Contractor at Work

 Boes Quality Drainage is a progressive company that is big on innovation. Innovation at work

When Fostoria, Ohio, farmer Lanny Boes purchased his first ditch machine 40 years ago, he had no idea it would lead to him starting a drainage contracting company.“My first farm was really wet and needed tile in a bad way,” explains Boes. “I bought a ditch machine to do the job myself and that project ended up catching the attention of a couple of neighbors.”Boes says he really enjoyed tiling his farm, and good thing too because one neighbor referral kept leading to another. In fact, Boes became so busy helping his neighbors that he decided to hire an employee and start Boes Quality Drainage.Four decades later, he’s busier than ever. Boes now works with his youngest son, Corey, and two other employees. He keeps his equipment fleet small. On the tiling side, the fleet consists of only a Wolfe 250 drainage plow, a New Holland B95B backhoe and a Buckeye Super H wheel machine. As the elder Boes says, his company tries to do everything as efficiently – and as simply – as possible so there isn’t a lot of equipment hanging around.His son Corey agrees. “When some companies arrive to tile, they show up with a couple of stringers, a plow, a ditch machine, a backhoe and a bunch of other equipment,” explains Corey. “The thing is, we’re called in to make the fields drain better. We know soil compaction is an enemy to drainage, and poor drainage causes lower crop yields. So, we minimize our footprint in the field by using less equipment more efficiently.”The younger Boes says another example of how the company tries to minimize soil compaction is by using an onboard reel when they’re working in the field. By using the onboard reel, the drainage plow is the only piece of equipment that drives across the field for each tile line, as opposed to having an additional piece of equipment pulling a tile stringer for every tile line. With this method, Corey explains, the backhoe only has to drive out across the field when it’s time to replace the reel. “It doesn’t seem to matter how much tile you have in the ground,” says Corey. “If the water can’t get to the tile, the tile can’t be utilized as much as they should be. [Driving less equipment across the field] really makes a difference, especially in the spring and fall when the ground tends to be softer.”Driving innovationBoes Quality Drainage is a progressive company that is big on innovation. As an example, the Boes family developed a patented steel trench box that removes the need for stone when installing large tile. This saves their clients both the money that would typically be spent on the stone, and the labor costs associated with handling the stone.“When you install large diameter tile, you typically dig the trench to grade, put a little bedding of stone down, drop the tile in, and then surround the tile with stone,” explains Corey. “But with our patented steel trench box, we eliminate the cost of the stone, making the job more economical for the land owner.” As Corey says, there are no downsides to using the steel trench box in place of stone. Rather, when you consider the cost savings and the added safety bonus that working within the structure of a steel trench box provides, it’s an easy sell for both him and his clients.Corey, whom his father describes as the family electronics expert, has also designed an electronic sensor system for the backhoe that can tell the operator how deep the tile should be. Corey says the system is so accurate the operator can dig down to within a 1/10-inch of the tile without having to probe it.New plow designThe Boes family and Wolfe Heavy Equipment are also working together to design a new plow that will attach as a fifth-wheel and won’t need a lowboy semi-trailer to haul it. The inspiration comes from the cost and frustration of obtaining a special overweight haul permit to move heavy plows along state highways. As Corey says, the cost of the permit, which in Ohio is over $100, adds up throughout the year, and it’s extremely frustrating to drive a route of travel that is dictated by the state but is often not direct, making it take longer to get to the customer’s site.In Corey’s words, the dealer jumped all over the concept when his family proposed the idea of a fifth-wheel plow back in the spring. “This is probably the first plow that has turn signals and lights on it,” says Corey, laughing. “Really, it’s a great idea that solves a lot of problems, and the dealer has told me they have another half-dozen or so other customers who want to purchase one.”Moving forwardCorey says his passion for innovation and technology was instilled by his dad, Lanny, at a very young age. People sometimes shy away from technology but he was always brought up to believe that if technology can be used to benefit you or the customer, you should go for it.The elder Boes looks back fondly over his company’s 40-year history, noting how much easier the job has become thanks to technology. He notes that 40 years ago the technology was grade stakes and an old ditch machine that did about 15-feet per minute. Today his plow is equipped with a GPS system and runs at 120-feet per minute. Lanny, who has Corey and two other sons, says he’s at the point where he’s considering reducing his involvement in the business and passing more of the responsibility for the business down to his sons.“I’ve been really lucky over the years,” says Lanny. “I have good customers and a great family with a supportive wife. Maybe it’s time for me to start winding down a bit.”

