Meet Willie Parish

Manufacturing Superintendent

Since 1987, Willie Parish has been part of the Fratco family. Recently promoted to Manufacturing Superintendent, Willie began where so many start their careers at the four-generation strong business. “What did I do previously?” he laughs, recalling all the stops along the way, “A little bit of everything.”

Parish knows the ins and outs of what goes into a day’s work within the manufacturing giant, from running the line to maintaining safety plant-wide. He understands the ingenuity and technology behind every inch of pipe produced and appreciates the hands that craft it. Now, he takes that experience with him traveling between Fratco’s plants, logging a lot of miles since taking this new position in January 2021.

When asked about what’s most interesting about his work, Parish passionately details the way Fratco hums on the production line. Installing innovative equipment, testing the latest product and seeing it all come together is what he loves most. “When new lines launch and we get them up to speed…that’s a definite joy of my job,” he beams.

Hard work, determination and growth are kindred themes for both Fratco and Parish. When he stepped into the Francesville plant as a new employee nearly thirty-five years ago, there was one production facility. Four now dot the Midwest: the flagship Indiana location, one in Illinois and two in Iowa. As the company has grown, so has Parish. “Before, I saw my job as more day-to- day. Now, I look at the big picture for the company, where we’ve come since the early days and the road ahead.”

Whether it’s one plant or four, CEO Chris Overmyer and the leaders before him have always worked to ensure employees feel like family. Parish cherished this atmosphere from the very beginning. He is also quick to applaud Fratco for supporting education and job advancement as an extension of their investment in people. “If you work hard, show up and take the initiative, Fratco wants to see you succeed,” he heartily affirms.

Parish sees superior product and quality pipe as two reasons customers continue choosing Fratco. As he drives along the countryside—even during hunting season on his day off—he’ll stop when he sees pipe going into the ground. He can’t help himself. He knows customers trust Fratco and wants to connect with contractors every chance he gets. That customer service aspect is what it all comes down to for Parish. He’s grateful for the loyalty, commitment and trust customers have built with the company through the years, especially this last one. “I want to thank our customers for their patience this year. Between the pandemic and the current resin issues,
I want them to know we’re going to continue doing everything we can to bring them the pipe they rely on us to provide.”
Because for Parish and Fratco, only the best will do—always.

New Fratco Spaces & Places

Employee Break Room

When you work in manufacturing, adding extra sunshine into the day makes everything brighter. That was one of the ambitious goals Fratco brought to the design table when planning the new employee break room at its Francesville location. Wrapped in windows, the break room is warm and inviting with thoughtful touches throughout. New tables and chairs, a big-screen television, vending machines and a large refrigerator to store lunches are just a few of the amenities you’ll find.

More attentive details abound, including a computer station with a two-fold purpose. To change the dynamic of internet equity in rural areas, Fratco decided to make a difference. “We understand that not everyone has access to the internet at home,” comments Fratco’s Human Resources Team. “That’s why we decided it was important to install a computer in the break room.” It also provides access to Fratco’s online tools, such as the Employee Support Fund. “Providing an employee-specific computer breaks any barriers to accessing information or applying for financial assistance when our work-family needs it the most.”

The Wellness Center

The Wellness Center gives any fitness center a run for their money: 24-hour access for employees and their families, state-of-the-art elliptical machines, treadmills and rows of free-weights. New restrooms, complete with showers, make it easier for team members to hit the treadmill before work, jump on the elliptical during their lunch break or pump iron and then rinse off at the end of the day. Fratco employees agree, with one commenting, “Chris Overmyer, Bill Champion, Craig Douglas and the team who planned and executed this new area went above and beyond. Their commitment to and appreciation for their employees shines through in both of these new spaces. They knocked it out of the park.”

Greener Fairways & Good Deeds

How drainage made a big difference for a golf course and their community

When it comes to golf course planning, a developer’s focus is location, location, location. For landscape architects and contractors creating a scenically manicured 18 hole experience, their mantra is drainage, drainage, drainage.

Having the right pipe in place for specific terrains and soil types saves a substantial amount of water. Perfect conditions on the greens are critical, much like they are in the agricultural fields. Both require solutions for heavy downpours, standing water and drainage reliability. The water footprints left behind in both golf and ag industries impose on the planet’s resources. That’s why Fratco takes sustainability seriously. Soggy fields do not allow seeds to grow well. Golf course managers cannot book tee times on flooded or desert-dry courses. Farmers cannot have adequate crop growth if their soil is dehydrated. Players cringe at teeing off on ground reminiscent of concrete floors. Finding the perfect balance with the proper drainage makes all the difference.

