Managing Stress in the World of Farming

Farmers feed the world. From sunrise to sunset, they care for the land, tend to animals, and work hard to maintain what they steward. Pressures can mount when you consider what providing food for the planet means. From readying crops for harvest and keeping livestock healthy to looming drought and wringing hands over commodity prices at the market, these concerns barely scratch the surface of what growers and producers face every day. Is it any wonder that those responsibilities can feel, at times, like carrying 100 yards of pipe alone?

Agribusiness Stressors

Coronavirus, shifts in climate, and trade disruptions have not steered clear of agriculture. There is increased uncertainty for many who need to make day-to-day business decisions based on here and now facts without a direct link to future events. Farmers and laborers rank number one in stress-related illnesses that cause death such as heart disease, hypertension, and nervous disorders. 1-in-4 farmers reported turning to opioids without a prescription, abusing prescription narcotics, or labeled themselves as addicted to painkillers. These statistics may not be surprising when considering what many growers contend with on the job. Worn machinery, making payroll, and staying technologically current in rural areas meet the human being with personal concerns. Without a healthy outlet for stress and anxiety, problems can multiply like rabbits.

To say that many factors weigh heavily on the shoulders of those in our line of work—like our Fratco employees, partners and their customers—is an understatement. Life is an equal opportunity stress-provider. However, there are ways to manage pressures when professional and personal headaches grow, and it all begins with awareness.

Stress and the Industry

Our line of work comes with caution and concern for safety, which can weigh heavily on the mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that agriculture ranks near the top of hazardous industries with 24 out of 100,000 full-time farmers, ranchers, and other industry-specific employees experiencing fatality in the workplace, compared to 3.5 work-related deaths for every 100,000 people holding civilian positions.

In a 2019 interview with Anna Hastert for Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network, Michael Rosmann, a University of Iowa psychologist and fellow farmer, saw a better understanding and acceptance of mental health measures in today’s farmer versus those battling economic, political and weather-related woes thirty to forty years prior. “Farmers have a better understanding of stress—what causes pressure on farmers, what the symptoms of stress are—and they are able to talk about these matters more openly than they did in the 1980s,” Rosmann said.

We are farther ahead today in recognizing stress, yet it’s no secret that rural access to mental health services can be limited at best.. Legislation is working to change that. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, or the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, a portion of funds supports the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. This program addresses concerns by providing collaborative funding and support. It lends a financial hand to new growers, those who are socially disadvantaged and need help launching their agribusiness career, and also to veterans who farm by providing mentorship and grant opportunities. This legislation offers a respite and a revamping of programs and dollars to alleviate some stress-induced pain points.

Stress-overload Warning Signs

Knowing stress-related warning signs when they bubble to the surface helps combat the slippery slope of dealing with stress negatively. Warning signs differ from person to person. Extreme changes in mood or personality are vital indicators. Is your happy-go-lucky pal now extremely quiet or missing standing breakfast meetings on Mondays? Once slow to anger, do they now boil over with frustration? Have there been any considerable life changes or problems at home or work that seem to be taking a toll? All questions to consider in context and to the degree they interfere with life.

Stress excludes no one. Learning to deal with life’s hurdles positively and productively means heading off feelings of despair or anxiety before they take over our thoughts, moods—our lives. Living, working, and playing are all aspects of ourselves that never equally balance. Sometimes those with the strongest of hands, hearts and souls need someone to confide in as well as listen judgement-free.

Ways to Combat Stress

At Fratco, we want to help you become familiar with ways to manage stress. Having programs, policies, and access to help is essential to combat our industry’s overwhelming stress levels. Recognizing alarm-sounding anxiety or worry in others and yourself is the first step. Next is having a quiver of tools and resources to turn to.

As simple as it sounds, sometimes relaxing is as easy as breathing deeply. Take a few moments to breathe in deeply and exhale fully. Be aware of tension in your body then try letting it go. Rather than focusing on what’s eroding your peace of mind, remember that you control how you react to challenging times, situations, and people. Concentrate on switching off negative thoughts about yourself or others the moment they begin. Rough patches come just as quickly as they can go. It’s all in how you choose to react and bounce back from stressors.