Setting standards

Since the mid-1970s, the province of Ontario has had a plow testing and certification program and is currently updating the program. With the significant increase in plow-installed subsurface drainage over the last several years in both the U.S. and Canada, it seems that it is time that a drainage plow testing and certification program be considered for development in the United States. Corrugated plastic (HDPE) subsurface drain tubing installed with plow-type equipment has increased dramatically since the early 1970s, in both Canada and the United States. All of the early drainage plows were equipped with laser-based automatic depth and grade-control systems. Older systems have now been upgraded on many plows, and some trenchers, with the modern satellite-based 3-D GPS depth and grade-control system. More recently, innovative designs for self-contained drainage plows have become available and their acceptance by contractors has significantly increased in the U.S. and Canada. Most of the modern plows are very powerful and capable of operating at greater depths, and can install drainage pipe faster than earlier plows. However, current regulations in Canada do not set limits on the maximum speed the plows should be operated at in order to ensure drain tubes are installed accurately at design depth and grade. Although the U.S. has current subsurface drainage design and installation specifications and standards though the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, there are no drainage plow performance regulations in place in the U.S.Ontario’s program is based on specifications and standards stated in the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act originally passed in 1973. The act includes a provision for training and licensing of drainage contractors that is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs. A similar testing and certification program is not available in the United States.  The advanced features provided by the GPS-RTK systems, including automatic steering of the plow or trencher, should be considered and included in the plow-testing standard. The GPS-RTK system now available may allow higher ground speeds with modern plows, if the machine hydraulics responds quickly enough to the control system feedback signals at the higher speeds to maintain design drain depth and grade. Mounting a second satellite GPS-RTK receiver directly above the drainage tube feeder boot attached to the plow blade may provide the enhanced accuracy needed to establish guidelines for a plow-testing program. The second receiver would monitor and record the GPS co-ordinates (X, Y, and Z-h, where “h” is the height at which the second receiver is mounted above the bottom of the tube feeder boot) at the bottom of the drain tube as it emerges from the tube feeder boot and is installed in the soil channel created by the plow. The co-ordinate data recorded by the second receiver would more accurately define the final X, Y, and Z-h locations along the line of the installed drain tube than a recording of co-ordinates from the controlling receiver mounted on a forward reaching cantilever arm attached to the plow blade. For advanced drainage plows, the Z-h data versus ground travel could be displayed graphically to the plow operator, along with other performance information.Without regulated programs, it is the contractor’s responsibility to find solutions ensuring accuracy and quality of installation.

Industry News

Investments in northern Ontario farming projects

April 17, 2015, Sault Ste. Marie, ON – Ontario is investing in farming projects that will improve agricultural land, diversify crops and expand business in the northern part of the province.

The real story on nitrates in Iowa’s rivers?

April 17, 2015, Des Moines, Iowa – Nitrate levels in Iowa’s major rivers have increased more than threefold since the 1950s, but have stabilized – and even slightly declined – in recent decades, according to an in-depth review of available research.

Drainage Management Systems

With System 25, the trencher cuts a one-inch wide trench, removes the soil and lifts it into a trailer, whilst the Lytag LWA is simultaneously vibrated in. Keep greens in play