WATER USAGE AND SUSTAINABILITY

Claiming the golf industry uses a hefty amount of water to maintain its aesthetic is an understatement. Private and municipal courses around the US pump a total of 2.08 billion gallons of water daily to irrigate turfs. That’s 130,000 gallons per course, per day, which is a lot in terms of output. It can make it even more challenging in areas with considerable drought or water restrictions. Golf course drainage and efficient watering go hand-in-hand. Watering plants and greens by manually, not full-blast systems on timers, is time consuming yet saves water. Groundskeepers know turning on a deluge of sprinklers is not always necessary nor efficient watering. Measuring water amounts is a precise science all its own, consisting of soil measurements, moisture readings and adjustments for rain showers or even blazing heat. Too much water on the greens kills grass. Without enough watering, the grass dies. Finding the perfect balance takes time and patience—just another day at the office for those in the greens business.

WATER ISSUES AT EXTREMES

Investing in the environment— installing drainage—keeps resource vulnerability low and negative impact at bay so operations can harmonize and work within their habitat. There is a purpose behind shaping and constructing golf course drainage layouts. They consider the area’s soil conditions, the best turf for the climate and whether grass dormancy is a good thing in the regions experiencing intense seasons. Grounds that consist of constantly shifting soil due to weather or climate require meticulous surveying, a hindrance to busy maintenance schedules that could be served elsewhere.

In golf, saving and redirecting water matters. Courses with water issues tend to lean towards extremes: unplayable, deluged fairways and greens or arid, desert-like conditions. Nowhere for the water to retreat to or mounting watering bills to keep it playable. This is why having the right pipe in place matters, whether a course is located in Nevada’s mountains or a Midwestern valley. Lush, carpeted greens must be the norm, not the exception, to keep tee times on the books. Sloping hills, waterways, rock formations and intricate landscapes are all part of watershed planning. Whether they are artificial or natural features, watersheds are drainage basins that channel water towards outflow points. These catchments whisk water away from the greens towards larger pools to draw upon later.

KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO IMPROVE THE GREENS

Facility managers know the pressure of keeping courses ready for play. Days with golfers scheduled to tee off back-to-back along with inclement weather can pose a challenge. When the soil under the turf is compacted from foot traffic pressure or overloaded by saturation, it needs as much intervention as it can receive.

When course managers and groundskeepers have aerated, reseeded, reduced watering and tried every trick in the turf management book on saturated or dehydrated grounds, it’s time to invest in new drainage. Installing pipe removes groundwater that inhibits play, builds up water stores and provides golfers those coveted greens they dream of playing on. Although golf course drainage projects can vary in size and scope, not all greens require a complete demo of the property to improve. For smaller installs, areas are player-ready a day or so after pipe installation.

The process of installing pipe is simple. First, the site is visited. The greens and fairways are surveyed to note valleys, slopes and other natural or manmade characteristics. It’s imperative to establish the best direction for drainage design from the tee box to the sand traps. Next, the sod is cut and carefully rolled to replace later. Once the pipe is installed, a greens mix is applied. Its job is to direct water towards the pipe and the water stores. The sod is replaced precisely and tamped until level. Once the greens are blown and debris is removed, it’s game time. Players can tee off and grounds managers can rest easy knowing the rainiest or driest of days are no match for Fratco products.

Installing pipe is a win-win. Drainage means the courses are available for play even after the heaviest of storms and the clouds are long gone. When turf managers consider the price of having to cancel tee times due to oversaturated courses versus the investment in drainage solutions, contractors hear from clients they wish they had made the leap sooner.

HOW FRATCO IS HELPING MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Dow Dellinger is one of the general managers of Tippecanoe Country Club in Monticello, Indiana. Golf has been one of the loves of his life for over 45 years. Dellinger has played many courses and knows what makes good turf. When you ask about his ideal day on the greens, he laughs. “With my game, there is no perfect day anymore.” With his busy schedule, Dellinger is just happy to get out and play from time-to- time. Yet the perfect day and the perfect course eluded him in Monticello.

For years, the Tippecanoe Country Club’s golf course experienced multiple water issues. This golf course is essential to area residents who love to play and whose children attend affordable camps and learn to play the game. On the back nine, where the drainage system met the pond, flooding ruined turf and would render several holes unplayable for days after torrential rains. Drainage was not happening efficiently. The galvanized pipe installed decades before was filled with mud. There was definitely a need for improvement.

