has been in the water management industry for over 37 years – all of them at Prinsco, helping to build strong relationships, grow sales, and develop key partnerships. Kent is a strong advocate for enhanced conservation practices designed to address the environmental challenges currently facing producers. He also has a passion for staying informed on regulatory and legislative issues which led him to testify before the U.S. House of Ag Committee. Kent is the acting President of the ADMC and is highly involved on both the state and national LICA.

Jamie: 

This is the water table.

Kent: 

a chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues

Jamie: 

a place for people to go find information and education

Matt Helmers: 

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

Jamie: 

How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent: 

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

Jamie: 

Welcome to the water table podcast. Glad you could join us. Over the last couple of months, we’ve enjoyed doing these podcasts and wanted to take time on this episode just to answer some of the questions that we’ve had over time. Because we want this, as we said, to be educational around water quality and sustainability. And so I think we got some really, really good questions. And again, today I’ve got Kent Roedelius with me and Kent and I are just going to create a dialogue here ask each other questions. And hopefully the answers are, are from questions that all of you have had over time so that we give you more and more education on what we do in our industry. So first question, Kent, is from Gina. And Gina was asking what is an FW? And you and I know what that is, but why don’t you explain? And we were talking about that and a few of our podcasts, I think with Todd Stanley and more recently with Jeremy Donabauer But what is an FW?

Kent: 

That’s a great question, Jamie. And farmed wetlands are kind of a hard thing for a lot of people to understand. How could you farm a wetland? But a farmed wetland happens to be land that is manipulated or tiled prior to December 23 of 1985. That’s when the federal farm bill called for conservation compliance. So when you go into your NRCS office, and you’re planning to do some tiling, you get a map from the NRCS that will show you the classifications on your land. And there very often will be several different classifications. Two of them that we deal most with are farmed wetlands, those would be FWs and then prior converted would be PCs. So a farmed wetland, like I said, is something that you probably have partially tiled, or you filled it somewhat or manipulated the soils in that in that area. So you cannot do anything more to that land. Because it’s considered a farmed wetland. Most years, you can farm right through it because even when it’s dry enough, I would say probably 7 out of 10 most farm wetlands could be could be farmed, but you cannot put any additional drainage surface or subsurface on a farmed wetland.

Jamie: 

Yeah, let’s, you know, that was the question that came in. But let’s just talk a little bit more about some of the other acronyms that come along with that on on a 1026. No one has a PC or a prior convert, which means prior converted wetland but Kent explain what that means to our audience, if it’s prior converted.

Kent: 

Before 1985. If you would have tiled that ground or dozed and leveled that land and there’s there was some hydric or wet soils on that ground, and you converted that to to just a regular farm field, that would be labeled as prior converted. And you can do anything you want on that piece of ground. So it’s ground at one time probably would have been a wetland it might be titled out. There’s a there’s a lot of possibilities of what could have been done to that piece of ground to alter it. But it’s a pretty common classification we see is a PC or prior converted.

Jamie: 

Yeah, because it was converted before the regulation didn’t allow it to be converted was previously converted. And, those are some of our best ground because of the soils there and grow some of the best crops. And so you hear that one a lot and wanted people to know what that means. Obviously, a W is just a wetland. What else is out there, Kent, as far as that you think from some of the acronyms on on maps that people would wonder?

Kent: 

There are other classifications but those are the main ones that affect us in what we’re doing. And one thing that people don’t realize is there’s a significant setback from a wetland. And that’s determined when they come out again. And it can be 100 to 200 to 300 feet outside that circle that’s drawn around that wetland. So to have something classified as a wetland is is a tough classification for a farmer.

Jamie: 

Thanks, Kent. Next question came from Troy in Minnesota and that question was back on our episode from representative Petersen. We talked about CSP, kind of talking about acronyms right now, but what is CSP, Kent?

Kent: 

So Conservation Stewardship practices, CSP practices. Those practices, it’s relatively new to the to the NRCS. I think in 2018 is when it started. But it replaces some of the older programs. And what it really does is encouraged landowners who have already met with the NRCS and probably have some equip or some crep or some CRP land, to take it to another level where they can actually do more enhancements on their farm. So the NRCS would come out to your farm and go through your home full farm operation. Now they look at forests, they look at crop land, they look at your land set your homestead, they look at all kinds of different areas, pastures. From what I could figure out, there’s about 140 different practices that qualify. And some of the most common ones for water and soil that would interest us would be no till and cover crops. Also, drainage water management is a practice that would be considered an enhanced practice. And you can do, like I said, drainage water management, you can put bioreactors in or sub irrigation. And so the after this evaluation, they pay you based on acres from, from what I understand. And it’s a five year contract. So it’s for people that are very interested in enhancing their conservation on their farm. Oh, there’s always people like that looking to, to do the next best thing. I know it’s a practice that th new administration is talki g about really featuring and try ng to get participation in. So that’s Conservation Stewardship practices, in a nutshell.

