Podcast Episode 37

The Voice of Agricultural Drainage

With Guest:
  • Trey Allis of Prinsco, Engineer

In this episode, Jamie talks with Prinsco Engineer, Trey Allis, who put in much of the legwork to establish the new Water Table website. Trey shares some highlights of the valuable research being done by land-grant universities across the country and why making it more accessible on our website can support the work of drainage contractors and help change the perception of our industry in the public.

Episode 37 | 30 min

Guest Bio

Trey Allis

Trey graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. In 2017, Trey joined the Prinsco team as an Application Engineer. Allis primarily focuses on Agricultural engineering. Growing up on a farm and in the Ag community, Allis has spent a lot of his career focusing on the Flexible Dual Wall product and the value it adds to the industry.

Jamie:
This is The Water Table.

Speaker 1:
The chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Speaker 2:
A place for people to go find information and education.

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

Speaker 2:
How misunderstood what we do is.

Speaker 1:
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie:
Well, welcome to The Water Table podcast. Today, I have another guest with me, Trey Allis from Prinsco. Trey’s been on the podcast before. But Happy New Year, Trey.

Trey Allis:
Happy New Year to you too, Jamie. Thanks for having me.

Jamie:
Yeah. Fun to have you back. Trey is involved in our engineering department and really focuses on the agricultural side of the business. And all throughout 2021, but especially the fall of 2021, you were really working hard on watertable.ag website. And part of that website does house, that’s what I just said, our podcasts and our past podcasts where people can find them there. But just wanted to take this time during early 2021 and visit a little bit about this website, what people can find there, why is it important and what we’re really trying to do at The Water Table around education and how that links back to Prinsco, everything like that. And you’ve been a real catalyst to all of this information. So thanks for what you’ve done over the last year. And thanks for being here today to help us kind of unveil this to our listeners.

Trey Allis:
It’s been a long time in the making, too. We’ve been putting this together here for a couple years, all revolving around water quality and drainage and kind of that intersection between drainage in the environment, sustainability, all that stuff. So what we’ve done with this website is we wanted it to be one-stop shop for all things education on the ag drainage or water quality aspect of this market that we’re in. And it’s got things for best practices that we see that we can use for edge-of-field practices, infield practices to limit nutrient leeching or nutrient runoff, stuff like that. And then also have links to some research that we have for it. And that’s, like you mentioned, where this podcast is housed and has current events, upcoming events related to drainage schools, or [inaudible 00:02:42] events and kind of all things that are intertwined within the whole ag sector of what we do here at Prinsco. And then also how that crosses over with what we’re doing here at The Water Table.

Jamie:
Yeah. And just, I think people probably wonder what’s the link here between Prinsco and The Water Table and why are you keeping them separate and this and that. And I just feel like it’s very important for the industry, for people in the industry that that may not have a link to Prinsco, they don’t have to. And yet we can use our significant resources in people and knowledge of people like yourself, Trey, to bring information to everyone that may not have a relationship with Prinsco or may not want to, for whatever reason. They still can learn, they can gain knowledge, they can become educated on all of these topics that they’re thinking about every day.

Jamie:
I was just, earlier today, I was in a farmer’s office and was asking me some questions about where do I think things are going with water quality and water quality and agriculture. And he knew enough to create a conversation, but didn’t know that much about the whole topic. And I was able to steer them toward watertable.ag. And he immediately, he’s sitting at his desk, went on, started looking around. And I’m sure within the next few days, he’ll be calling with more questions. But that’s what it’s about. It’s about creating an opportunity for people to learn and then to ask questions, learn some more, to be able to talk with some authority to others out in the industry, in the community about why what we do on the rural landscape when it comes to agricultural water management is a good thing. All the research that is out there. So super proud of you and happy that you took this on last year and then the results of what it is.

Jamie:
So really hope that a lot of our listeners will take the time to go look at this because, and let’s talk, maybe to start a little bit about the research because so often research is, there’s a lot of research done over the years. And yet it gets to a place where it’s not easily found by people that need to know what’s been done and can use that for telling our story, can use it for something they need to do on their farm and do those kind of practices. But tell me a little bit about research and how that links back to the website.

Trey Allis:
The sole drainage thing, it’s not a new practice by any means. It’s been around for hundreds of years and you’re putting pipe in the ground and it’s been around for a while because it works. So where the industry is kind of shifting now though, is into, hey, what other impacts are we doing or are the results of some of this drainage that we’re having? And what can we do to help mitigate that stuff? And I believe you had another guest on here on the podcast here a little while ago, that had the term environmentally benign. And I think that sums it up very well is, hey, we can have all these good, all the benefits of drainage and ag water management, but then also include some of these edge-of-field practices that negate some of those negative impacts.

