Contractor at Work

The on-board tile reel manufactured by Holdwick Tiling Company has a hydraulic tilt for lifting and loading. New directions

“From snow buckets to manure buckets, we can fix it. Bring it in or we can come to you. We've made everything from hoof trimmer cow cages to handicap elevators in homes. Bring your own design, or let us design and build.” These words, found in Holdwick Tiling Company (HTC)’s advertising, sum up more than 15 years of creativity and hard work in the company’s fabrication service division – a section of the business that was born in 1998 and now forms its core. The story of the Harbor Beach, MI, company is one of innovation, opportunity and unexpected direction. In 1998, they had the idea to fabricate their own on-board tile reel to add onto their new Bron machine. “We built our own because our business was growing and we were trying to do more with less,” says Kevin Holdwick, who operates the company with his father Bill and brothers Eric, Greg and Keith. “Installing a reel allowed us to do tiling with one less man because an onboard reel frees up a man to do other tasks,” he explains. “Dad was approaching retirement and we weren't sure what that would mean for us, and building it ourselves only seemed natural with the fabrication experience we already had. Never in a million years did I think we would stop plowing tile and only build tile reels and other things.” The Holdwicks sold their tile plow and completely left drainage installation in 2007. From the start, there was good demand for HTC tile reels, as the reduced labor they provide improved the bottom line for customers. “We quickly started building them for other individual contractors – for RWF in Canada for the various Bron plows they were manufacturing,” Holdwick remembers, “and for Port Industries in Missouri.” Over the years, HTC has built onboard reels to fit not only Bron plows, but also Interdrain, Hoes, Dynapac, Wolfe and various dozers. More than 100 reels have been built and shipped as far east as New Brunswick, as far west as South Dakota, and as far south as Tennessee. Their on-board reel has a hydraulic tilt for easier lifting and loading of the tile. A hydraulic brake is used to control the reel speed. The swing of the reel provides working ability from straight ahead to 90 degrees on either side, depending on right or left mount. During transport, the reel collapses and swings around to the opposite side of mount. Early historyMachine fabrication services were offered from the start, when Holdwick’s father Bill created Holdwick Tiling Company in September 1963. Over the 40-plus years that followed, the family installed farm tile drainage using an open-wheel Speicher 600 trenching machine, a rubber-tired Steiger with a Krac plow and a 350 Bron plow. “We went through the days of setting targets using a transit level, moving to grade control with a laser to finally GPS,” says Holdwick. “Clay and cement tile went by the wayside in favor of plastic tile on reels.” From the start, Bill and his sons had natural talent with shop work – welding, milling, lathe operation and more. “It was always there in the off-season,” says Holdwick. “In the years after we built our first on-board reel, that part of the business grew.” In 2005, they started doing some grain trucking, and by 2007 they decided to stop tile drainage work altogether. The reasons included the fact that the trucking and fabricated parts of the company seemed more lucrative at the time and that both were steady (neither was weather-dependent). There was also a desire to focus on two things instead of three, because doing all three business activities would mean risking the quality the Holdwicks wanted to maintain. All along, the four brothers’ skills and interests have well complemented one another, and they are all able to do what each likes doing best. “Dad is retired and is in Florida half of the year, but he enjoys spending time in the shop when he is home,” says Holdwick. “He will ask us if we need anything, and will always do whatever we need. Eric is company president and drives truck for us. I am vice-president and run the fabrication shop. Greg is our office manager and Keith drives truck and works in the shop, but we can all do each other’s tasks if the need ever arises.” HTC also has five additional employees, four full-time and one part-time. Holdwick says the fact that their father built the business from nothing makes them all very proud. “I personally also have a great deal of pride in the fact that it is my name above the door now too, and my reputation is tied to the quality of workmanship I put into everything I do.” Along with quality work, honesty is also a very important part of HTC’s reputation. “If you aren't honest, things won't work the way they were intended to work,” he asserts. “We always tell the truth, whether it’s saying something won’t work, or it will cost more for us to build than for [the customer] to buy pre-made.” Owning a business never comes without challenges, and the Holdwicks have tackled several interesting situations over the years. One of the greatest fabrication challenges involved building a truck to trim the hooves of cows. It had a chute mounted on the back of it so the cow could walk inside, and then it would be tipped on its side hydraulically so the hooves could be trimmed. Holdwick says the biggest tile reel job they ever had was a Port Industries plow that required two mounted reels. “One other project that was a challenge involved building some sheet metal fenders for an old Shepard diesel orchard tractor, as the original ones where removed long ago, and the customer wanted to return the tractor to as close to original as possible,” he remembers. “This required some research on the Internet to find an old picture so we knew just what it should look like. We have also built customer deer-guards on our local ambulances.” But, Holdwick notes, any challenge – regardless of the extent – is always worked out through lots of communication. “Many problems occur when you are trying to build something to do a specific task,” he says, “but they are all solved by talking it through.” Future plans for HTC include adding additional products to serve drainage contractors and growing their trucking fleet. “Personally, my two sons have both shown some interest in the business, and I am hopeful they will be involved,” says Kevin.

