The Spring Waiting Game
- Jamie Duininck of The Water Table podcast, Host
Each spring is a waiting game for farmers and drainage contractors as they are anxious to get in the field. The Upper Midwest has had cold, wet springs for the past few years, compressing the time available for tiling and planting. Jamie shares his thoughts on preparing for the season and how to ensure increased yields despite the less-than-ideal conditions.
Episode 45 | 20 min
Jamie Duininck is passionate about the water management industry because of the wealth it builds for generations to come. He started The Water Table podcast to have and share thought-provoking conversations with knowledgeable and passionate people in the water management industry and beyond. His hope is to educate people about the importance of agricultural water management topics and how they impact the industry.
Having grown up in the water management industry, Jamie Duininck found a deep appreciation for the history, people, and important role of water management in our communities and our world. He is the CEO of Prinsco, a third-generation family business, as well as a husband, father and avid outdoorsman.
Speaker 1 (00:02):
This is The Water Table podcast. The chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues. Place for people to go find information and education.
Speaker 2 (00:13):
Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.
Speaker 1 (00:19):
How misunderstood what we do is?
Speaker 3 (00:22):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.
Jamie Duininck (00:32):
Well, welcome back to The Water Table podcast. And today I just wanted to share some of my thoughts and what’s going around in my head. What I’ve been hearing from contractors and farmers out in the field, kind of a unique year we have going here. I’m recording this on April 20, and we are still pretty much winter here in Minnesota, North Dakota. I know some of our other Midwest areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa are getting closer to spring, but are way behind where they typically would be and anything from pretty dry in some areas to pretty wet, but yet just behind in late in the spring. And some of the things I’m hearing is man, if we can get going, get a crop in the ground, get a great growing season. The year is going to be really good.
Jamie Duininck (01:41):
And just with the uniqueness going on with pricing, all of the COVID hangover, the supply chain issues, then the war in Ukraine, we have super high commodity prices. We have super high land prices. And if we can get through to harvest time and have a really good harvest or even a little better than average across the Midwest, our agricultural community is going to do really well financially. And so that’s kind of interesting when you think about what’s happening at the same time. We’re now waiting to get the start on the beginning of ’22 to get going, get planted and try to achieve that significant year as in any business, it’s up and down and you got to capitalize when you have that in front of you.
Jamie Duininck (02:46):
And so, I’ve been thinking about that from the standpoint of the conversations I’ve been having from how people are approaching it. And some people, man, I don’t know, it’s pretty dry, so we got to get some rain in order for this to happen. In other areas last week I’d heard upwards of close to 40 inches of snow in parts of North Dakota. And they’re ways away, obviously from planting here on April 20, but when you look at it, what are some of the things in water management that we have to be thinking about? And it’s very possible that we’re going to go from, I don’t have a word for, what if you combine winter and spring, but it’s not really either right now. So whatever that is, is where we sit and if we go right from that to summer, and we don’t have a traditional spring with a lot of moisture and just cooler nights, warmer days. Looks like pretty much everywhere we do have the subsoil moisture to get going.
Jamie Duininck (04:06):
But at that point we get going and if it gets warm. Without the proper subsurface drainage, we’re going to have challenges of root growth and root development. You know, other areas it is pretty wet. So we all know about that and what that can do by getting in the field even seven days earlier, when you have proper subsurface water management in place to allow you in there sooner. We’re getting areas of the Midwest have been seeing more and more of it, all you have of no till and minimum tillage. And when you have that, it’s just harder for that ground to warm up, harder for the sun to penetrate when there isn’t as much black soil and warm that soil up to point of when you can plant and get a good crop.
Jamie Duininck (05:00):
So, as I’ve been thinking about this, I just wanted to share, again, all of the positives that are out there when it comes to subsurface drainage, whether it’s aeration, aerating the ground. Whether it’s, even right now, when you just look at the obvious one of yield increase and bushel increases per acre, and you have land that’s so expensive to buy, which is a great thing for our industry and for farmers that own land, but also even farmers that own a lot of land, I’ve been talking to some and hearing some from our customers around guys that are again saying, yeah, I’m going to take a pass right now. And I’m going to keep improving the land that I have with subsurface drainage because I can do that for a fraction. And when I say a fraction, it’s not dramatic, it is a fraction of the cost to buying more land.
