Drainage Contractor

Features Guest Column
Editorial: The science and the craft

You can't have one without the other.


May 3, 2021


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In the last year, amidst chaos, we witnessed a multitude of scientific breakthroughs. Beyond the lightning-speed development of vaccines that are currently allowing some semblance of normal life to resume, we also saw development in space travel, artificial intelligence and more. We witnessed the unifying powers of computer and mobile technology – and how Nahsir Ahmed’s decades-old vision of rapidly transmitting images and videos between far-apart computer screens has helped keep us connected for everyday occurrences like business meetings, or big milestones like weddings.

If science and tech isn’t your thing, maybe you’ve spent the last year taking comfort in watching sports and seeing the mind-boggling ways in which professional athletes, from Connor McDavid and Steph Curry to Serena Williams and Sue Bird, seemingly bend time and space. Technology, science and human physiology are amazing things.

We see it in agriculture as well – what the industry has been able to achieve through science; through numbers and stats; through trial and error. It is because of these things we understand how to efficiently drain excess water from a field, or we know (approximately) how deep to dig a trench.

But it is not the physical alone that captures our attention. Behind every unique physical and scientific accomplishment is a great deal of emotion, passion and art. Perhaps a drainage contractor cannot paint like Michelangelo, but like great artists, contractors possess skills that do not come from any textbook or calculation. Just because there’s an approximate depth one should dig a trench doesn’t mean there’s not room for judgment (or spirited debate) on what the exact perfect depth might be.

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In our interview with Michigan State University’s Ehsan Ghane about the newly developed drainage tile spacing tool (page 12), he mentions the alternative to scientific method is to rely on instincts and experience – neither of which should be discounted. In fact, Ghane told Drainage Contractor that for all its scientific calculations, the tool is meant as a guide – conforming to the exact measurements isn’t always possible or optimal. And that’s where the instincts of the individual user come in.

All of agriculture exists in that marvellous space in which science meets instinct – or, more accurately, where science meets craft. If you don’t believe that there’s art and beauty to be found in the drainage trade, take a look at Madeleine Baerg’s profile on Nohl Tiling (page 20). Beyond tiling, the Nohl family’s work as farmers have helped them gain a new perspective on the practice. The tools and the calculations provide you with the small picture, but we all need a way to see the big picture.

An artist’s approach to drainage also means the ability to see beyond your immediate geographic and physical contexts. That’s why in this issue we’ve highlighted the unique challenges and opportunities of an up-and-coming drainage market – Western Canada (page 24).

A textbook will always be one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox, but experiences and instincts take drain tiling from a trade to a craft.


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