U.K. Update: An opportune problem

The last time I wrote a column for Drainage Contractor, I thought the weather was so unusual and such a talking point that I could not write about anything else. Yet again, this thought occurs to me: we have had record rainfall levels here in the U.K., and I have read about the chilling weather inflicted on those in North America. However, as this would soon become the dullest part of the magazine if I just gave a weather report, I will resist the temptation. Regardless of what is causing the changes, I doubt many in Britain would disagree that something strange is going on. Every couple of months the headlines report weather records being broken or set. This might be a blip or a pattern, but the weather is headline news like never before, and many believe climate change is the cause. I believe that drainage contractors should greet it as an opportunity.The environment and the ever-growing green movement has been one of the most significant political developments in the last 40 years, and I can’t see the subject disappearing anytime soon. All businesses in all sectors are (or will be) affected, and drainage contractors are no exception. Rather than fight or ignore this trend, this is a chance to improve our services and raise the profile of the industry. I’m convinced it is pointless and wrong to ignore the fact that nitrates use drainage outlets as a conduit to enter the watercourse. Instead, we need to promote what can be done to mitigate this side effect of agriculture and offer a proactive answer; we need to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Luckily for us, there are proven ways of solving the problem. I suspect that most people reading this will understand and know about conservation drainage and have seen drainage water management and denitrifying bioreactors in action. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days with Richard Cooke, a professor at Illinois State University, who took the time to show and explain his experiments and field trials focused on conservation drainage. I will make the declaration that I’m a big fan, so much so that I have developed a plan to install a bioreactor here in Warwickshire – in fact, by the time you read this, it might be in the ground already, as we have a keen land owner and progress has been made in terms of funding for its installation. As far as I’m aware, it will be the first in Europe, and although it’s a tiny little device compared to Richard’s efforts, it’s an exciting project. It is early days, but if the concept is proven to work in British conditions (and I have high hopes that it will), many more could be installed. It feels good to say that I’m at least trying to do my – admittedly very small – bit for the environment, but I’m not going to underplay the business element. Drainage contractors have the expertise and will be the ones to design, install and, if necessary, maintain these devices. This gives us another product to sell, often to a different client. We are always going to make the vast majority of our money by putting pipe in the ground, but promotion of our business and services is a huge part of the business. We need to spread a positive message about drainage. We know that it is a great service, and that the higher yields drainage provides are of great service to humanity, but others don’t.  Local and national press are always keen on environmental stories. Conservation drainage is probably our best tool to promote drainage – not only to farmers, but also to the wider public – and this should not be underestimated. Public opinion can have a powerful effect, and the use of social media allows us to get our message out to the public both economically and effectively. Adopting conservation drainage is a win-win for drainage contractors. We should all embrace the ideas, learn the techniques and start putting them in the ground.