Jamie Duininck (05:59):
So increasing my total farm yields by 20, 30% when I’m doing that. So, that’s the obvious one of why we need to continue to promote what we do. But also just like I said, aeration and getting in early. And we’ve had so many of the last 10 years struggles in way more than the upper Midwest, North Dakota, Minnesota, Western Minnesota. You would expect if you’re a farmer in Illinois or Iowa for them to get going and having spring struggles that you don’t have. But, we’ve had prevent plant in Iowa in the last five years and just wet springs, cold wet springs. And it does feel like that’s changed. I don’t know if we’re in a pattern, but it feels like that’s changed and become more of the norm over the last 10 years say. So when you look at it that way, what are you going to do? What can you do to ease into your spring season, into your planting season in a better way and make sure that you’re getting in and getting planted before you lose some of those growing days.
Jamie Duininck (07:23):
And the best way to do that is through drainage, so through having your water management in place. When you look at our falls, it’s kind of the same that we’ve had. We’ve had different falls than what we’ve in the last eight or 10 years. It seems like there’s been consistently really nice. So it isn’t a fall that’s an issue, they seem to be extended, going into the spring and not getting planted. And until late May, early June, in some cases, you wonder, okay, if we have an early fall, what is this going to do to the crop? How much drying is going to have to happen?
Jamie Duininck (08:05):
It’s going to be tough to get it out. And yet over the last 10 years, our falls have been warm, dry, longer, extended longer. And I’m not going to get into why this is because I don’t know why we’ve had these two patterns, but we have. And what does that mean for our industry and how do we shift our thinking in our minds around what we’re currently seeing? Because I don’t think there’s a reason to think it’ll be different next year. It might be, but we certainly have a pattern that we’re in now. And there’s so many things that go along with that, even in the industry of corrugated pipe and the manufacturing side. When you lose a spring like this, now we’re going to do some business, but at the same time you lose the length of that spring.
Jamie Duininck (09:02):
How do you get product out in a timely fashion to the customer? How does the customer get it ordered, have a spot for it and even hire a contractor or some people, some farmers are installing it themselves. How do they even do that when your season is so compressed, you run out of time. And yet it is such an important piece to what we’re doing now. As we gain history and time, we learn every year and we learn what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work. But I just encourage people to see this as what it is that it may or may not last, but right now we’re in a pattern of cool wet springs and warmer drier falls. And it has to change our behavior a little bit because even if we want to get going in the spring, get jobs done, get pipe delivered, all of those things.
Jamie Duininck (10:03):
In some cases, you can’t prevent the fact that you’re not going to be able to do it because of too much frost, too much snow, whatever it might be, too much water and it’s moving those jobs and just compressing the season. Now we’re getting some on the back end, that’s great. But it has to change the way we think about things and our thought process on all the way across. Even for those that really, I don’t know if I need to do manage the water on my farm, yeah. You need to think about that differently because of how this has gone the last several years. But then also, the people that are doing it already, the things they’re used to from logistics and all of it need to be thought through. And I know the American farmer is resilient and has already been dealing with this all across the board with the whole supply chain issue. It’s just the same in ours now. And we’ll solve it. They’ll figure it out.
Jamie Duininck (11:09):
But it’s just some of the things that have been on my mind, given where we’re at right now. And it does look like the weather’s going to start to straighten out. But at the same time, sitting here in central Minnesota needing 50 degree soil temps, I think I see one day in the next 10 where the temp is above 50 degrees at some point during the day, the rest of the day it’s below and sometimes significantly below. So we’re a ways away. You know doesn’t really matter if the field is suitable to get in and start planting.
Jamie Duininck (11:50):
It doesn’t really matter if that soil temperature isn’t high enough anyway. So we’re ways away. And just trying to start a thought process and together be thinking about what are things we can do in the future to have the least amount of risk for us as an industry and for you as a farmer, to grow a great crop and make money every year. And from my perspective, one of those significant things on the top of the sheet, if you’re writing them down is, is my water management plan in order? And what can I do to solve that? Some of the other things that have happened last fall in this spring that are really interesting, and we did a podcast on it last fall, but as land prices… I think most people in this industry are interested in land prices, because it just shows where the health of the industry is at.