A positive mindset can make all the difference. If work-related worries cause alarm, it’s time to sort out what can be controlled and what cannot. Installing pipe is a specific way you can deal with crop health and drainage. Mother Nature works on her terms, not ours, meaning we cannot control her. Ignoring business complications does not enhance your work. Partnering with others for help and mentorship is taking control of your business. Rather than build up tension and anxiety over work concerns keeping you up at night, reach out to agribusiness resources or extension offices and tap into their expertise. Challenging times are going to happen. A healthy mindset makes all the difference in moving forward and problem-solving to rise above.

Recognizing Stress in Others

Listening quietly and with our full attention is the first step to lending a hand. Be all ears as to what is happening rather than only taking notice to fix issues. Every person and problem is unique, even if the theme of the situation is universal. Unless asked for advice, try not to inject personal stories into the conversation. Empathy is a gift you can give to someone who has opened up about their feelings and struggles. They are trusting you with vulnerability. In turn, give them your full focus. These conversations can be challenging whether you’re listening or opening up about your struggles. No matter how difficult, processing what’s causing worry, then making a plan to move forward, is essential.

Fratco wants to help reduce stress-stigma, share resources and shine a spotlight on mental health awareness. If you or someone you know is overwhelmed, you do not have to navigate it alone. 

Resources for Managing Stress

Managing Farm Stress – Michigan State University Extension offers mental health and stress management resources geared towards agribusiness owners and employees.

Resilient Farms, Families, Businesses & Communities The University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension provides stress management resources for those in the industry.

TransFARMation – Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network present radio and podcast series topics centered on coping with stress.

For immediate and confidential help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Conquering Wide-Open Spaces: Maxwell Farm Drainage

When you consider the storied history of Bart Maxwell’s family, the slogan for his hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana says it all: “Small City…Big Possibilities.” Forty-nine miles west of the state capital and home to Wabash College, Crawfordsville was founded in 1832 along the banks of Sugar Creek, a southern tributary of the Wabash River and named for then-U.S. Treasury Secretary, William H. Crawford. It’s also where you’ll find Maxwell Farm Drainage: a Fratco partner that prides itself as a company of value, integrity and relationship building.

Bart is the fourth generation of Maxwell descendants installing pipe in and around Montgomery County. In 1910, his great grandfather, Alexander Maxwell, and Great Uncle Silas began laying clay tile and constructing small bridges. Before Alexander and Silas made a massive machinery investment, all digging was done by shovel with some assistance from a few horses. Back-breaking work not for the faint of heart.

Bart Sr. and his cousin Mike purchased the company in 1965 from three of Alexander’s eleven children who maintained the family business: Jack, Birle and Walter. Not long after, Mike was drafted into the Vietnam War, leading Bart Sr. to purchase his shares. When Mike returned, he formed Maxwell Well Drilling in Darlington, Indiana. “People tease us all the time that Mike finds the water around here, I get rid of it, and that means the Maxwell’s are the most powerful family around. We control all the water,” Bart Maxwell laughs.

The struggles of farmers in the 1980s due to drought and economic undercurrents carried over into the industries serving them, including Maxwell Farm Drainage. The once-booming company began struggling as customers were consumed with saving their farms—their livelihoods. Bart Sr. regrouped. He chose to run lean and stay conservative with his zest for big business coming to a close. As Bart considers what his dad may think of where the second oldest Midwestern drainage company stands today, he believes Bart Sr. would be in awe. “In the beginning, when I worked long hours, he would have thought I was crazy. Now? I think he would be extremely proud to see that we’re still a family business and going strong.”

Bart Maxwell Sr.

A 1999 graduate of Wyoming Technical Institute, Bart was eager to traverse wide-open spaces and explore the corners of the United States. He took a position traveling the eastern region as a heavy equipment technician repairing massive and challenging equipment. This was just the ticket the Indiana native was looking for. At the age of twenty-four, a phone call changed everything. Bart’s father, Bart Sr., died unexpectedly while moving machinery to a job site. The young, grieving man packed up his things and returned home to Crawfordsville.