Industry News

OSU training program aims to improve water quality

Oct. 18, 2014, Columbus, OH – Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is ramping up its efforts to improve Ohio’s water quality through a new fertilizer applicator certification training program.

Farmer killed in tiling accident

Oct. 23, 2014, Belle Plaine, MN – Dennis Lenzen died Sunday afternoon in a farm tiling accident.

Drainage Management Systems

New drainage regulations needed in Manitoba

July 7, 2014, Manitoba – The Manitoba government's announcement of two new water management plans for the province are being met with mixed reviews, but Doug Chorney, president of the Keystone Agriculture Producers, sees these developments as positive news. | READ MORE

Controlled drain project keeps nutrient-rich water on farm

May 30, 2014, Lucan, ON – A controlled drain project – the first of its kind in Southwestern Ontario – will allow a local farmer to keep nutrient-rich water on his farm field instead of flowing into his tile drainage system that empties into a creek, writes the London Free Press. | READ MORE

Big impact, low cost

Most cost effective, most efficient, most economical – this is the end game for management consultants in their efforts to improve processes and save money in any business.With this in mind, what is the most cost-effective, most efficient and most economical way of draining sports turf? Unless the site is free-draining, some form of pipe work will be necessary to carry the water away. But what size? At what depth? What trench width and trench spacing? Some may say bigger is better, and others will disagree. Is there a right way to maximize effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing cost?Trench widthWe have seen time and time again that the most cost-effective system is one using the smaller-diameter land drainage pipes fitting snugly in trenches, filled to the surface with free-draining aggregates.When excess soil water enters the land drainage pipe, very small particles of soil also enter. When there is a good flow of water through the pipe, these particles, called fines, are carried along and eventually exit the system. However, if too big a pipe is used, the water flow through it is sluggish and the fines settle out, slowing building up and constricting the pipe size (and, consequently, its effectiveness).Hence, using unduly large pipe can be a waste of money. Not only does the pipe cost more, but it also means digging a wider trench, which in turn leads to the need for substantially more free-draining back-filling aggregates.The following example compares the installation of two-inch vs. four-inch diameter tile on a 300- by 150-foot pitch.Notes: Trenches need to be dug a little wider than the diameter of the pipe because they become narrower soon after being dug due to the latent forces in the ground. The excavated soil has to be carted away. In the loose, it is approximately 50 percent more bulky. Normally two different back-filling aggregates will be specified, so two passes with machinery will be required. Trench spacingThe use of the pitch will normally determine the spacing of the drains. A professional pitch will need speedier drainage than that used by a school. In the case of a soccer pitch occupying a 300- by 150-foot area, if one inch of rain falls on it in an hour and the soil is close to capacity, the pitch can only absorb 6,000 gallons. The drainage scheme has to cope with 23,350 gallons of water from that rainfall.   On a school pitch, two-inch pipes are used running across it at 30-foot intervals. Each of 11 runs will have to evacuate 2,122 gallons of water. On a professional pitch, also using two-inch pipes, the trench spacing will be at 15-foot intervals. Each of 21 runs will have to evacuate 1,111 gallons of water.The types of back-filling aggregates used have a bearing on the speed at which the excess soil water reaches the pipes. Round aggregates drain more quickly than crushed aggregates because there is considerably more pore space.Trench depthThe depth of the land drains should allow for 16 inches of the top soil to remain unsaturated. Installing drains too deep can lower the water table to such an extent that irrigation becomes necessary sooner.The advent of specialist machineryIn the 1970s, a pitch would have been drained using a self-propelled agricultural drainage machine on tracks. These machines dug wide trenches and placed the excavated soil at the side of the trench, to be cleared up later in the operation. Upheaval was substantial, and it was usual to allow 12 months before re-use. Small, self-propelled chain trenchers, which cut trenches over four inches wide, similarly depositing the spoil on the trench side, were also popular. They made less damage to the playing surface, but nevertheless, re-instatement was measured in months. Both methods resulted in wide trenches, soil-contaminated turf and months of recovery time – factors that often challenged the viability of carrying out drainage work.In the early 1980s, the three-point linkage, tractor-mounted wheel trencher brought new promise. The high-speed cutting disc cut clean, two-inch-wide trenches, which acted like mini-ditches. These machines were initially used in agriculture but those involved in draining sports fields soon saw the advantages for draining fine turf. The Shelton business then developed an enclosed trencher with a conveyor to load the excavated soil into a trailer running alongside; they further developed the machines to cut trenches from one- to six-inches wide.With new technology, the optimal width of a trench can be dug precisely; the elevators on the trenchers convey the excavated soil into tractors and the sod is left clean. Re-instatement of the narrow trenches can be done by seeding. It is now possible to drain today and play tomorrow, and this greater efficiency has resulted in lower costs.  David Shelton is the founder and former managing director of Shelton Sportsturf Drainage Ltd in the U.K.