Always ready to lend a hand in the community, Fratco worked with Dellinger and the country club’s team in 2019 by donating pipe to improve drainage. “We could never have completed the work without Fratco,” Dellinger quickly adds as he recalls the story. He also mentions a relic unearthed as repairs were underway. “After we took away the galvanized steel drainage, we noticed original clay tile underneath. It was practically pristine. After wiping the dirt from the company imprint, we realized it was Fratco’s.” Estimated that it was installed in the 1950s, it was a fantastic find and no surprise to Fratco that 70 years later, it remained in like-new condition.

Once the new Fratco pipe was in place, the change was immediate. No more flooding. No more damaged turf. Lots of players on the course. There was another surprising benefit Dellinger mentioned. “There are homes built along the back nine of the course that had experienced water issues for years.” Flooded basements. Standing water in yards. A real mess for neighbors. This Fratco fix on the course became an unforeseen solution. “The homeowners were thrilled,” Dellinger shares. “Without Fratco, this would’ve never happened, and our project wouldn’t have been completed.” A thirty-year problem for those with homes on the county roads behind the club was now over. It’s incredible how one random act of kindness led to something greater for the neighborhood at-large.

Yet the giving didn’t stop with Fratco’s donation two years ago. The Tippecanoe Country Club continues passing it on. During the summer days of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, when golf courses could once again open to players, the club welcomed children to play for free. “We are a part of a community that believes in giving back to others,” Dellinger shares. “Fratco made that possible, and we will never forget it.”

Fratco drainage installation at Tippecanoe Country Club

Growing Hometown Roots with Eads & Son Bulldozing

The Wabash River snakes through a series of towns and cities that generations of Midwestern families have called home. Where it branches into the Salamonie River, you’ll find Lagro, Indiana. Founded in 1835, Lagro is a cozy community made up of generations of residents who love their tight-knit hometown. It is also where you’ll find Eads & Son Bulldozing, owned by Fratco partners and cousins Tadd and Scott Eads.

Established in 1968, Eads & Son began with one bulldozer and the determination of Ronnie Eads. If you ask Scott what inspired his father to become his own boss and launch the family business, you’ll hear the word “opportunity.” Something Fratco is no stranger to as a business who loves partnering with entrepreneurs. “My dad started in the ag business as a farmer and also filled silos,” Scott shares. “My dad saw an opportunity to branch into other areas of agriculture and take on construction as well.” Scott grew up working alongside his father and saw the potential in helping run the family business. When you look at the services Eads offers their customers, one would wonder what the dynamic duo of Scott and Tadd does not provide. Their list includes construction site prep, excavation, backhoe services, trucking material to and from sites, retention ponds, wood clearing, septic repair, new and resurfaced driveways, and last yet never least—farm drainage.

When asked when he came to work alongside his uncle and cousin, Tadd shares, “It’s been so long since I’ve been here, and Eads is such a big part of my history, that I have no idea when I came on board,” he laughs.

Scott adds, “Tadd showed up to help one day, and my dad wouldn’t let him leave.” As radio personality and storyteller Paul Harvey once coined, now you know the rest of the story regarding these cousins and entrepreneurs.

Scott and Todd Eads

Closeness is a huge component of what makes their combined efforts in business flourish. It’s also what Scott and Tadd admire about Fratco. The businessmen appreciate and value the way the company attends to their needs. Customers since the late ‘80s, the camaraderie the Eads feel with their current Fratco sales rep, Chris Calisto, makes their jobs installing pipe that much easier. To add a little more humor to the story, the Eadses report that, conveniently, all of their Fratco representatives through the years have been named “Chris.” “I think we are on Chris 3.0 by now,” they laugh.

When asked how the cousins were introduced to Fratco products, they were investigating different lines of pipe and took a long hard look at several manufacturers. The cost was a key factor, yet other items were essential to check off the list when choosing a partner. “We were comparing costs for a job,” Tadd shares, “and when it came down to price, value and customer service, Fratco was the only choice for us.”

The list of benefits stemming from the Eads’ relationship with Fratco is miles long, a lot like the pipe they’ve installed for customers over the years. Trust is built and earned in any relationship, whether it’s business or personal. Tadd is quick to interject what it is about Fratco and why they keep coming back for more pipe. “Fratco always stands behind their products—100%. That’s something we do in our business too. Those are the kind of people we want to work with.”

There is a reason family businesses tend to partner with one another. The thread of hard work and knowing that at the end of the day your name is above the door means everything to small businesses continuing to flourish. When the Eads ponder the Fratco qualities that keep them loyal customers, dependability is at the top of their list. “You can always count on your product showing up and to spec,” Scott testifies. “It’s rare, but when we need replacement pipe, they’re on it. If you have a problem, they make it right.”