Trey Allis:
So I think that’s something that we’re striving for. We can always do better and we can always keep improving to get to a good steady state of what we’re doing here with ag water management. So, and that kind of gets into a little bit of what you mentioned or we’re getting to on the research part is that’s where a lot of this focus is going, is on research into saturated buffers, bioreactors, constructed wetlands. A lot of these practices that have been kind of new and kind of been developing over the last 10 years. And a lot of it starts really small, starts at the lab scale and then moves into maybe a plot scale of whatever, half acre, acre. And then now we’re at a stage where it’s ramping up, it’s getting into an area where it’s more field scale, and then hopefully we can get into watershed scale on some of it as well.

Trey Allis:
So what these researchers are doing at a lot of land grant universities, specifically throughout the Midwest, is they’re putting numbers to all this stuff so that they can prove out these concepts of, hey, if we run some nitrate heavy water through a bed of wood chips or through high organic matter buffer area along a stream, we can take those nitrates out before it gets really moving in open ditches, stuff like that. So they’re putting numbers to all this stuff.

Trey Allis:
And what we’re doing with this website is being able to kind of translate some of that a little bit. I don’t know how often people really sit down and read research articles. But they can get pretty dry and they can get pretty boring and a lot of numbers, a lot of data, which is what I like to nerd out about sometimes. But filtering through all that stuff and then being able to translate it into a takeaway into something that’s kind of meaningful for our listeners, for our readers, for our customers as well. Like you’re saying with, if a farmers asking you some questions, hey, there’s now resource available that gets through a lot of the…

Trey Allis:
[inaudible 00:08:00] that gets through a lot of the mundane research part and big words that I don’t even understand, but gets some takeaways into what it’ll actually mean on the landscape.

Jamie:
Sure. Sure. And that’s one thing that I’m really proud of when I look at this website and The Water Table is the peer review that’s been done, the people you’ve been able to expose this stuff to and the credibility that they have given to the information and the website. And these people are many of the drainage professors and doctorates in different areas of agriculture and they’re coming from, like you said, from a land-grant university.

Jamie:
So I know firsthand that you’ve had a lot of conversations and peer review from several of these land-grant universities and all are kind of saying the same thing, is that we have a lot of the research, we don’t have a great place where it gets to the public, and hopefully thewatertable.ag is a place where it can do that, where it’s easily accessible, people start to learn and go there for their educational needs, and then we can just keep adding to it over time if there’s something new, or if we’re getting asked a lot of the same questions, we can add more research papers that maybe have been done two years ago or 10 years ago, that they’ve done the research on it, but it hasn’t necessarily gotten out into the public. So it’s exciting.

Trey Allis:
Yeah. And that was one comment when we did have a review that was made, and they mentioned that a lot of times within researches, they push it, or not push it, they release it to the publication journal or whatever and then that’s when, hey, it’s done, it’s published, it’s in the market, and that’s kind of where it lands and it’s only referenced by other researchers and other people that are looking for it.

Trey Allis:
So that’s what our team was able to do when we were putting together this, is help pull some of those interesting ones, go through it and get a good takeaway from it, get a good summary of it.

Trey Allis:
And maybe another point on that too is the way that it looks right now isn’t necessarily the way that it’s always going to look. Like you mentioned, we’re trying to refine some of this stuff. We want to keep it growing. We want to be able to put the information out to those people that are looking for it and put it to them in a useful manner too. So it might be a little too technical in some aspects, but we can refine some of that and kind of shift things up and adapt to what people are interested in and what they’re looking for, what they want to be educated on.

Jamie:
Yeah. And sometimes information is interesting today, but relevant tomorrow. And I’ve found that myself, I’ll use the example of Hefty Seeds, I read their newsletters often, and I can remember reading something, but I don’t really remember exactly the point, the takeaway, and I can go back on there and find that. If I can remember kind of the timeframe, I can find that newsletter and reread.

Jamie:
And that’s really what we’re doing here, is whether it’s research papers or the podcast, best practices, they’re all just housed here. And all 36 or 38, whatever we’re up to now, podcasts will be housed here. And my hope is that people can find something that’s relevant for them five years from now, 10 years from now that that was done way back in 2020 or 2021. So that’s kind of neat and a desire that I know we all have for this website.