The beautiful established scenery of an old golf course can rarely be beaten, but history can come at a price when standing water threatens course closure. One thing we can all be fairly sure of is that weather patterns are changing and, global warming aside, that appears to be something that is here to stay.As golf courses continue to be under increasing pressure for new membership, the ability to offer year-round play has to be an absolute given. The problem facing many old, established courses that were built before we all started to talk about greens built to United States Golf Association (USGA) specifications is that drainage systems were rarely installed in these older courses. At the time, golf was played infrequently and not at all in the wetter months.“The majority of greens constructed in the last 30 years were built to USGA standards and consequently should drain well,” says Mick Claxton from Shelton Sportsturf Drainage. “In practice they were not all constructed with materials of the precise specification, so improvement to their drainage may be necessary. Many of the calls we get about drainage are from older, more established courses that were built prior to USGA specs.”Drainage techniques are now so advanced that there are lots of options before a full green reconstruction should be considered. The main aim is to speed up the removal of excess water from the green without changing its character or original design features. Each situation is different, but if the problem is standing water on a green, we would generally suggest one of the following three options, all of which have been designed so greens can be back in play in a matter of hours or days, depending on the circumstances.The Shelton Gravel Band System can be carried out during the months when the ground is wet. It is a very simple system that uses the Gravel Band Drainer and Lytag LWA as a backfilling material. Lytag LWA is sold in the United Kingdom and is a versatile lightweight aggregate which is produced from pulverised fuel ash, a by-product of coal burning power stations. It is an ideal medium for land drainage applications, as its rounded shape and regular grading give excellent hydraulic conductivity. Lytag LWA gets better results than gravel due to its rounded shape, and its ability to retain water in the drier summer months. (Alternatives to Lytag LWA are available in the United States). Closely spaced one-inch wide gravel bands lead to a piped drain situated just off the green. Bands of the Lytag LWA are injected into the green by a vibrating channel opener and, as no soil is removed, any surface undulations can be minimised by hollow tining prior to the installation. The beauty of this system lies in its simplicity and speed: a large green can be drained in five hours and played on 24 hours later! System 25 is a versatile mini trencher used primarily for installing a secondary drainage system over a network of piped drains in a one-pass operation. System 25 may also be used to install land drainage tile and underground services. The trencher cuts a one-inch wide trench, removes the soil and lifts it into a trailer, whilst the Lytag LWA is simultaneously vibrated in. We would then suggest that a free draining top soil be applied over the drainage runs. This system generates fast results and, again, the damage to the green is minimal. In fact, the green can be played on 24 hours later – imperative in the busy summer months. We have seen this system used with great success at many clubs, including Farnham Golf Club in England. This system is carried out to best effect in the drier months.The third option is a Lightning Drain system. This is very similar to System 25 except the trenches are dug to 1.4-inches wide and a one-inch perforated land drainage tile is installed prior to backfilling with Lytag LWA. This gives greater longevity to the system and also speeds the flow of water out to the exit drain. The results are immediate and with good greens maintenance, including plenty of aeration, the effects will last for years to come. Lightning Drain is a popular technique, not just because of its effectiveness, but also because its use isn’t restricted to any particular time of year, although for optimum results, colder, wetter months are best avoided, so the grass is able to re-establish well over the cuts. Lightning Drain was recently used with great effect at the beautiful Boyce Hill Golf Club in Benfleet, Essex, England.  Mick Claxton is a director of Shelton Sportsturf Drainage Ltd. For more information, visit