Being vital contributors to your hometown is something both Fratco and the Eads family believe in. That’s why the business partners take
great pride in their work. They also care deeply about their community and giving back. They donate their time and talents to The Community Foundation of Wabash County to help revitalize their hometown. As with many other small towns, Lagro is going through a historical rehabilitation downtown. In the 1960s, 750 people called Lagro home. The last census showed that this town, which lies between Huntington and Wabash, reports just over 400 residents. Once prosperous as a transportation hub on the Wabash and Erie Canal, today’s Lagro advocates are dedicated to seeing the area resurge. Members who are passionate about improving the area have seen it happen in other small towns in Indiana and beyond. They believe Lagro is no exception. Scott, Tadd and their crews have installed new water and sewer lines and hauled gravel to the new River Walk site. While construction of some areas remains underway, a new public pavilion, biking trail, boat ramp and public restrooms are complete.

When you’re trusted and well known in your community, there is a sense of pride that permeates everything you do. From how Scott and Tadd divide work responsibilities to their equipment always being ready to go and in top form, they care about how they represent themselves to their customers. “When you’re around in business for a long time, it’s because you’re trusted in your community,” Scott shares. With each having their roles—Tadd handles farm drainage while Scott takes commercial and residential calls—it keeps them twice as productive in the town of Lagro they both love and call home.

2021 Resin Shortage

An update from Fratco President, Chris Overmyer

Industry-wide, customers who rely on resin suppliers to manufacture pipe are facing challenges. After reasonably consistent and predictable markets in 2019 and 2020, the forecast for 2021 was more of the same. With Asia and Europe expecting weak demand, America’s exports to these regions were supposed to be fairly small, allowing domestic PE supplies from Houston-area producers to remain stable and steady. As the saying goes, a “series of unfortunate events” unfolded, dealing pipe suppliers unforeseen realities. Saying everything changed overnight in resin production is not an understatement.

At the epicenter was an issue between the Mexican government and Braskem. Braskem is a Mexico-based PE producer who assisted Houston-area suppliers by taking a load off of exports over the last
few years. A dispute regarding natural gas costs led to the Mexican government shutting off the supply of natural gas to the plant—literally—in the middle of the night. This resulted in an immediate zero output of PE product and tipped the balance of supply and demand in the Gulf Region just enough to stabilize and even slightly increase PE prices in North America through the remainder of December; a surprise to everyone involved.

While prices inched up through January, Texas was about to encounter a deep freeze unlike anything they had experienced in modern history. To us in the Midwest, who spend half the winter deeply frozen, the news of impending Texas winter weather didn’t sound like a big deal. Yet as the kids say today, Texas is “built different.” Most residential buildings have electric heat pumps for climate control, for instance. The sudden demand for power crippled the electrical grid in Texas. The state’s rather outdated rules of not allowing some regional providers to share capacity with others brought some areas to a grinding halt. This led to many Texans being without heat or electricity for an extended period. Large industry wasn’t immune to this standstill. Larger small town-sized refineries and reactors that produce everything from gasoline to polyethylene were left idle.

At first, this pause in production didn’t seem alarming. After all, every hurricane season brings scares that lead to plant evacuation. Once the storm passes, the production lines are usually back up and running in a matter of days. Nobody expected the damage that freezing would cause to miles of cast-iron pipes that convey material through plants. When the freeze ended, thawed pipes and cast-iron valves had developed cracks and were rendered unusable. We now find ourselves weeks into a situation where 85% of US production of polyethylene is shut down. Once the smoke clears, there is no roadmap or timeline for full-capacity production.

Every major producer of polyethylene has declared force majeure. This means they’re no longer honoring any contractual supply obligations—they simply can’t. Think about it: From milk jugs to PPE, garbage bags to medical supplies, every company who relied on contracted, regular deliveries of prime PE are scrambling for material that isn’t available. Why? It isn’t there. These producers began bidding on the spot market for virgin material. This drove market prices well above the prime contracted price. The irony is that none of that material is available either. If you’re not making prime material, you’re definitely not making off-spec material either. This caused a rush to the recycled market, bidding the cost up to unprecedented prices in a short amount of time.

On behalf of Fratco, I apologize to you, our customers, for the inconvenience of this whole experience.

To say my team and I are deeply sorry feels like an understatement. We understand the difficulty that no market visibility and sudden, measurable price changes cause you, our loyal customers. In all transparency, there is no immediate end in sight to this situation. This means Fratco will be forced to price products according to raw material market conditions. Please understand the unprecedented crisis we find ourselves in nation-wide. This is much bigger than our corrugated pipe market. Other industries are not immune. The supply chain disruption has a huge ripple effect on everyone who relies on plastics. Within our industry, this situation affects those who are tirelessly working to restore resin production, the drivers who deliver it to our plants and our Fratco teams who continue producing the best pipe in the business.