Jamie: 

There’s hundreds of different practices you can do for Conservation Stewardship Program. It just depends on where you’re at. All 50 States have Conservation Stewardship Program available to them. So it’s whatever they determine the value of the conservation you’re going to do it is that’s how you get paid by it. The higher the value is to the environment the more you get paid on that program. So but there is, if people aren’t aware of it, take a look. Because there is programs within the CSP of which are fairly easy to do and do enhance our environment and you can get paid for it. So it’s a good thing.

Kent: 

We do really need to stress that it is voluntary. You don’t have to do it. But there’s tons of farmers that do it because they care about their land. They care about the stewardship of their land, they care about water quality. There’s all kinds of different reasons to do it and farmers need to be acknowledged for for implementing all of those Conservation Stewardship Programs.

Jamie: 

I agree. I agree. Another question we got was from George, he was more of a comment than it was a question that he left on our our social media platform. But it said we need to preserve our wetlands, they filter our water. Also, they help prevent flooding.

Kent: 

Those are a mouth full of questions right there and answers. But we are preserving our wetlands. There’s no question about that. You have not been able to drain a wetland since 1985. It’s there’s very strenuous regulation. It’s multi layered. There’s tons of groups that monitor there and monitor the drainage of wetlands and watch that closely. But George is right in one aspect, that they do, wetlands do filter the nitrates out of the out of the water. And it’s interesting that right now there’s kind of a resurgence of studying de-nitrifying wetlands. There’s a lot of interest by researchers and even on the farm of in low areas on farm grown now building de-nitrifying wetlands where you divert your drainage water through a wetland. You will drain that water down slowly and then let it re-enter the system after it’s been filtered. There is that aspect of the nitrifying wetlands. Jamie want to talk a little bit about flooding.

Jamie: 

Yeah, yeah. You know, on our episode with Congressman Peterson, we talked about that. And we talked about flooding and drainage. And wetlands can help with flooding for sure. But typically what happens is we have our wetlands are full from maybe a fall or wet fall. And then we get a lot of our our flooding in the springtime. And in a wetland is really, the ability for a wetland to help with flooding is not available if the wetland is full. Then when it starts to flood it can’t do anything to help and store water. So if we managed our wetlands better in our state and in our country and we release some water from them in the fall and in pull that water table down so that they have the ability to store water that certainly could be the case. We feel, and we have, there’s a lot of studies in our industry that show that the impacts of flooding are actually, there’s a very positive impact to having proper drainage on the your landscape that will store water in the soil profile and will prevent flooding from happening because you have basically from where in general statements, but probably a pretty good statement would be, you have about four feet from the surface of the soil down to the to the pipe that’s in the ground, and between that, that’s four feet of soil is about 50% soil 25% water and 25% air would be ideal. So you have some storage area in that air to be able to store water. So just for sake of argument, if it’s 25% air and you fill that air up, you’re going to have a foot of water storage available in a four feet of soil. And that your that you would have available with a proper drainage system. So that’s a ton of storage capability if you do that across the landscape and that’s why they say proper, proper water management will help prevent flooding.

Kent: 

Absolutely. And if we enter the late fall early winter season with saturated soils were in big trouble. If we are able to draw down the draw down the farmland and move that water into the wetlands at an earlier time also draw down the wetland it’s it’s a big game changer for the seriousness of flooding,

Jamie: 

For sure. If you look up in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, North Dakota, they’ll be talking about flooding from basically freeze up until springtime on years in which they have a lot of moisture in the fall. Some years that happens because of their full and they get they get a warm, quick melt and or they might get a quick melt and more moisture. And other years, if you get just the perfect melt it will still they’ll still be okay and they won’t flood. But if you have a full soil profile and your wetlands are fall going into winter, you’re not putting yourselves in a very good position for potential Spring flooding. All right, Kent, another question here is comes from South Dakota. And it refers to our episode with Jeremy Donabauer on wetland restoration wetland banking. And it just says, tell me more about wetland banks. Can you explain how they work? And this is a good question for you Kent because you’ll be able to explain it better than me.