Trey Allis:
Yeah, definitely. And like you said, there’ll be a archive with all the stuff there too, but then we also want to keep it fresh. We want to have some of the current events that are going on, whether that’s other articles, or like I mentioned with the events page of, hey, if there’s a drainage school online or something in your area that you want to send some of your workers to if you’re a contractor or just get educated on it if you’re a farmer, something like that, provide those resources for people to get engaged at the moment at, at the time that they’re reading some of this stuff too.

Jamie:
Yep. Yep. And they don’t have to be a [Prinsco 00:12:27] customer. They don’t have to be in a [Prinsco 00:12:29] geographical area to find value in what’s out there because this really is about the industry of managing water on the rural landscape, on the farm, and we’re passionate about it. And so it doesn’t mean we have to know… There are other people that are passionate about it and a lot of those people we don’t know. So why don’t we connect with one another and help them if we can because that’s what it’s about.

Jamie:
So talking a little bit about, you mentioned a little bit about best practices, but how do you think that sharing best practices on the website and some of those benefit people that are in this industry and want to come and take a look at the website?

Trey Allis:
Yeah. So what we did is laid out just a lot of the basics on it. This isn’t new information. We’re not the only ones doing this. I mean, each of these land-grant universities has a page that has some of this information as well, but we’re just doing it a little differently and we also have links to where this stuff is pulled from as well.

Trey Allis:
But we lay it out with just a general overview, some of the main benefits of it, whether it’s denitrification, whether it’s some phosphorous treatment or wildlife habitat, yield increase, stuff like that. We run through a list of why someone may be interested in implementing some of these best management practices. And then we also step through a little bit of how it works, what’s the mechanism going on that’s treating the water within some of this stuff too.

Trey Allis:
We also have something on the cost of generally what it looks like to install it or to maintain some of these practices and what the cost-benefit ratio might be if you’re looking in terms of say dollars per pound of nitrogen removed from a grand scheme of things.

Trey Allis:
And then also, like I said, we have links to other tools that are available online, the NRCS codes and practices for some of that stuff, other calculators and other handouts, stuff like that. So if you’re looking at say a saturated buffer, it’s kind of a one stop shop for what it is, high level of stuff, but then also it gets you some more information on where you can go to get other information.

Trey Allis:
But then also, it is worth mentioning, is if something does trip your trigger and it’s something interesting, ask local people, ask local areas or even myself. Feel free to reach out to [Prinsco 00:14:56] or myself within our application engineering department to walk through some of this stuff. Get in touch with say local contractors or NRCS offices, stuff like that if you’re interested in implementing a lot of these practices because it’s a lot of hurdles to jump through and I think there’s a lot of progress we can make on that front. It’s cool to have all the information there, but we want to help you out taking that next step to get this stuff on the landscape as well.

Jamie:
Yeah, I appreciate that, Trey. And I just feel like just listening to you talk and hearing your excitement and passion for the industry, I know it is something you really enjoy, but to kind of take this a little different direction and come back here, but as an application engineer in the water management industry, what’s the most rewarding part of what you do in your day? What’s the most rewarding part for you?

Trey Allis:
I’d say you get to learn every day. That’s been a lot of it. And kind of one thing that just pops to mind related to some of this research stuff is a customer had a question on drainage and peat soils and didn’t know-

Trey Allis:
On drainage in peat soils and didn’t know or have a little bit of experience with that on our farm back home a little bit, but then he’s got a lot more land with a lot similar problems. But then they also have some of these similar problems that were in whatever, Switzerland or somewhere over in Europe. So trying to relate all the boring stuff that I’ve learned over the years with this guy that’s actually doing it in the field.

Trey Allis:
And so we just sat down and chatted for an hour about the issues that he is having, how we can help from a drainage standpoint, a water management standpoint, what we’re seeing from a technical physics of the soil, but then also on the agronomic side of what he’s seeing and how these practices are actually implemented.

Trey Allis:
Because I can look at all the stuff on a computer screen and read all the articles that I want, but talking to the guy in the field that’s been doing it, that’s been a rewarding part of being able to learn and make those connections on a lot of this stuff.

Trey Allis:
It’s not only just this one case that this has happened, but I get to do that fairly repeatedly talking with a lot of area farmers, drainage contractors, university professionals, a lot of people in this industry that are just get to ask them questions and pick their brain on a lot of other stuff. So that’s probably the most rewarding thing is, hey, I get to come to work every day and learn.