I can make no overarching promises, yet you can count on one thing: Fratco will continue supplying you with the highest quality HDPE pipe and accessories through this situation. We cannot forecast what this will involve, how long it will last or when we will see market stabilization. While that may sound extreme, it is indeed the situation we all find ourselves in—together.

Humble regards,

Chris Overmyer

President and CEO

2021 Trends

Keep your eyes on these areas of agribusiness

Agriculture’s influence is global. Local and international growers and producers have a strong voice that sets the industry’s tone for the year. From career changes to choosing new crops to invest in, here are trends to keep an eye on in 2021.

NEW PEOPLE

Clock-punchers are leaving their 9-to-5 jobs for more meaningful careers, and ag will continue welcoming new employees and entrepreneurs into the fold. As established agribusiness owners—farmers and installers—begin eyeing retirement, this influx of industry newcomers fares well for both parties. Owners can mentor the next generation while workers gain both business and hands-on skills.

MORE ROI FOR SMALL FARMERS

Less than half of all farms in the U.S. are categorized as large operations. Compared to 2020, experts predict a 9% jump in growth and income for small farms. This bottom-line increase may leave room for investment
in new equipment, land improvements—such as drainage—and more employees. Expanding business opportunities, like agritourism or new product production, are also on the rise, adding to end-of-year profits.

HEMP FARMING

What’s the buzz? The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp as a viable crop, leaving nothing but opportunity when it comes to growing, selling and storing this booming crop. Needing less water and fewer pesticides to flourish than cotton, hemp fiber is a sustainable product to consider adding to growers’ portfolios. By 2025, hemp is expected to blossom into a $26.6B business, which can mean huge returns for Fratco contractors and their customers when it comes to additional field drainage.

TECH BOOM

When it comes to the advantages of tech, we have three highlights worth mentioning. Ag drones are here to stay: Their data is beneficial to farmers and installers who—literally—need to see the bigger picture out in the fields. Also, pinpointed weather forecasting is becoming increasingly more accurate, allowing better weather predictions locally so installs and harvests can beat the rain. Lastly, lightweight graphene is providing soil condition data to farmers relying on science to choose the best future crop for their soil conditions while monitoring current seedling growth.

SOCIAL MEDIA

If you’re not connected, you should be. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok help agribusinesses speak to their customer-base directly. Currently, 40% of all farmers are on Facebook, and they acknowledge that interacting on platforms connects people to their work’s importance and reaps marketing results. From posting videos of pipe installs to promoting a family farm day event, social media provides a look into farm and field life that many never see up close.

WATER USAGE

Agriculture uses 80% of all water in the United States. That’s why customers will continue installing pipe for long-term drainage solutions in tandem with water-saving practices. From creating eco-friendly water-routing systems to optimizing the time between planting and harvesting, Fratco knows agribusinesses are looking for ways to respect water sustainability while maintaining profitability. When customers are ready to put our pipe to work, we’re here to help!

New to Fratco – The UC 5XX

Innovation is the name of the game here at Fratco. That’s why we’ve partnered with Unicor to bring their newest technology to our production line. The UC 5XX is a flexible, powerful and efficient tool that allows a new level of throughputs and quality in flexible, small diameter, dual-wall pipe.

The UC 5XX is a marvel in corrugated pipe manufacturing. Compatible with the wide range of products Fratco offers our customers, this machine can pivot production quickly and easily, cutting turnaround time in half. It also gives Fratco total control of pressure and temperature, making it energy and time efficient.

Our partnership with Unicor is just another way Fratco is ramping up production and providing the high-quality, lasting drainage solutions you’ve come to expect.

Growing Beer

Harvesting New Opportunities in the Craft Beer Industry

Hops farmers and the craft beer industry are in a relationship, and it appears to be a long-term commitment.

Within our global economy, proximity partnerships have always been an agribusiness mainstay. Remaining hyperlocal doesn’t apply just to restaurateurs seeking freshly-sourced ingredients for an authentic farm-to-table experience. The same benefits apply to brewers desiring the only best ingredients for their craft beers. When it comes to hops—a key component that keeps beer fresher longer and adds to the aroma and taste—the demand is high for this crop’s accessibility within a brew master’s zip code. When the best of locally-grown ingredients meets neighborhood crafters, economies flourish, microbreweries produce quality products and beer lovers keep buying.