Kent: 

Well, we’ll see Jamie. Wetland banks were started in response to farmers being able to mitigate what we might call in the industry as a nuisance wetland or a small piece. Say you’ve got an 80 acres piece and you’ve got a a small spot on that farm stays wet. Just just wet enough in the spring that you can’t plant it. Wildlife starts to use it in the spring, maybe a duck or another animal nests there. But within two weeks, that water is all dried up. And it’s really not a lot of value. So there’s the came about the vowser, the Board of Soil and Water Resources in Minnesota came up with the idea of building wetland banks. And there, that’s something that’s heavily regulated. And if you haven’t listened to that episode, on wetland banks, you’d get the full story on them. But it’s an area where a farmer can go. And if he’s got a 10th of an acre, they’ll enhance the size of that of that wetland. And then he can go to a wetland bank, which is a larger wetland, they try to get it within his region, to the state is broken up into regions, they like to trade those banks and regional areas. So he would go and meet with the owner of the wetland bank and they would agree to a price where he could buy an acre of wetland, and then he can mitigate that and he can then go ahead and finished draining out that small spot on his ground. And so there’s a much larger, more significant more useful wetland built as a wetland bank. There are large, large wetland, multi acre wetlands. Most of them are natural wetlands that have been enhanced. And the science nowadays allows us to build a very, very high quality wetland it’s not like they just fall into a shallow depression in the field and threw some water at it and called it a wetland bank. It’s highly regulated. You can, you could, like I said, try and buy within your region, if you can’t, then you can be spread to a different region. There’s also a large amount of mitigating done in the city when they’re going to build a new shopping mall. And there’s a wetland, they can also mitigate with banks. And also for roads that are that are built or rebuilt, they very often need to alter a wetland a small bit, but it’s a very practical and useful practice. There’s quite a few wetland banks in the state of Minnesota, other States have them as well. But there’s, there’s a, there’s good call for them and could use for them. And when you have this large, large wetland it’s much more useful to waterfowl to wildlife to birdwatching to whatever you might want to do on that it’s really a win win and something that’s been developed and very, very much worthwhile.

Jamie: 

Good answer. Thank you, Kent. And your position, Kent, at Prinsco and what you’ve done to help the industry with the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition. You know, what is meant by controlled drainage? And how does it treat water?

Kent: 

Drainage water management is the practice of using a water control structure to raise or lower the depth of the outlet to hold water on the field. When drainage is not needed. Across the upper Midwest, there’s millions of acres. So there’s a lot of acres that this could be utilized on. One of the things we talked about with control drainage is the golden rule of drainage, the golden rule of drainage is remove only what is needed for traffic ability and crop production. And now to drop more. By doing that you’re holding back the water in the nitrifying the water by holding it on the soil profile. And also we can store some water for later use. One of the best things you could do is watch drainage 101 on our Prinsco website or on YouTube. It’s a great short video. That is kind of the standard for how drainage works and it also delves into what drainage water management is. But typically for drainage water management, the cycle would be that after harvest, you would raise the boards or then that would raise the water in their water, raise your water table and hold back water to reduce the nitrates delivered to the ditch or to the outlet. And that significantly reduces the nitrates loss by about 45%. So that’s a great upside of drainage water management. Then in the Spring, you would lower the boards so water can drain to the level that allows for traffic ability. Any field where it can be done then it also warms up to soil more quickly. And it’s ready for planting the whole field at the same time. And after the plants have been to have established a deeper root zone, the boards can be used to hold back water in the system again. So you would start to hold back some water for the summer months when it gets drier. And the crop might need to drink from that water stored. And then again, any excess water that may may impede harvest is removed by lowering the boards and then we complete the cycle again. So that’s basically what control drainage is very, very common practice. It’s a concept that we should consider putting on much more of our landscape in the upper Midwest here.

Jamie: 

Thanks, Kent. Yeah, that kind of dovetails into the next question. I’d say there have been a fair amount of research done on controlled drainage and there certainly has and always reach out to us if you want to know about some of that. But the other question was just specifically on research that’s been done on tile and the benefits to land owner. Is there much research was the question. And I’ll just answer that here and absolutely there has been. In the Midwest, the five land Grant universities that are pretty involved in subsurface water management or Purdue, Ohio State, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, we had Dr. Matt Helmers on earlier in these episodes, and University of Minnesota. You know, there are other other schools more traditionally, I know.

Kent: 

Missouri is doing quite a bit right now. And so are both the Dakotas are doing.

Jamie: 

Absolutely, I know.

Kent: 

Quite a bit.

Jamie: 

Yeah, with NDSU and SDSU. With subsurface drainage becoming more prominent in those states over the last 10 years, definitely have a lot of studies coming out of there. And then more traditionally, you know, North Carolina State has some, some older research, but that is very beneficial to what we do today. And I think Louisiana State also did some early on too that was, is that right, Kent?