Drainage on demand

An increase in the use of an innovative drainage system called “drainage water management” is being promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Illinois and other states in the region, as it provides significant benefits for both farmers and the environment.Drainage water management (DWM) allows farmers to control the amount of water that’s drained from the top few feet of the field’s surface. A box-like structure is attached to existing drainage pipe near the field outlet, with a number of large thick bars that can be inserted or removed to control water flow. It is similar to controlled drainage systems being used in Ontario, which employ a round structure and vertically movable panels.The DWM system provides a myriad of monetary and environmental benefits, from boosting crop yields to improving water quality of nearby watersheds through preventing nutrient run-off. “Farming is a risky business, subject to all kinds of influences like weather and global economics that are out of the producer’s control,” notes Dr. Ruth Book, an Illinois NRCS state conservation engineer. “With DWM, the farmer can decide when to drain the field and when not to. Think about how helpful this could be in a drought year, for example. If the producer knows that the summer is going to be hot and dry, he or she could hold back some of the water from the spring rains.” DWM can be installed with both new and existing tile drainage, but the field should have a slope of less than one percent. If that sounds restrictive, consider that in the state of Illinois alone, DWM is suitable for use in nearly 10 million acres of fields. There are now 14 counties in Illinois that are targeted for DWM demonstration projects. Many installations have already occurred through technical and financial support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and more are in the works. This year, NRCS sponsored a special DWM project in the 37 square-mile watershed around the town of Tovey in collaboration with the Christian County Soil and Water Conservation District. Book says the predominantly flat, tile-drained cropland in that area of Illinois is very suitable for DWM. “The partnership goal is to help producers implement DWM and related practices on at least 20 percent of the cropland in the watershed over the next five years, or approximately 750 acres per year,” she explains. “The expectation is that this achievement will demonstrate a measurable improvement in surface water quality entering nearby Sangchris Lake.”  It goes beyond the lake, however. Fertilizer use in Illinois crops is a major contributor to the nitrogen load in the Mississippi River Basin. About 90 percent of the nitrate-N that’s discharged via the Mississippi River is due to agriculture, Book notes. Research has shown a definite correlation between tile drainage and high nitrate levels in surface water, and although there seems to be an apparent conflict between needing to drain fields for crop production and the need to reduce nitrates entering surface water, Book says DWM is a way to accomplish both. “During fallow periods, the water table is raised, creating conditions that are very similar to what the field was like before the drainage system was installed,” she says. “Also, the water table can be raised during the cropping season to retain water that would have otherwise drained away, potentially supplying water to the capillary root zone of the crop, but also reducing nutrient loading.” The effectiveness of DWM in reducing runoff is directly related to the volume of drainage water that is retained in the field, so operators are encouraged to keep the system closed, draining the field only when necessary to grow crops and do field work.  Contractors, training and next stepsBook praises the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association as “a great partner” in the effort to spread DWM use. “Drainage contractors not only help us sell drainage water management and other conservation practices related to drainage, but they also are out there on the front line, actually installing,” she says. “Most drainage contractors already have the equipment they need to install drainage water management. Implementation is quite simple, usually involving just the addition of a water control structure at strategic places in the drainage system.”  Flat fields can often be managed with a single water control structure, but Book says it’s possible to stair-step the DWM system to accommodate changes in elevation. She explains that when the field has more slope, it’s helpful to lay out the drainage system so farmers can manage the water table with the minimum number of structures. “We’ve had many drainage contractors attend training sponsored by the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition and NRCS,” she explains, “where they learn how the drain system layout can be changed to facilitate DWM.”  Illinois is part of the 10-state focus area in the NRCS Agricultural Water Management effort to spread the installation of DWM, but it’s the state with the longest history of DWM use and the one with the most suitable acres. Following in Illinois’ footsteps, some of the other nine states are offering financial assistance and considering the development of special regional DWM projects. In a few years, Book believes Illinois District Conservationist Tony Hammond will be able to report a dramatic increase in the adoption of DWM in Christian County. “Tony and the staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture field office in Taylorville have been publicizing the great things DWM can offer, and he’s beginning to show some results. Now that we have our conservation professionals trained on the practice, I think we’ll be seeing much more implementation of DWM all over the state.” With all the benefits provided by the system – and the strong support being offered – DWM is poised to become the standard on flat farmland in the U.S. and beyond.