With an estate to manage and unfinished drainage jobs to complete, customers invested their wisdom into the son who had just lost his father. They convinced Bart to pick up where Bart Sr. left off and lead Maxwell Farm Drainage. Bart’s most significant influence during these formative years? Former Fratco president Steve Overmyer. Their relationship transcended business. “Steve not only sold me pipe, but he was also my first phone call for everything after my dad died. He gave me a feel for the market, when it was really time to upgrade my equipment, if I should hire more people—you name it. He made sure my needs were always met.”

Maxwell Farm Drainage entrance sign

The voice on the phone at Fratco has changed over the years with Steve passing the presidential and CEO reins onto his son, Chris Overmyer. Yet the way Fratco cares for their contractors remains. “Chris has done an incredible job growing and innovating the company. Chris and I have a lot in common,” Bart muses. “Good upbringings created great foundations in both of us to grow and expand our companies.”

And grow as a businessman Bart Maxwell has. Maxwell Farm Drainage has solidified itself as a Midwestern mainstay in the agricultural community. The company found its sweet spot focusing on one client category only: farmers. “We’ll do just about anything to help our agriculture-based clients. That’s what we know, what we do best, and those customers understand they are always our top priority,” Bart proudly states.

Today’s innovation and technology have driven Bart Sr.’s namesake to expand and invest in new areas of business. With a self-professed love of “tinkering with things,” Bart merged his ingenuity and fondness for making things work better with his desire to help pipe installers work smarter. That’s how Bart’s newest company was born. Maxwell Drainage Innovations, a separate entity from Maxwell Farm Drainage, is the brainchild of Bart and his fabricator and partner, Jarrod Zachary. “We wanted to create attachments for drainage machines that speed up and streamline the installation process. Making it easier for everyone out in the field is what it’s all about,” Bart shares.

Years ago, fresh out of high school, Jarrod’s talent as a welder and fabricator were immediately evident to Bart. “Jarrod and I began building some crazy things on machines. Just for kicks, we uploaded our videos to YouTube. People watched, commented that they loved what they saw, then started asking if we could build things for them, too.” What was first a hobby soon became a cross-country business. This outlet allows Bart to reengage his original passion for working on large equipment. He’s returned to traversing the country, helping others and making new friends along the way. “Drainage contractors are kindred spirits. Seeing how they tackle their businesses only makes me better at my profession,” he affirms.

Connecting with those in the business—building strong relationships—is just one of the many reasons Bart remains a loyal Fratco contractor and installer. “Although my dad started doing business with Fratco towards the later part of his career, they were with me at the start of mine as I borrowed all the money a twenty-four year old possibly could and picked up where my father left off.” The now seasoned entrepreneur values Fratco’s personal touch. It’s one of the many reasons he never hesitates to recommend the product. “You know that every foot of pipe Fratco delivers will always be up to par and meet your specs,” Bart states.

As someone who understands what it’s like to stand behind your work, Bart knows Fratco cannot be matched. “Other companies make fine products, but there’s so much more that goes into choosing what manufacturer you want to work with: knowledgeable sales staff, quality pipe and knowing they make sure it’s right when it leaves the factory. Fratco also puts a lot of time and energy into technology and testing. That matters to me and my customers.”

Family businesses run on determination, love, patience and a lot of elbow grease. Bart’s wife, Joellen, embodies those traits and more. She’s an active part of the business and the perfect partner in life for Bart. Daughter Chloe and her mom try to make Bart take a breather now and then, yet Bart admits it’s a challenge for them. “We had a family vote recently about buying a boat. The tally was two-to-one. As you can imagine, I was the no vote,” Bart laughs as he recalls being overruled by the women in his life.