Kent: 

Yeah, I believe so.

Jamie: 

There is a lot research out there. Sometimes people that want to know more about that it can be a little bit difficult to find. But please reach out to us if you have specific questions. And it’s probable that we would be able to point you in the right direction to get answers to that. So good question there. Another question that we have, from a listener in Illinois, that he listened to the episode with Dr. Michael Pluimer. And said, he was wondering why some companies only use virgin resin? And are, you know, adamant about the fact that the virgin resin creates a higher quality product when that contradicts what Dr. Pluimer said. So, you know, you’re nice to have a little dialogue about this. But how would you answer that question, Kent?

Kent: 

That’s a really interesting question. It’s many faceted. It’s a pretty hot discussion in a lot of areas. But, at Prinsco, the road that we’ve taken is we’ve tried to be socially responsible and environmentally responsible. And figure out the technology to be able to blend resins buy resins right and make pipe out of post consumer plastic. It’s not been an easy road and there’s been a lot of things that we’ve developed and learned. But we are highly confident right now that we can build a pipe that will perform to all the specifications that are mandated and those that we choose to meet by using postconsumer plastics. It’s a huge win for the environment. Jamie, you did that session with Mike, what else would you add?

Jamie: 

Yeah, I think you covered it there. But you know companies are, and Prinsco being one of them, are in business. We’re not going to do things that are going to cut corners, and and we’re not going to do something that is going to be detrimental to our customer and the longevity of our product. So we’ve developed ways along with other competitors to manufacture a product of very high quality out of recycled plastic. And the companies that choose not to do that are also, from what I know, selling and manufacturing a high quality product, they just choose to do it out of virgin material. So I don’t think either one of either one of Kent and I can answer the question completely of why they’re doing what they’re doing. But it is their way of branding their company. And they make a good product. They just make it with virgin material where a lot of companies, including Prinsco, where we work we make a virgin product but we also make a recycled product. And we do a lot of it. And we’re proud of what we do.

Kent: 

Jamie, do you remember what the amount of post consumer plastic Dr. Pluimer said was held out of the landfills? That was staggering.

Jamie: 

And this study was actually a few years back so it’s probably even higher than that. I put something on social media the other day where I said 500 million pounds and I got told after that I was wrong. And I’m not super savvy on there. I didn’t know how to edit my comment, so I just left it but it is actually as of a few years ago it was over 600 million pounds. And so it’s, you know, not probably half but it’s getting to be close to half of what our industry does in regards to total pounds, which is pretty remarkable. I think tells the story that if you couldn’t do it in a quality way it wouldn’t be done at those types of volumes. Let’s move on here a little bit, Kent, this is a good discussion. And we’ve had some I think we’re answering some questions here that people had that was our whole purpose in this. One question came from a listener in Iowa that said, you know, I don’t see very many lift pumps but I have to travel for my job up in North Dakota and I see lift pumps and the question is, you know, why? Why are they using what are they really doing? How is it working? Because I see these pumps at the edge of fields.

Kent: 

That’s a great question. And you will see it I’m frequently in that ground, especially up in the Red River Valley in that area. You know, the old joke is that you can watch a dog run away from home for two days. It’s so flat up there. There, but it’s there’s it’s just a matter of not having enough grade in that field. So you need to dig an outlet structure, catch basin with a lift pump, it’s generally run by electricity you can get them to, to run off other things. But generally the electricity is brought to that spot, so the drainage water comes into that catch basin and then the catch basin lifts that water up and puts it into the ditch. So it’s just a matter of not having enough grade on your ground. So that’s a very simple, simple explanation of that. There’s lots of calculations that go into that. That ties back to how quickly you want the water to come off that field. It’s it’s, there’s a lot to that as to figuring out where to put a lift pump and and how to how to set it up.

Jamie: 

Good answer. Good answer. In regards to another question that came in as in from a listener, that’s just not real familiar with our industry. And I think it’s a good question for us to answer here is, you know, what are the top reasons farmers want to put tile in their fields? This is a super basic question for us. But it’s definitely a good one. So I’m glad somebody asked it.