Controlled drainage

On flat cropland, controlled drains may become the new norm in Ontario, replacing conventional tile drainage on many of the province’s farms. The flexibility of controlled drainage delivers benefits for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer, and the use of these systems is spreading accordingly.Controlled drains have been studied at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research station in Harrow, Ont., for two decades and some farmers in Essex and Kent have already installed them on their land. “This practice is somewhat common in that area because the land is very flat there,” notes Ken McCutcheon, owner of McCutcheon Farm Drainage Ltd. in Thorndale, Ont. “The Americans in various states have really embraced controlled drainage as well. However, there are not many areas where it works well in Ontario because it totally hinges on flat topography.” Earlier this year, McCutcheon (who has five employees in the field plus office staff at his 37-year-old business) installed two controlled drains on the farm of Henk and Annie Van Den Berg in Lucan, Ont. The project was spearheaded by Brad Glasman, co-ordinator of conservation services, and Craig Merkley, conservation services specialist, at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), along with Andrew Jamieson, senior water management engineer for AAFC. Each controlled drain covers a five-acre field. “It was an ideal site for this project as it was very flat,” McCutcheon says. “That’s a key factor in making this sort of controlled outlet work. It allows you to control the water table within 12 inches.” He notes that if there are elevation changes in a field, the installation of more controlled drain structures would be required to control water flow, and you end up with structures in the field instead of just at the outlet at the edge of the field. This interferes with planting, harvesting and so on.Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost two meters long integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow or pushed downward to stop it. Excessive rainfall can cause water to be pushed up and over the panels and flow out, so additional panels must be added to block water flow, if desired. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to drain the field, and closed during the summer to retain water. It is designed to allow faster drying of fields in the spring so that crops can be planted earlier, and to conserve the water from summer rainstorms. This year, the Van Den Bergs got a large rainfall at the end of July and closed the two controlled drains. “Water ran through the controlled drains for about a day,” says Henk, “and through the conventional drains on the rest of the farm for four days, which is a substantial amount of water loss in comparison.” Environmental benefitsKeeping nutrient-rich water in the field instead of having it flow away, as it does in a conventional tile drainage system, is not just better for crops and farmers. It’s also, as Glasman notes, better for the environment and human health. High levels of phosphorous from fertilizer, for example, can lead to algae blooms in Lake Erie. Nutrient runoff from farms also contributes to generally poorer water quality in creeks, rivers and lakes in Ontario, including the Great Lakes. The cleaner water provided by controlled drainage therefore benefits all organisms, from invertebrates to birds to human beings. Glasman, Merkley and Jamieson estimate that about 80 to 90 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in a field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional tile. Monitoring equipment to measure nutrient and water outflow from the Van Den Bergs’ controlled drainage fields, as well as their regularly tiled fields of a similar size and topography as a control, were expected to be in place by October. Jamieson says it’s a three-year project and will involve year-round monitoring. Measuring benefits“As far as how the system is working so far, it’s early days yet,” says Merkley. “We are still learning the drainage characteristics of the site and how the system is responding to rain events.” He says there are no plans at the moment to test the system on other fields, but they may look at the feasibility of automating the stop panels, tying in the raising and lowering of the panels to the amount of rainfall received. “We’re not sure it can be done, but there are plans to investigate the idea,” Merkley notes. In addition to needing flat topography for controlled drains, McCutcheon says newer tile drainage systems – with pipes that are closer together than in older systems – make controlled drains much more effective. “In older systems, the spacing of the tile is wider and you’re backing the water up in those pipes with the water level varying because of the distance,” he says. “In newer systems, the tiles are closer and you have more pipes in the ground with a more uniform water table, so with controlled drains [incorporated with those systems], you will more evenly distribute and store water.”  In terms of the economic benefits that controlled drainage may supply on the Van Den Berg farm, Henk says, “We’ll have to wait for harvest to see how much better the corn yield will be, but we had a dry August, so it should make a difference.” Glasman says yields should be able to be increased by 10 to 15 percent over time with a controlled drain system. The controlled drainage structures are approximately $700 apiece plus installation and are available from some of Ontario’s largest drainage material suppliers. When a farmer would achieve cost return depends on a few factors. Each year is different in terms of how much water conservation matters (how dry it becomes) in crop yield, weather patterns, the price farmers get for their harvests and so on. However, in these times of increasing drought conditions, return on investment for controlled drainage may be swift – as may be its spread in flat parts of Ontario and beyond.