Jamie Duininck (12:51):
And it’s interesting to talk to farmers and about what they’re seeing and in some cases rejoice with them when they’re able to pick up a 80 or a quarter that they’ve been pursuing for maybe generations in their family and also to sharing in that disappointment when the farm went a different direction or they just decided they couldn’t justify what that was selling for. But I think on the positive side, what it says is our industry as a whole is really healthy right now. A lot of the land is going, farmers are buying it. It isn’t all farmers, but farmers are buying land and expanding their operations.
Jamie Duininck (13:39):
You know, we’re going to do a podcast with a college student coming up here and just talk about the hopes and dreams, a little bit of young men and women coming into agriculture. And what is that going to look like for them? And what are they thinking about, what are they passionate about? And for me to see this, high land prices make it harder for them, but they make it easier for them if they can come into a family farm. And so it’s been interesting in my career to watch times when young people are leaving the farm and finding jobs and a lot of them finding jobs in agricultural industry and then times when it’s really good of them saying, that’s really what I wanted to do. So now I can either go back to the farm or they just happen to be transitioning from school to the farm during those times and they go right to the farm.
Jamie Duininck (14:40):
So it’s interesting and I think very healthy for our rural America economy and for what we do as an agricultural industry to have these kids that are really passionate about it and smart as the future of our industry and willing to stay in rural America and willing to take the reins and this industry. The other thing that just makes it so challenging and complicated when you have a really wet spring is the compression of the season because there really isn’t much summer work done and all that gets pushed to after harvest. And if you get a longer fall, you can make up a little bit of what you lost in the spring, but you kind of have to assume that a fair amount of that’s lost if you lose it. I’m encouraged about what could happen with potential of summer work in the future as far as crop rotation.
Jamie Duininck (15:46):
You get more the Northern climates of drainage up into the Dakotas and for sure in Canada, you get some of the small grains and cereal crops that are coming off in the summer. And then there’s summer tiling but it’s hard to understand and to want to go through your crop in the summertime and tile or manage your water in the summertime by ruining a crop. And I don’t think that’s probably going to happen in periods we’re currently in with really high commodity prices. It’s just too good to leave on the table. But these are things that I just encourage. I don’t have the answers, not saying I do, but I encourage all of you farmers and contractors to be thinking about that and working through, is this something I should do?
Jamie Duininck (16:45):
Or is this something I should sell as a contractor around going through a crop? And there’s some of you already are doing it. I know that, but what are the economics because the economics change all the time. But I also think adding in that, the majority, I was going to say eight out of 10, but I don’t actually know what it is. But the majority of years we’ve lost our spring season. So if losing a spring season means for fair amount of landowners and farmers that you know, they’re pushing projects down the road that they would’ve maybe done three years ago, they’re just getting to this year because we’ve had crappy springs. Well, then you got to look at what kind of yield loss did you have on that field for three years. And what if it made sense to do something different maybe, that you could do some summer tiling. Maybe you do a wheat rotation on an 80 that you just don’t usually do or something.
Jamie Duininck (17:51):
So it’s interesting, like I said, I don’t have the answers, but I think really thinking outside the box on what are all of our options and considering that where we’ve been the last 10 years in our springs, those that have had the proper water management systems on their fields have gotten in faster. It’s just a fact, they’ve grown great crops on those years where it’s been wet and cold in the spring and dry and hot in the summer. When harvest comes, they’re at the top, when it comes to bushels. Their fields are great from an aeration standpoint. They’re managing their water, they’re managing the water table. Flooding isn’t an issue on those areas in the Red River Valley. So there’s just so many reasons to consider this. And I just didn’t want people to be discouraged as they’re sitting here, listen to podcast rather than being in the planter. So as you listen to this, just know that this is an option that you should be considering.
Jamie Duininck (18:59):
So with that, this is the first podcast that I’ve done without a guest. And I just wanted to share my thoughts today. If you didn’t like it, send me an email. I’ll never do it again. But anyway, we’ll see you again in the future.
Jamie Duininck (19:22):
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.