Kent: 

Well, the for sure, the number one reason is for increased yield. And you can figure most of the time, most of the time, you’ll regularly get a 25% or more bump on your for your crop yield on the tiled ground when it’s pattern tiled. And a lot of what’s driven that has been that farmers now have GPS in their combines and when they go over their tile lines, they know where those lines are, and they’re their yield actually jumps significantly. So they have decided if they patterned their field that they would get a much stronger and a much more consistent yield. So that’s probably the number one reason. But some of the other ones are just that you can plant a lot earlier and gain a lot of days because having tile in the ground the moisture leaves and the soil warms up more quickly. So you’re ready to plant. The whole field is ready to plant at the same time and that’s pretty significant as well. Tiling also reduces compaction on because farmers aren’t working wet ground. That’s a big no no. That compaction is a big problem for farmers. It controls your risk of too much water. We have a lot of big rain events recently and if you can get that water off within 24 hours it makes a significant difference in your crop production. Some of the other reasons is your plants go deeper in the Spring when the water table is lower in your field, they have to set deeper roots. That way they’re ready for the Spring for the Summer conditions when it’s drier. Their roots are down where the water would probably be more likely to be. So that’s a good strong root zone that also helps with high winds. It lowers your drying costs in the fall. And also just as better utilization of your nitrates in your fertilizers. And one last thing that probably people consider is using smaller equipment and less fuel. So there’s really a myriad of reasons why you would tile your ground and those are some of the highlights

Jamie: 

You know the other the other things I think of when I think of benefits to farmers are just getting in earlier getting in the field when you have when you get where you’re able to walk manage that water table the water table is lower which allows the ground to mellow out and become workable earlier in the spring, they’re getting in earlier. And and a compaction issue both of which create what you talked about a little bit ago Kent has the higher yields because if you can get your your crop planted earlier, it has an opportunity to grow right away and benefit from the days the heat units and you get a much better higher yielding crop. The other thing is that really gets left behind is there’s a lot of activity these days and environmental practices around no-till and leaving the crop leaving the stubble and the trash from the year before the corn stacks all of that in the field. Not tilling it up it helps with erosion. It’s it’s a good practice from an environmental standpoint. But when you do that, it’s much harder for that ground to dry out in the spring enough to plant it because of it’s not black soil. The sun can’t penetrate it. So if you have a proper water management system underneath that no till g round, you’re going to get in and be able to plant it much quicker and not have problems of maybe not getting it planted.

Kent: 

That’s good stuff, Jamie. One of the main reasons people put pipe in the ground is for risk management. We’ve moved to a point where we have much larger rains where there’s just too much water. And to get that water off your ground in a timely fashion is extremely important. It’s just really a lot, you know, in the Midwest, as soon as you either have not enough water, or too much water and tile really helps you with that equation. You know, your soil warms up faster in the spring, you can plant earlier. So it’s just, you know, we could go on and on and on about the benefits of managing the water table on the farm.

Jamie: 

Yeah, we don’t, we don’t have to argue about or debate. Climate change, we won’t probably do that on, at least not on today’s podcast, we’re not going to. But what we do know is that whether you believe in it or you don’t believe in it we are getting more rainfall and larger rainfall events in the, in the really all of the Midwest. In areas where, you know, two and a half inch rain used to be a lot are now that’s a very common and even in some growing seasons you’re seeing three and a half and five inch rains and things like that. So the rainfall increase definitely affects what happens on the farm, including proper water management.

Kent: 

Yeah, and it’s all about, it’s all about plant health and soil health. So we hear about all the time nowadays. And I remember a long time ago a guy told me he said even my mom knew enough to put some stones in the bottom of the flowerpot. And you got to get the excess water away to allow the plant to flourish and grow well. Like Jamie said before it’s a combination of 50% soil, 25% air, and 25% what, Jamie?

Jamie: 

Water.

Kent: 

Water, there we go.

Jamie: 

And we can end on that note today on the water table podcast. But it’s funny that I learned that one from from Kent, many, many years ago, as you know, the old gardeners would put a rock or a crushed pop can or whatever it might be in their in their pots when they plant their flowers in the spring. And I’m not a gardener but I have planted a few flowers and I did that. And it is absolutely amazing. And for those of you that aren’t farmers do it this spring as we come in and put one pot without anything in it other than soil and your flowers and the other one put some

Kent: 

put a few rocks in the box

Jamie: 

Put a few rocks in the bottom and maybe one or two in the middle and it allows for that aeration allows for the water to be able to move where it needs to be. And and the fall you’ll see how much different those two plants look. One is going to be way healthier than the other and it’s going to be the one that was the water was managed on. So thanks for joining us today. We’ll probably do this periodically throughout the course of these podcasts. If there’s more questions, please share them with us. We’d love to answer them. And I hope that you enjoyed this session. If you enjoy what you’re listening to, you can find us on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook. And you can also find us at watertablepodcast.com Thanks for listening!