Part of the solution

Across Canada, there are considerable challenges in managing our surface water quality. One factor that can greatly affect this is agricultural nutrient runoff, and among those areas where this is a major concern are Lake Erie and Lake Simcoe, in Ontario. Nutrient runoff is also an increasing concern in areas of intensive agriculture across Prince Edward Island, a province in which 100 per cent of drinking water comes from groundwater wells.However, the most notable of all surface water areas of concern is Lake Winnipeg. Serious eutrophication (low oxygen levels) and algae blooms are a frequent occurrence, and they are worsening year by year. The good news is that there are opportunities for drainage contractors and farmers to significantly mitigate the nutrient runoff that’s to blame, says Dr. David Lobb. Lobb is a professor of landscape ecology in the department of soil science and a senior research chair in the Watershed Systems Research Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. In January, Lobb presented his ideas on this topic at the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario meeting.“Traditional responses and ideas haven’t done much to solve the problem of nutrient runoff,” he says, “so new and innovative approaches are needed, and drainage contractors can play an important role in these approaches.”Lake WinnipegLake Winnipeg is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in Canada and 11th-largest freshwater lake on the planet. It supports a $21 million-per-year inland fishery, as well as multi-million dollar recreational and hydroelectric generation industries. Its watershed is very large, spanning four provinces and four states via the Winnipeg, Red, Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Rivers.“The runoff from all of these rivers impacts Lake Winnipeg, and the impact continues on into Hudson Bay,” Lobb explains. “The Lake Winnipeg watershed is a major source of runoff to the Arctic, which is an extremely sensitive ecosystem.” Algal blooms, which have become more frequent and more extensive in the lake in recent years, can ruin beaches, produce harmful toxins and represent an overall ecological threat. “Agriculture has had a role to play in creating this crisis and agriculture must play a role in resolving it,” Lobb states.Flooding from snowmelt is also part of the problem – a phenomenon that is occurring more frequently these days. In the view of Lobb and many others, there is a strong linkage between snowmelt runoff, flooding and phosphorus contamination of surface waters. He says small dams have been placed in some of the creeks to hold back runoff during snowmelt and rainstorms, but their effect hasn’t been significant. While these small dams also trap sediments and some degree of some nutrients, they do not lessen nitrogen and phosphorus runoff.  Various municipal and regional governments in Manitoba have established targets over the year in order to greatly reduce phosphorus loading into the lake – targets that were to have been met through a moratorium on hog farming expansion and through the use of best nutrient management practices by farmers. Best practices include conservation tillage practices such as no-till or strip-till, which leave crop residue on the land and improve both soil and water quality through reduced erosion. However, Lobb notes that for other reasons, keeping crop residue on the surface of the field instead of tilling it in may actually result in more water contamination, not less. “The agricultural reality is that most farmers have already adopted best nutrient management practices and there is little room left for improvement through further refinement in technology or adoption,” he says. “The existing drainage system is not highly effective as it conveys runoff downstream as fast as possible and treats water as waste. Instead, we need to realize all of the potential benefits of our water by keeping it and re-using it.” New approachesLobb recommends the use of an integrated system, one that combines a drainage-retention-irrigation system for water management and a capture-recovery-reuse system for nutrient management. “We already see elements of such systems in Manitoba,” he says. “Retention dams in the Escarpment Region and restored wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region. These enable retaining and reuse of most of the water and nutrients in most years.”An option to accomplish this in the Lake Winnipeg region is back-flood dams (berms) similar to waffle designed dams, but with modifications, as the waffle design is not suited for agriculture. “A second option is to use the existing ditches and expand them, and temporarily blocking finger ditches (terminal main drains),” Lobb says. “Existing ditches are designed to convey runoff and have little capacity to store runoff, even temporarily.” He explains that the design of existing ditches do not provide for filtering and capture of nutrients by vegetation, nor for the harvesting of vegetation for nutrient recovery. Expanded ditches enable the retention of runoff and delay release to reduce downstream impacts, and ideally, the runoff can be used to irrigate fields. A third option is to use the existing ditches to collect runoff and direct it to a retention pond-filter field system. “An added benefit of this strategy is increased field crop production through better drainage,” notes Lobb, “and the potential for irrigation of field crops in drought years.” This third option would definitely require the expertise of drainage contractors, he says, but he is sure that they could be involved in all three, as all solutions can incorporate better in-field surface and subsurface drainage. Lobb acknowledges that direct on-farm economic benefits are necessary to justify implementation of these strategies. “I recognize that there are construction and maintenance costs in upstream water management, and in managing safety, salinity, weed control and invasive species such as hybrid cattails and reed canary grass in wetlands,” he says. Future research will focus on designing and assessing areas that temporarily detain runoff within the field and disperse it more uniformly through a greater area. Lobb will also be looking at improving the practices used to sediment and vegetation from ditches and riparian areas where nutrients can build up and contribute to surface water quality problems.