Controlling nature

A new storm water drainage system being installed at the Monsanto Company Learning Center will provide more efficient field drainage, resulting in more consistent results in its development of new seeds and crops.The first phase of the drainage system, which uses a grid pattern of corrugated high-density polyethylene (HDPE), has now been completed and the remainder is scheduled for installation in the fourth quarter of this year.  “We’re in a pretty flat area and with soils that tend to hold moisture very easily, which is good for production, but we just have to get rid of the excess water,” explained Eric Hickenbottom, North American Corn Breeding testing operations manager for Monsanto. “There are a lot of roads through the research farm which are higher than the fields and act as a dam trapping the water, so we don’t get a lot of surface runoff and need to drain it with tile. After large rain events we have water standing in those areas, sometimes for a week at a time; it would take that long for it to drain. What we hope to achieve is to have those major wet holes drained in 24 hours, at least the visible water sitting on top of the ground. That’s our end result objective.”For the first phase, 446,000 feet of the HDPE pipe was used, ranging in diameter from three to eight inches of single wall, corrugated HDPE tubing, and 18,000 feet of 12 to 24 inches of dual wall, corrugated HDPE pipe manufactured by Timewell Drainage Products.“For nearly 50 years, farmers have been using corrugated HDPE pipe for draining their fields,” said Daniel Currence, P.E. director of engineering for the Plastics Pipe Institute’s CPPA division. PPI is the major trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry. “Tile drainage is critical to crop production because it allows excess water to leave the soil. This provides a higher yield for a farm. If not for this system, many fields would be flooded and totally unusable. Tiling saves those fields and increases crop production.”  “Spacing of the pipe for this project was a little tighter than usual,” Currence added. “Typically, you’ll find the rows spaced 30 and even 40 feet apart. Here, because of some of the areas being prone to standing water, the pipe was installed with 20-foot spacing: about 2,000 feet of lateral pipe an acre. Water in some areas gets trapped in there like a pool.”To install the 88-plus miles of pipe, Timewell’s construction division, Ag Drainage Inc. (ADI), plowed both the mains and the laterals. Depths ranged from 7.5 feet for the mains to 30 inches for the laterals.  No additional bedding was used. Installation work took a crew of 10 one week to complete.“Because the pipe used for the laterals comes in long coils and is fed on the plow, the installation is rather quick,” noted Currence. “For example, three-inch diameter, perforated tubing that was used on this job comes in a reel that has 6,200 feet. That makes it efficient to get to the field and install.”With an average annual rainfall of 38 inches, the research farm near where Iowa, Missouri and Illinois meet has mainly silt loam soil.  “We did have some areas that were tiled many years ago in grid pattern and probably put in a little too far apart, and maybe a little too deep,” said Hickenbottom. “Also, the mains weren’t sized big enough. We want adequate moisture but not a lot at one time. Typically with the way weather patterns have changed here during the past 10 years, we’re seeing heavier rainstorms with more frequency. In a dry year we can handle five inches of rain without a problem and it drains. What happens is that a week later we get another five inches and it’s so saturated we can’t get rid of the water.”“We are a research facility so we have many, many special projects out here on the farm,” he added. “And quite truthfully, a lot of times, those projects, whether it is a breeding effort or something of that nature, those crops tend to be a little bit higher in value versus just a commercial field,” he said. “If we lose it, there’s potential to lose maybe a year or more of progress with our breeding and yield testing programs. So we went with a pretty aggressive drainage coefficient for the farm... There were 488 acres there that we wanted to get done.”The center has research labs, classroom training and plot tours. Hickenbottom and his team do advanced research in corn, and some of the other business functions at the site have corn and soybean research testing projects, along with many demos that the learning center plants and harvests every year. “It’s important that we have proper drainage, which I’m sure we’ll now have,” said Hickenbottom.