Jamie:
Yeah. And it’s pretty amazing that as I listen to you too, that we’ve had people farming for thousands of years and even in the last 40 years, the technology changes that happen almost every year. And there still today is so much opportunity to continue to push the boundaries around yield and around the environmental side and being environmentally conscious and just still growing a fantastic crop. So that’s what I see in you, is just the excitement to learn, but then also to do better, to find ways to do better and to grow more and to be more successful, whether it’s at Prinsco or, like you said, on your own farm too. So that’s why I ask questions, exciting stuff.

Trey Allis:
Maybe just to highlight something, to go off on a little rabbit hole on this as well, is talking about doing the same stuff for years. And it relates to one of the research articles that I’ve looked into out of Purdue University. I might butcher her name. But Eileen Kladivko has a 35-year study which looks at the way that they were doing drainage and cropping practices back. I think it started in whatever, ’85, and then they were monitoring the same stuff that they’re monitoring now.

Trey Allis:
But then you’re able to see doing just regular agronomic changes as well as some cover crops and no till and just overall nutrient management is they’re able to go from say 35 parts per million. Nitrate concentration is down to below 10, fairly consistently, just by looking at what they’re doing and then managing it. And that reason that that 10 is I guess significant is that’s the drinking water standard for nitrate concentrations.

Trey Allis:
So like I said, the way that people have been doing things for a long time can definitely be improved upon and be fine tuned into something that’s beneficial for everybody. And also in the meantime, those crops on those fields have been going up as well. So you can get the benefits while mitigating the negative impacts on something like that. Sorry to go off on that. That was just a good example of what we’re trying to do with the site and stuff like that.

Jamie:
Exactly. And where you started with that, again, it just states what our industry really owes the researchers. I know Eileen. She actually just retired. Congratulations to you, Eileen, if you’re listening to the podcast. And have known her for a long time, maybe close to 20 years.

Jamie:
And the reason I bring that up is just it’s very, very complicated stuff and very serious and talking about very specific things and how it can change. But to do some of those studies for 15, 20, in this case 35 years is just super significant and what we can gain as a society and as a drainage water management industry is very significant.

Jamie:
And so I just want to mention that, that we owe these researchers a lot. And if one thing we can do in that owing them is get their message out there, what they found to a broader audience for the greater good. Well, that’s what we want to do. So I’m glad you mentioned that, because I know that study and I know how long it’s been going on.

Jamie:
Now if we can utilize it and get benefits for another 35 years or another 300 years, whatever that might be, it’s pretty neat. It’s pretty neat. So thanks for sharing that. When we talk about the podcast, you’ve been on The Water Table here already talking about some technical things and product, and we’re going to do more of that in the future.

Jamie:
But there’s been a wide array since March of 2020, through all of ’21, and now into 2022 of topics that we’ve been able to share on The Water Table podcast, from environmental people, weather people, farmers perspective, drainage contractors perspective, researchers, talked about the resin markets, just so many different things, and it’s all housed on this website.

Jamie:
So very easy to find. You can scroll through. You can decide, “Yeah, this looks interesting to me. I want to listen to that.” Or, “This just happened today. I need to know more about this.” But tell me a little bit on your perspective on that, of just having all the podcasts, how it was done on the website.

Trey Allis:
Yeah. So another thing with the way that we’re doing this website is a lot of it’s interconnected. So say there’s a podcast where you bring on, I think it was Chuck Brandel, engineer in Minnesota that does a lot of watershed scale projects, but then also you’d be linking that conversation you had with him to, hey, these are constructed wetlands that are also related to that podcast where he talked about it.

Trey Allis:
So it’s kind of a web of different things, where it’s a podcast on a topic related to a best management practice, related to a research study, related to, hey, there’s a school going on with something or a webinar that’s related to that too. So it is very good to have to house the podcast and everything within one site, but also building other content around these topics.

Trey Allis:
It helps us branch out a little more and keeps things very connected to, like I said, whether you just want a summary of what’s being discussed, or you want some detailed information saying some of the research on it. It’s all kind of in one place and connected to each other that way too.

Jamie:
Yeah, for sure. Because a lot of times, a topic you might hear on a podcast you want to learn more about, or it has to do with best practices, or there is some research on it. So to have everything on this site is, if nothing else, helpful for ease of finding things, ease of everybody’s busy, find it faster, work in one place. So that’s our desire. What else would you like to visit with us about today in regards to the website.

Jamie:
… visit with us about today in regards to the website and how it links to TheWaterTable podcast.