For many, enjoying beer has become an experience. Grabbing a beer and popping the tab isn’t what it used to be. Over the past 15 years, the momentum of brewing locally has surged with 85% of Americans living within 10 miles of their favorite brewery.

A BRIEF HISTORY

In 1648, a 45-acre Massachusetts hops provider ferried the product to a bay area settlement within the state for brewing. For 150 years, Massachusetts was the top-hops supplier until other areas of New England embraced the opportunity. By the mid-1800s, New York held the most extensive hops acreage. The eastern reign lasted decades until the Pacific Coast became a hops production dynasty. The temperate weather, fertile soil and plentiful access to natural irrigation sources in Oregon, Washington and California were perfect fertile ground. By 1990, Pacific Northwest hops farms dominated the industry.

Today, hops production isn’t limited to the Upper West Coast. Although 40% are grown in the northwest, opportunity abounds with smaller- scale farms meeting many local brewmasters’ needs. There are challenges to growing the crop in Midwestern fields: invasive bugs, plant disease, fickle weather and always having the right drainage in place for times of drought or plenty. Compared to other regions, the Midwest’s short winter days and unpredictable summer weather can make hops farming a challenge yet not impossible. Farmers from Nebraska to Ohio know how to grow—period—and they’re helping regional brewers challenge craft beer perceptions and palettes.

THE BUSINESS SIDE OF BEER

Despite obstacles, those who “grow beer” see it as a passion and a pocketbook decision. According to data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture and Reference, the number of craft breweries more than quadrupled from 2007 to 2017, increasing from 992 to over 4,000. By 2019, that number had more than doubled to 8,275. Craft breweries are independent operations producing 6 million barrels or less annually. As a whole, this small but mighty industry filled 26,347,950 barrels of craft beer, totaling revenues near $29.3 billion; a dollar amount that turns heads towards opportunity.

The ability to create unique combinations makes for diverse menus. That’s control many crafters love having. From jalapeños to sweet potatoes, the connection brewers have to their products gives them total liberty and freedom to experiment in small batches. They aren’t bound by a recipe book or board room to make space for new flavors on the menu. Although the more massive, mainstay beer makers claim 16% of the market, they have a signature style and loyal following all their own.

HOPS PRODUCTION

It’s not easy launching new crops, and hops is no exception. For those considering replacing or rotating it with corn or soybeans, experts say the flower isn’t as agile in diverse elements. The amount of water and nutrients hops relies upon to flourish is significant and that’s where having the right pipe installed comes into play. Wet root systems and hops are not a great agricultural combination. Before you plant, installing drainage systems is recommended to wisk unnecessary water away from the field. Growers can also utilize grass waterways and raised plant beds to assist in crop success.

Due to crop fragility, hail, strong winds and torrential rains can all damage hop flowers. Along with startup investment costs, harvesting, drying and processing can add up. However, demand continues driving the desire to grow hops. With the number of craft brewhouses increasing, this cash crop offers an alternative to growers, supplements their income and gives them a beer business “in.”

Beyond location and Mother Nature, a few other challenges remain. Small farms don’t have the luxury of dabbling in a little of this and a little of that when sowing their fields. It takes planning to procure the right produce, harvest the maximum yields and remain profitable. Some hops farms are becoming a one-stop-shop with an umbrella of businesses underneath them. Weighing the cost of purchase orders from variant brewers, many farmers consider what it would take to set up a farm-to-bottle operation: fields to farm, brewing facilities and a taproom to serve clientele. For some, the necessity and ingenuity stemmed from the “2008 Hops Crisis.” A shortage of hops and the climate’s havoc meant headaches for microbrewers who couldn’t gain access to it. The big players had first dibs—pick of the crop, if you will—while smaller brewers were left choosing between little or nothing at all. For many, that year was a game-changer, and they decided to secure all aspects in-house as growers, producers, bottlers and local taprooms.

THE BREWING SIDE OF BUSINESS

Pick any city, and you’ll find local brewpubs are not an anomaly. This has forced brewers and growers to distinguish themselves among the many. Both parties had to look no further than Wine Country as the model for inspiration.

People have travelled to Napa Valley for decades. They understand the magic in a glass sourced from the land they’re standing on. Beer aficionados can now do the same. Enjoy a regionally produced beer that reflects the best of the area’s ingredients, energy and people serving it. Licensed, farm-based breweries grow, create and serve beer on-site, providing an insider experience in an industry with a lot of competition for connoisseurs. Like a decade’s old family winery in Sonoma, yet beer fills the pilsners and flight glasses rather than a table white or red blend presented in long-stemmed glasses. Beer tasting rooms allow visitors to learn about its creation and history. They can also reach out and touch the hops growing in the field before their eyes—a magical experience.