If you visit the Maxwell Farm Drainage company website, you’ll find an older video of machinery in the field driven by a pro. As the cab door comes into view, a spritely young thing behind the wheel smiles and asks, “How’d I do, Daddy?” This moment will steal your heart because Chloe Maxwell, like the Maxwells before her, is a natural in the field. Currently a freshman at Purdue University studying agricultural business, this future fifth-generation owner of Maxwell Farm Drainage has Bart and Joellen’s unwavering support. The wide open spaces of future agricultural opportunity Bart envisions exploring now include working alongside his daughter. Fratco will continue to be there for Bart and Chloe Maxwell, helping them, as we help all of our clients, serve the needs of their customers out in the field.

Meet Jackie Sanchez

If you ask Jackie Sanchez what she loves most about working at Fratco, there is no hesitation in her response: “Things are different around here every day. One day? Chaotic. The next? Quiet and calm. I like that,” Sanchez laughs.

Sanchez, who has been with the company at their Francesville location for close to four years, wears two hats: Safety Administrator and Plant Assistant. Two distinct yet complementary positions leave her fielding plenty of responsibilities. “I make sure everyone stays safe and works smart,” she shares. Keeping tabs on the latest OSHA and CDC recommendations regarding COVID-19 added an extra layer of guidelines and policies to a role where safety always remains priority one. “With COVID, we immediately implemented more cleanliness—washing hands—and required masks to be worn whether working in the plant or meeting with customers.” Fratco continues to work hard by communicating with employees and contractors on the importance of protecting one another. “It’s important we continually show how much we care by not potentially exposing others or people they love to illness.”

For many, working at Fratco feels like being alongside family. The atmosphere is close-knit and caring. There’s a genuine vibe of wanting to know coworkers on a level that goes deeper than smiling politely and nodding as you pass by. Sanchez teases that sometimes they may be a little too much like siblings. “I hear all the time from new employees, ‘Is that your brother?’ when they see some of us teasing each other,” she laughs. This connective thread is not something Sanchez has always experienced in the workplace. “It’s different at Fratco. Everyone is easy to talk to, flexible and understanding. They remember the details about your life and family, and when they ask how you’re doing it’s genuine.”

Sanchez joined Fratco after a career in management and hospitality. She’s thankful for the opportunities Fratco provides employees to move forward in their careers. “Every company wants to grow and have a vision. Then there are the companies who know that investing in their people is the way to ensure a great corporate future. That’s what you’ll find at Fratco.”
When asked why customers choose Fratco over other companies, Sanchez knows the reason. “I hear over and over from contractors that we make the best pipe,” she proudly affirms. Plant visitors and guests are shocked at the news that their tour guide—Sanchez—has never worked a day on the line yet knows what goes into making every foot of Fratco pipe. “‘But you’re so full of knowledge!’ they’ll say, surprised. I have to know every detail of what it takes to construct Fratco-quality products because it’s my job to,” she explains.


It’s a Family Affair: Jim and Wendy Jett

Just south of Sandusky Bay’s shores along Lake Erie lies the city of Clyde. A cozy area in Northern Ohio that served as the inspiration for a collection of short stories penned in 1919 by Sherwood Anderson and whose tree-lined streets were renowned by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Clyde is also the place where, in 1900, Bower Tiling Services Inc. was born. A four-generation-strong, family company currently owned by Fratco clients, Jim and Wendy Jett and Jack Bower.

At the turn of the century, Wendy’s great-grandfather, George W. Bower, founded the company with a dream and a steam-powered Buckeye Trencher. “My dad says his grandfather would be in awe of today’s progress in the farm drainage industry,” Wendy shared. George installed both clay and concrete tiles during his days in the field with his boys, Richard and William. Both men would later become business partners with their father. George retired before he witnessed the actual evolution of clay to resin pipe engineered by Fratco and installed on all Bower job sites today. Plastic pipe—an idea George considered pretty far-fetched. “He thought it would never work!” Wendy emphasized, also noting that her great-grandfather would be pretty amazed at the innovation and technology of today’s Fratco products.

