Drainage Contractor

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Editorial: Somehow, we manage

Tile installation is at the heart of drainage, but the industry – and this issue – is about much more.

October 20, 2022  ByBree Rody


On a crisp, late summer day, I was out for lunch with the director of an industry organization. We discussed farming, drainage, conferences, supply chains, education and everything in between. During that lunch, an interesting topic arose. My lunch date mentioned that increasingly, the industry is embracing the term “water management” rather than simply “drainage.” And why is that?

Well, because drainage is just one aspect of the very important role that water management plays within the agriculture industry.

As contractors, it is likely that the majority of your work still consists of laying tile underground. But not all tile jobs are the same – and neither are all drainage systems. Some systems combine subsurface drainage with surface drainage. Some incorporate controlled drainage, subirrigation and drainage water recycling – allowing drainage to multitask by putting water back into crops as well as removing it from crops.

And, while drainage has been under scrutiny for years due to the issue of excess nutrients leaching into waterways, increasing research has shown that the solution is not to eliminate drainage (just ask any grower who’s experienced a wet summer how important it is to remove excess moisture) but to improve drainage. Mitigation efforts, whether that’s through saturated buffers or edge-of-field practices, help make drainage effective for farmers while reducing adverse effects on the environment.

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Now, that’s not to say that “drainage” is a dirty word, or that the “drainage industry” does not exist. It’s more to say that the industry understands far more than just drainage. For contractors, engineers and designers, that means the required knowledge base becomes about more than just the pipes in the ground. Ergo, “water management” is a great catch-all term to describe what drainage contractors do.

In the last year, we’ve tried some new things at Drainage Contractor, mostly focused on education. In late 2021 and early 2022, we launched the Drainage Innovation Webinar series, bringing together contractors, researchers, government and extension to discuss highly technical concepts such as spacing, layout and controlled drainage. These roundtable-style discussions proved just how much the industry is pushing itself to test new concepts and be active stewards to the land. We also interviewed and profiled our first class of GroundBreakers, whose stories showed that drainage is more than just trenches and pipes. Today’s contractor understands soil, yield, infrastructure and beyond.

This issue focuses largely on those “big picture” issues. From Jack Kazmierski’s dive into how enhancements to drainage issues can mitigate nutrient loss (page 8) to Robyn Roste’s primer on controlled drainage (page 12), we wanted to highlight all the ways in which drainage is becoming a holistic industry founded in the principles of water management. We also have a profile on longtime contractor Jim Blood (page 18), whose half-century in the industry has been successful because of Blood’s abilities to adapt and evolve. And speaking of adaptation, on page 32, Julienne Isaacs looks at the unique challenges of tiling – and growing – in the up-and-coming region of Northern Ontario.

In honor of all those contractors who keep rising to the challenge, changing their perspectives and keeping their knowledge current, we’ve brought back our GroundBreakers recognition program for 2023 – applications open online Nov. 1.


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