Embrace the busy season

The order book is full; we are officially delaying or turning work away for the next couple of months. We simply have no more capacity, there are only so many meters which can be laid per day and just to honor the promises already made we need good weather and to avoid breakdowns. That of course will not happen, but I hope to bend a few promises rather than break them. It’s far from ideal, but with a couple of sympathetic clients and a good dose of honesty from us the odds are in our favor.This is the busiest we have been for a few years, and I should make two things clear. The first is that I’m not complaining. The nature of our business is that workload is very imbalanced. After harvest we are flat out, in January and February we are fixing machinery, waiting for spring and losing money. Even within this pattern, peaks and troughs are common. Sometimes the jobs are lined up and sometimes we wonder what we can do next week. Being busy can be problematic but it is far better than not having enough to go at. Secondly, despite my considerable efforts to market and sell both Farm Services and drainage to English farmers (an ongoing process which has been more successful than I thought it would be), the weather, harvest and the rising price of land have caused most of this demand. Farmers buy drainage when it is wet and no amount of sales will overcome that obvious fact. The unpredictable and wet weather is helping sales, as is the good yield experienced this harvest. The prices are another matter and I can only imagine what the imaginary, impossible, perfect drainage contractor’s year – wet, good yield, high prices – would do to demand. At the moment it’s all hands to the deck, with our guys working as much overtime as I can persuade them to log. On site each job is flooded with men and machinery, anything which will increase production, and in the office we are running around like headless chickens. Gravel and pipe must be waiting for the guys when they turn up on site. Plans are double checked to ensure problems are solved before we are on site. Move days are well co-ordinated and wasted time is kept to a minimum. Most important of all, the drainage machine must keep on moving.When the pressure is on, the cracks appear. I will happily state that we are far from perfect. During my Nuffield travels I have seen better drilled drainage crews and slicker run businesses than ours, but we are trying. I’m desperate to improve the business and drive it forward, and if I’m honest, very few parts of the business cannot be improved. We will get there but it takes time. One idea I’m building up the courage to implement is to swap our foreman from operating the drainage machine to the excavator (or backhoe, as you say in North America). Like nearly all contractors, our foreman drives the drainage machine, but is that really the right place for him? And if not, surely our best man should be where he can affect the job the most? Making sure the drainage machine can continue laying pipe is arguably a harder job, which requires more thought than driving a plow, for example. Of course, making sure the pipe is installed correctly is vital, but once trained and with the foreman checking frequently, can’t someone else operate the drainage machine, leaving the foreman to plan head, solve the problems, mark out the drainlines and make sure the drainage machine keeps laying pipe? Anyway, I need to stop typing, set up the next job and make hay as the sun shines, as next week might be full of rain. I hope everyone has a busy couple of months and that demand for our services remains high.

Leading by Example

William James, the famed American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “When two people meet there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as the other person sees them, and each person as they really are.” As a leader, how do you see yourself? And, even more important, how do the people you lead see you?Every action you take and every interaction you have leaves a lasting impact on others. You can have the best of intentions, but if your impact isn’t aligned with the intention, your leadership may not be as effective as it could be. Why? Because what matters is not who you think you are, but the experience other people have with you.Now before you say, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” realize that you don’t need to care what they think. You do, however, have to care about the impact you have on others, on your organization, and your industry. Your impact leaves a lasting mark. Most leaders have never detailed their personal creed. But doing so can be incredibly powerful. Get clear about who you think you are. Who are you and what do you stand for? What do you value? What is your personal creed or stance in the roles that are most important to you in your life? How do you want to be known in your company and industry? Once you have those questions answered, ask the most important question of all: “How do the things I just detailed show up when I’m frustrated or when things aren’t going well? Who am I then?” Most leaders lose credibility when things are bad because they haven’t thought about who they are in those situations and the kind of impact they’ll have.There are two ways to get information about your impact: you can ask for feedback either indirectly or directly. An indirect approach is doing an online and anonymous survey of some sort using a tool like Survey Monkey. While it’s simple to do, the results are not always specific. A direct approach is to talk with someone you trust and ask specific questions so you can get key insights. The secret to making direct questions work is to phrase them properly. If you ask someone, “Can you give me feedback on my leadership style?” you won’t get the information you need. That’s a difficult question for most people to answer because it’s not focused enough, and no one wants to hurt another person’s feelings. Ask a more focused question, like, “During today’s meeting, I think I may have sounded defensive when I told Chris that the idea would never work. How did it land for you? What was your experience of being in that meeting?” Notice that you’re not asking for an evaluation. You’re pointing out a specific incident or behavior and asking the person about their personal experience during that moment – the impact you had.If the results of the feedback you receive don’t align with your personal perceptions about yourself, it’s time to make some changes, not to you, but to your impact. First, get curious about the mismatch, not furious about the information. You might be a motivating, empowering, and uplifting kind of leader, but under certain conditions, even the most esteemed person can come across as harsh, cold, and defensive. In other words, know your blind spots so you can shed some light on them. There’s no avoiding it: all leaders leave a lasting impact. What’s yours? Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Latson Leadership Group, a consulting firm specializing in management and leadership development. With more than 20 years of experience, Latson helps organizations and leaders expand their capacity to produce results while enhancing employee engagement. For more information on Alesia’s speaking and consulting, please contact her at or visit

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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