Drainage Contractor

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Tradition and progress

Technology and innovation will shape the future of the agricultural drainage industry.


May 7, 2014
By Stefanie Croley

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The fire service is often said to represent years of tradition unimpeded by progress. Unfortunately, this old and rather clichéd adage applies to many industries, and when I became the editor of Drainage Contractor in early 2013, I wondered if the same saying would ring true for ours.

During the 1970s, agricultural tile drainage experienced booming growth like never before. It was a time of great success for the industry: equipment was purchased, tile was installed and crops were thriving. But when crop prices dropped in the 1980s, money had to be prioritized. Although installing drainage tile was proven to be worthwhile, the boom was over.

I have spent the last year immersing myself in the industry, getting to know contractors, suppliers and everyone in between. In talks with several industry members, I’ve been told that besides the switch to modern tile, not much has changed since the ’70s. Many people I’ve talked with agree that the means and methods of installing drainage tile have stayed the same for many years. But after witnessing displays of progress and innovation at several conferences, trade shows and presentations, it became very clear to me that the old fire-service adage did not ring true for the drainage industry. In fact, I’ve noticed the opposite.

New methods and technologies are often met with mixed reviews. Supporters and cynics will be quick to add their opinions, offering everything from enthusiastic endorsements to skeptical criticisms. But there’s no doubt things like smartphones, GPS and autosteer have offered improvements to the drainage contractor’s work, and the industry seems to be welcoming these changes with open arms. Earlier this year, the annual convention of the Michigan Land Improvement Contractors Association featured a Gadget Talk session in which participants shared technologies and innovative practices that have proven to be useful to their businesses. From the multiple functions of a smartphone to computer software and Google Maps, contractors were eager to share the technology and innovative practices with their peers, and the ideas were met with open minds and enthusiastic responses.

There’s no shortage of innovation in this issue of Drainage Contractor either. In our cover story, we speak with a former state engineer who found a drainage solution for his farmland. And in our regular section of new products, we’ve compiled several of the latest advancements and technologies in drainage equipment.

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In a recent article in Iowa Farmer Today, Matt Helmers, an Iowa State University associate professor of agricultural and biosciences engineering, said more agricultural drainage tile has been installed in Iowa over the past two years than during any other period in recent history. The article credits technology for the recent boom in tile drainage, and I won’t be disputing this claim.

Tradition won’t impede progress for the drainage industry; rather, technology will only help it grow.


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