Around 1955, Richard purchased his brother William’s shares of Bower Tiling Service, three years before George retired. Richards’ sons, Jack and Tom, joined the company in 1964. Jack Bower is Wendy’s father. Her memories run deep and wide of visiting her grandfather, dad, and uncle out in the fields as they worked. The business is intertwined with her life as she’s always known it. “I have grown up in this business. It’s a part of who I am,” Wendy reminisced, recalling her family history. “And then I dragged Jim into it, that lucky guy,” she chuckled.

Jack Bower working alongside his brother Tom.

Richard Bower, Wendy’s grandfather, retired in 1976. After seeing a need to provide quality, secondary market Inter-Drain plows, trenchers, and replacement parts, Wendy’s father and uncle formed Great Lakes Inter-Drain Inc. in 1985. Eventually, with two booming businesses, the brothers felt it best that each run one company rather than divvy up responsibilities for both companies betwixt them. Jack, who still holds the office of president at Bower Tiling to this day, devoted himself solely to the tiling business while Tom took the reins of Great Lakes in 1995. Wendy and Jim became the fourth family-owners of Bower Tiling. The couple began presiding over both companies in 2015 when Jack and Tom retired from day-to-day operations of Bower’s Tiling Service and the retitled Bower’s Great Lakes Inter-Drain. Wendy marveled at the thought of what she and Jim now manage today. “It makes us proud to be a part of something that’s been around for so long. It comes with great responsibility to maintain our reputation and quality of work that area farmers have come to know.”

This Ohio mainstay is nothing but a family affair. Amongst the employees, you’ll find Jack’s sister-in-law, Michelle Picciuto, in the office. Nephew Nick Bower works side-by-side on-site with Jim and are joined by Jack and Seth Jett, Jim and Wendy’s twin sons. Their daughter, Julia, helps in the office whenever possible. If you call to inquire about an order, you may find Wendy’s dad, Jack, on the line answering customers’ calls from around the country concerning equipment and parts. “My dad is ‘retired,’” Wendy mused, “yet he’s in the office, or the shop, every day.”  Wendy manages the offices and bookkeeping.Not an easy task with two thriving companies between the couple. Wendy offers some sage advice for those running a family business. “When you work together, it can be almost impossible not to take what happens at work home with you. Try to be understanding and supportive of each other, and spend time away from work, together, whenever you can.” 

Jim and Wendy know their success stems from teaming with family and by offering only one company’s complete line of products to their customers: Fratco’s. “I know when something works and when it doesn’t,” Jim affirmed. As vice president and co-owner of the company, he has tried out various product lines since his 1996 entry into the business; the year Wendy joined as well. 

Daily, you’ll find Jim and his crew installing only Fratco systems and products for his farming customers. “Fratco is a contractor’s pipe company,” he explained. “They understand exactly what works and what doesn’t in agricultural drainage.” Growers need pipe that endures and works in tandem with the soil’s terrain no matter what crop is harvested from their fields. Something Jim testifies to after installing many systems over the past 24 years. When it boils down to why of all possible manufacturers he could align the Bower company name with, only Fratco will do. “Their quality and loyalty are what matters to me the most.” Jim goes on to share how their company values align with those long held by Fratco. “Products have to work the first time they’re installed. We stand behind the product from day one just as Fratco stands behind what they produce. That’s why we work exclusively with them. They value their customers in agriculture, and we value ours.”

If there was only one reason why this power duo would recommend Fratco products, Jim testifies that the company’s customer service is heads and tales above all the rest. “With the few issues I’ve ever had, they remedied early the next morning, if not that day.” The Jetts credit that speediness to their Fratco sales rep, Paul, who’s known to meet Jim—literally—at all hours of the day to make it right and deliver product. “The service they provide is the best. Paul, our Fratco sales rep, goes out of his way to get us what we need. He will come to the shop at four o’clock in the morning with pipe. It’s a two-hour drive to us from his home. He’s always there, for all of his customers, and you just can’t beat that.”