Depreciating tile drainage

Oct. 18, 2014, Michigan – Increased interest in tile drainage for agricultural fields raises tax questions.

New spam law a deal breaker

May 21, 2014, Canada – Come this July, your ability to use email as a marketing or fundraising tool will be significantly restricted.Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into effect July 1, 2014, and with it comes some of the world’s strictest anti-spam rules. For a better idea of how these new rules will affect your email marketing campaigns to both consumers and other businesses, download the Anti-Spam Toolkit or a checklist for CASL-compliant e-mail marketing. At Drainage Contractor, we are working hard to comply with these new regulations. As part of this, we need you to renew your subscription to our e-newsletter in the coming days to ensure we can continue sending it. Please take a minute to keep the news coming by confirming your interest at

New Products

Structure controls height of water table Structure controls height of water table

Aug. 11, 2014, Blenheim, ON – The Water Control Structure from Just Pipe & Fittings Inc. is meant to allow the owner to control the height of the water table according to their needs. Installed with systematic or subsurface drainage, or retrofitted to an existing system, the structure is meant to benefit agricultural and wetland applications by bringing ground water closer to root systems and holding water and fertilizer in a field longer. When used in conjunction with an irrigation system, the Water Control Structure serves as an economic approach to conserving water by increasing the efficiency of the irrigation. The Water Control Structure can increase crop yield and improve water quality by reducing the annual nitrrate and phosphorous discharge rate by up to 75 per cent, according to a company press release.

Land forming design software for drainage and irrigation

July 14, 2014 – OptiSurface land forming design software uses three different design models to accomplish the customer’s drainage or irrigation goals. The one-way design model is designed for those who would like all their water to irrigate or drain in a predetermined single heading. The two-way design model is designed for situations when it is necessary to drain/irrigate off of both sides of a ridge/crown or irrigate/drain both sides of a field towards a waterway or ditch. The four-way design model is designed for situations the customer would like to get the water off the field in any and all directions, while still having the ability to pick and choose where the water should drain. OptiSurface accomplishes these design models using the patented technology of Infinitely Variable Grades (IVG) to optimize the surface while reducing the cost of earthmoving and topsoil disturbance.

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