Trey Allis:
Another thing that we’ve been looking at is, or that we’ve been helping out with at Prinsco, is some other research and whatnot, staying in connection with these researchers at the universities, whether that’s with helping fund the students or donating some of the pipe for these projects. But more so just being in touch with what’s going on kind of at the grassroots level, on the forefront of getting not even to a point where there’s results yet, but just getting some of these research studies going. We’ve been doing some work at Iowa State University with some of their extensions and outreach personnel and looking at things for, say, bioreactors and effects of depth and spacing within the landscape, stuff like that.

Trey Allis:
There’s another good part study, but then also part kind of, I don’t know, it’s kind of agritourism, but it’s called the Couser Modern Egg Farm is they have a full site that’s kind of a snapshot of Iowa in one place. They got some really high productive farmland, some kind of moderate stuff, and then also, say, some kind of rolling hills and prairie land that they’re grabbing a whole bunch of data from this one farm that’s, like I said, a snapshot of kind of Iowa as a whole.

Trey Allis:
We’ve been able to help out with being a part of some of those implementation of those edge of field practices with that, so that’s another thing that wanted to mention as well is we like helping out with this stuff, building that relationship with these universities, getting involved with the contractors that are installing these and helping everybody learn how to get this stuff rolling together. Because that’s something that’s also a big thing is how do we scale up the adoption of some of these practices that are just going to becoming more and more important over the next few years, or next few years, next few decades.

Jamie:
We’ve talked a little bit about that on the podcast with both Dr. Matt Helmers and with Jacob Handsaker, a contractor that’s done some work on that project. What I think will be exciting and fun is to just continue to follow that over the years. We plan on being here for a while at TheWaterTable and having this we website live on obviously for future of education. But to follow that and to get updates and to see what the findings are for the research and that’s a living breathing farm, so it will continue and there will be different results at different times.

Jamie:
But what are we seeing for trends? What are seen from those edge of field practices that we can start to put in place and put in practice in other places? I like the idea of we have some studies on there that were done a long time ago or that started a long time ago, and now are done, but here’s one that’s going to continue for a long time, and to be able to follow that all the way through and talk about it a couple times a year is going to be enjoyable for me.

Trey Allis:
Maybe just one other point of, and when you’re talking about scaling up some of these practices and the implementation of them too, is another project that was going on in Polk County around Des Moines area, where essentially what they did was bundle a bunch of these edge of field practices together in more of just a package to get them implemented, to get them bid upon, get them engineered and get them in the ground. That’s been something that was going on here this last year with Jacob Handsaker, I believe was the one that pretty much put them all in. Kind of the state of these edge of field practices, specifically saturated buffers and bioreactors, was there was about 49 within Iowa that was installed between 2016 and 2020, and then within just this last summer on one watershed or three small watersheds in one county, they put in over 51 other sites.

Trey Allis:
That tells you kind of how if you can cut through some of the red tape and streamline some of these processes is it’s a solvable problem of how to get this stuff going and how be able to take advantage of some of the resources, whether that be the funding or just the general knowledge base on how to get this stuff done has been proven out. That’s ADMC and Keegan Kult with the Ag Drainage Management Coalition has been able to streamline a lot of that process, and it’s a really good success story that wanted to highlight on that too, is just how to keep the ball rolling here, and that’s what it looks like coming into 2022. I think they mentioned that they have over 100 sites and projects that are looking to get implemented here in the next year.

Jamie:
Yeah. Great, great. That is a reminder that TheWaterTable has not highlighted ADMC very much. We’ve talked to Charlie Shafer and of course Kent Rodelius. Prinsco staff is part of that, but Keegan needs to be a guest on TheWaterTable, and we’ll get that done here in 2022, so-

Trey Allis:
Get Keegan some love. Yep.

Jamie:
Yep, for sure, because they’re doing good things over there, so they’re doing good things. But Trey, I think we’ve kind of covered what we’re doing here on the website, on watertable.ag website and just want to encourage our listeners, take a look, give us some feedback. You know how to get ahold of me and also Trey, he works at Prinsco. You can find him at Prinsco, so reach out to us if you have ideas or if there’s something you think that could really benefit this website and help you as a consumer of it. We’d be happy to continue to build, that’s the plan, to build on the education of this. Excited that we have started, excited that we’ve unveiled this and that we can talk about here now on the podcast. So thanks for joining me today.

Trey Allis:
Thanks for having me again, Jamie. Thank you.

Jamie:
Thanks for joining us today on The WaterTable. 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.