Another perk to experiencing beers crafted in different regions is that each area is home to varying microbes. This is one reason why growing ingredients for seasonal brews, or “special runs,” is perfect. They reflect the region, time of year and local flavors—literally. No two beers may be reproduced perfectly, and that’s part of the charm. “What’s in season?” becomes more than just a question. It shapes the entire creation process and flavor profile of a brew.

THE CAMARADERIE

Farmers and independent brewers will continue influencing the market together. The partnership of growing and brewing local means intermediaries are at a minimum and simple planning happens over an IPA or cup of coffee. Both parties can explore the edges of craft beer ingenuity while relying heavily on the expertise of each other. There’s more to it than simply finding a reliable supplier or a customer who pays their product invoices in a timely manner. The trust that forms is critical. Growers and brewers count on, encourage and have a stake in their partner’s success. Fratco sees our relationships with employees and contractors in the same light. Long-term relationships build future opportunities, and we’re grateful for each and every one of our customers who’ve trusted us to continue producing the best pipe in the business, and our employees who make it happen.

Opportunity Knocks: Ty Sparrow, Dirt Works Drainage & Excavation LLC

Ty Sparrow learned at a young age that when opportunity knocks to quickly open the door before the moment might pass him by. Ty, the owner of Dirt Works Drainage & Excavation LLC, was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. As a young man, he launched his first business: lawn care and snow removal. Customers depended year-round on the grade-schooler
to keep their yards and driveways pristine. Ty’s drive and passion to keep hustling and moving ahead in business are what led him to become the hardworking, self-made Fratco partner he is today.

Ty was born and raised in Dwight, Illinois. Seventy-five minutes southwest of Chicago and an hour northeast of Bloomington, you’ll find this village in Livingston County, where close to 4,000 people call home. In 1854, railroad surveyors and engineers descended upon the area to establish a section of the Chicago-St. Louis railway. Not only did these men claim three-quarters of the acreage for themselves, but they also gave the small community its name. They chose to name the area Dwight, after Henry Dwight, a New York tycoon who heavily invested in the railway system. The original small-town charm remains, as do the familiar and friendly faces of those who’ve called Dwight home most of their life. It’s also how Ty was able to connect quickly to farmers who required drainage, continue his relationship with Fratco and build his business.

Ty began working in the drainage industry ten years ago. While attending college to earn degrees in automotive technology and engineering, evenings and weekends were spent helping a local contractor install pipe back home. Ty was a fast learner, enjoyed the work, and kept his business-ears open. “I heard him explain to prospective customers that he was at least two years out schedule-wise on installations, and there was no way he could fit the job into an already packed year. That’s when I realized there was money to be made and people who needed help in their fields sooner rather than later.”

Ty launched Dirt Works Drainage & Excavation LLC in 2016. “I started
the business with small, simple tile repair jobs and did a lot of juggling to take on bigger projects with very little equipment. Finally, I had enough jobs on the books and collateral in the bank to buy more machinery. My business just blew up from there.”

Ty began building a relationship with Fratco in those early days of working for another contractor. That was when he met Chad, his current sales rep. “My transition from working for someone to becoming my own boss was seamless with Fratco. I was already ordering pipe and making the calls for my former boss, so the day I launched my company and called in my order, I said, ‘Hey, I need pipe. And by the way, you can bill it to me.’” Ty remembers that once Chad’s shock and awe wore off, he congratulated him and quickly set him up with an account as an independent contractor—a milestone to celebrate indeed. “Fratco never misses a beat. They were ready and willing to back my business immediately,” he reflects.

When it comes down to why Fratco is the pipe of choice for Ty, he doesn’t mince words. “They just get it done. No matter what time of day—and it’s always late at night when I call— Fratco gets me exactly what I need, to spec, the next day.” Although he’s worked with farmers who ask about installing pipe manufactured by other companies, Ty is quick to tell them why sticking with Fratco is the way to go—period. “From beginning to end, Fratco always does it right, and when they have to, they make it right. Their reputation means everything to them as it does to me and my business.”

Time is money. Not only for farmers looking for water drainage solutions in their fields but also for the installers waiting on pipe to
be delivered. Ty hears from other drainage company reps frequently, asking him to give their product a shot. “The guarantees and customer service just aren’t there like they are with Fratco. Timelines matter in my business. When someone tells me that it’ll be two weeks or so before I can get delivery on product, that doesn’t work for my customers or me. Fratco always delivers to my jobsite with no guessing about when the truck will be there.”