The Jett’s relationship with Fratco blossomed from acquaintances to dedicated installers, yet it did not occur overnight. Instead, it was cultivated over the years by running into the same sales rep, Gabe, at field days and conventions. By the time Jim took the leap and gave Fratco products a whirl, Paul had stepped into the role once held by Gabe. “Gabe was so kind, personable, and always trying to get Jim to buy Fratco pipe for a long time,” Wendy laughed. The irony wasn’t lost on Gabe who was thrilled Paul was gaining the Jetts as clients. “Gabe said while laughing, ‘I tried to get you to buy this pipe for years, and when I leave, now you start buying?’” Wendy recalled. 

Paul is more than just a sales rep to the Jetts. He’s become a dear friend. Not only did Jim and Wendy attend his wedding, Paul’s son has visited Jim out in the field. A little one’s dream: to experience what must seem like giant-sized toy tractors and trucks. Rest assured, with thanks to Gabe’s persistence, Paul’s friendship and service, and Fratco’s commitment to standing behind their product it’s safe to say this family will be working with Fratco for generations to come.

Jim Jett and a future Fratco salesperson in training.

Meet Cheryl Owens

After starting her career 28 years ago and now serving as the Francesville first-shift supervisor, few know Fratco as well as Cheryl Owens. Speaking of her time with the company, one word comes up over and over again: family. 

When Owens battled stage four liver cancer, her Fratco family showed up. “They were right there by my side the whole time,” she said of her coworkers and management team. “They really put their hearts out to me.” After beating cancer and returning to work full-time, Owens was happy to see the smiling faces of her closest friends and colleagues. “I have a good crew,” she touts.

For Owens and her crew, producing high quality pipe for customers is the highest priority. “We’re always making sure the product is being produced correctly and going out the door. If I don’t like it, customers are not going to like it.” This commitment to producing quality products shows in Fratco’s ability to grow and expand as a trusted name in the drainage industry. But Fratco hasn’t always been the large operation Owens now helps to oversee.

Sitting in Fratco’s new and expansive breakroom, she recounts what the plant was like when she started nearly three decades ago. “It’s crazy watching all the other locations pop up. The first one in Illinois was like, ‘Oh, wow, we have another location.’ Then Iowa, then another in Iowa. It’s a growing thing.” The dedication of employees like Owens has helped Fratco grow from one factory with two production lines to four locations producing the industry’s most innovative products. Owens foresees even more growth, both for Fratco and for herself.

“I started 28 years ago. I was a mother of two kids coming straight out of babysitting other children. I have grown with everything Fratco’s done here in the last 28 years. Every new thing that has come, I have grown and adapted with it. We’re one big company working together, no matter where your location is.” This investment in innovative products as well as a commitment to growing their workforce spring from Fratco’s family-owned roots. 

“I don’t know how other companies are, but Fratco is a family atmosphere. Chris will walk through the plant, and he knows everyone by name. He’s always got a good joke—if you’ve got time to hear it.” Owens says that through every up and down, Fratco has prioritized her, not just the product. “I really enjoy what they’ve done for me and my family. Over the 28 years, I’ve raised two children while working here, put one through college, and they have been family through it all.”

So for those considering a job with Fratco? “Do it,” Owens says. “Take the time, we give you the training. Once you learn it, it’s just a rhythm. Tile is never-ending.” So, as the industry and demand grow, so will Fratco’s trusted family of people like Owens who work hard and do right by customers.

Grow More. Use Less.

Why conserving water now matters for Earth’s future.

We are the caretakers of our natural resources; they’re essential for survival. The two at the very top of the list are soil and water. Let’s talk about soil for a moment. It’s what we move to install pipe, enrich it to grow food, and soil also holds within its layers the foundation of the places we call home. We also source materials from the ground to generate energy. Without it? Well, oxygen, heat, and water in our ecosystem would alter and drastically tailspin the world as we know it. Speaking of water, that lands at the number one spot of significant, all-natural resources. Life wouldn’t exist without it. We drink it, utilize it to grow food, and we’re also depleting it faster than it’s being replenished.