When it comes to the benefits of working with a tried-and-true company like Fratco, Ty knows that along with longevity and solid construction, his customers are receiving the best pipe in the business. “Fratco’s product is top quality. It’s rare when I have an issue, but when I do, they make it right immediately with no questions asked.” A testament to Fratco’s long- standing truth that the technology and innovation that goes into our line of products matter, and when issues occur, making it right is what we do. “They stand by the integrity of their product. Fratco’s reputation means everything to them. Working with a company like that means they will do whatever they have to do at the end of the day to care for their customers,” Ty testifies.

The relationships Fratco builds with its contractors makes Ty feel like one of the family and not just another job number. Regular business hours are a foreign idea in the drainage industry. Long days in the field and calling in orders late at night are the norm. “When I call Fratco, someone always picks up the phone. I’m not sent to voicemail. I’m not told to call back between 9 and 5. They are ready and willing to fill my order for the next day.”

For customers looking for the best drainage pipe company to partner with, Ty says to look no further than Fratco. “They are straight shooters who have nothing but the best product available. There is no hemming and hawing around with the sales reps. They are friendly people who get the deal done and are happy to do whatever they can to get you what you need. There’s no back and forth. No empty promises.”

Downtime seems laughable to the man who has worked hard to build his company from the literal ground up. When Ty heads into town for dinner, relaxing is the last thing he’s able to do. “Work is always on my mind. Whether I see a customer out who wants to chat or someone who I’d like to do business with, I’m always in work mode and ready for that conversation,” Ty laughs.

With business booming, Ty has decided to add another employee into the mix: his mom. “I needed some help in the office, and it was the perfect time to bring Mom on board to help me clean up the mess in the office that I always seem to make.” Families working together is the thread that has kept many agribusinesses alive through the centuries and a common theme of the contractors Fratco has come to know and build relationships with. Their beginnings are humble, much like our own.

Ty Sparrow has an excellent head for business, is a man of his word and takes the utmost pride in his work. “I’ve been in this business since I was eighteen-years-old. It’s a part of my life, and I’m here to stay.” From a grade-school boy who mowed lawns and plowed snow to the successful businessman we see before us today, Fratco knows nothing is ahead but more opportunity for Ty and Dirt Works Drainage & Excavation. We’re honored to be a part of his story.

Meet Chad Nicholson

Chad Nicholson could be defined by many outstanding numbers. Nineteen years with Fratco. Three regions served. One unfailing passion for helping customers. But working at Fratco, Chad doesn’t feel like just a number— he feels like part of the family.

As the self-proclaimed jokester on Fratco’s sales team, Chad was a natural fit on his first day. From cracking jokes with coworkers to hitting the pavement and talking with contractors about what they need to get the job done right, he’s always loved his work. “There’s always new people to meet, new projects to work on, new products to share. There’s never a dull moment

working at Fratco.”

But Chad didn’t begin his career with Fratco. Working
on farms and factory lines, Chad learned the rewards of hard work early on and believed in the need for good, honest leadership within the agricultural industry. In 2001, Chad worked under different leadership at what is now Fratco’s St. Anne plant. “I was nervous when Fratco bought us out. I was afraid I wouldn’t like my new bosses. I was afraid of becoming just another number,” he shares. But what Chad found in the new owners was just what he was looking for: a family business that cared about him and the customers he worked with every day.

“Fratco has always treated their employees like family, their customers with respect, and they’re one of the only companies who backs their products 100%,” Chad says. That pride and confidence in Fratco and the products they produce is part of what makes his job that much more rewarding. “I’m very proud to work for this company. You want to be that force to be reckoned with, and Fratco is definitely that. From plant workers to yard guys, everyone works tirelessly to serve our customers well.”

Chad isn’t content, though. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” is a mantra he and Fratco truly believe in. Every day, employees like Chad show up ready to make and sell products that are constantly being innovated and improved. They show up ready to learn and make operations more efficient and rewarding for Fratco and their customers. “We’re not just collecting paychecks. When you’re treated like family and given all these opportunities, you work harder and become a
better employee.”

He believes Fratco is growing exponentially and in the right direction. “Right now, a lot of tile manufacturers are running out of pipe, but Fratco is still able to serve our loyal customers and help their operations grow. We’re taking care of our people during this crazy time, and that makes me proud of where we’re at and where
we’re going.”

Our employees and customers are a huge part of that growth. As Chad continues to serve contractors in Central and Northern Illinois, as well as Southern Wisconsin, we’ll continue to make pipe that serves their needs and can withstand the test of time.