According to the Water Education Foundation, agriculture as an industry is the largest consumer of water. 70% of the freshwater used is traced back to this industry alone. Predictions from researchers show that the year 2030 will bring a shortfall. And as our climate continues to change, scientists see the difference between available supply and demand for water having a 40% deficit on the supply side of things. A predictor that should give us all pause when areas of the globe are already experiencing a daily lack of access to ample water. Is it possible to put the brakes on and stop this from happening? How can we make changes now to avert the way the world is trending?

We’re entrusted with the land that must sustain future generations. How can we use less water to grow more? Moreover, how can we utilize what we have and unleash its potential in times of plenty and drought? Because we have a collective role in agriculture—from growers to installers—our say means something when it comes to responsible stewardship. Natural resources are just that—resources that come to us naturally. Not human-made, but by way of Mother Nature, meaning we cannot reproduce them synthetically. What we are given is finite.

There are many reasons why farmers do not solely rely on rain to water their fields. Automated pivot systems, drip or micro-irrigation, sprays and sprinklers, sub-irrigation, and surge flooding provide watering solutions when precipitation is sparse. Controlled application methods add additional hydration where and when it’s needed. The type chosen depends on the location, climate, crops grown, and access to excess water supplies. Depending on the type of system selected, crop yield can be affected no matter how efficient a system is. The beauty of installing drainage systems is water is at the ready when your land demands it and holds onto it for safekeeping when it doesn’t. Think of drainage systems as a method of water recycling. Water that’s harnessed and reused at its fullest potential is conservation in action, and that leads toward sustainability.

Jerry Hatfield, the director of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, spoke candidly in a piece for Successful Farming about climate change and its water-related impact. Hatfield notes that the Midwest’s system of agriculture is predicated on times when summer rainfall accumulation was something we could count on. “Our summer rainfall is going to become less reliable. Precipitation patterns are changing with more spring rainfall and more variable summer precipitation.” Forecasts of heavy, one-day rainfalls, as well as an increase in the average number of days with zero precipitation, are no longer an anomaly.  

Drainage systems balance water quality and agricultural productivity. That’s no secret to those who not only want excess water off their site but also want an efficient way to utilize it on demand. Using pipe to reroute water prevents problems before they arise. You know exactly where water is needed and where it needs to be diverted. Conserving and saving water leads to the sight of success growing—literally—for some in their fields. Economically, it makes dollars and sense to get the most out of your site while improving the acreage already occupied. Transforming the way water affects your site puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to reaping the benefits of stored water. Better drainage means better use of the land’s functioning for your specific needs.

Protecting resources means dedication to all things water: rain, drainage, and how much we use to fill our tea kettles or even take showers. Regions that are already water-stressed need solutions now as the issue will only continue to ramp up. Our drainage-utilizing community has worked in sync to provide tactical solutions for clients—a huge benefit to everyone from growers, to installers, to our planet.

Different soils have different needs. That’s why one Fratco pipe doesn’t fit all. There’s much to consider: soil quality and nutrients, the topography of the land, climate, along with the type of crops grown and how they’re rotated. Drainage systems reduce the work of farmers while increasing benefits to Planet Earth. Irrigation efficiency means every drop of water saved is a resource for later—a natural resource. Water scarcity is a real issue in the United States, not just for those living abroad. We can look to our friends in California to get a sense of what a lack of rainfall and torrential pours can, unfortunately, bring to a specific area.

Take advantage of storing more rainwater. Rather than it becoming an afterthought, install rain barrels to work in tandem with your pipe. Stretches of rainy days can quickly turn into periods of drought. When your redirected water stores begin running low, you have a backup plan for irrigation. Rain barrels are a small investment now that could fill a vast need later.

When we work together, collaboration brings motivation to work towards better solutions. It takes a collective effort to conserve precious natural resources. There’s a mutual, communion-like relationship between people and the Earth. Our planet provides a plethora of resources to sustain us, and in return, we care for our world so it will keep on giving. It’s how the cycle goes and grows. For some, water conservation is a natural part of their business practices. As automatic as reaping a harvest or installing a system. For others, it stretches preconceived ways of thinking and has become a new priority. One thing is sure: Saving water and using it responsibly is something that benefits not one, but all. Even the smallest of redirection now will have a positive effect on the future’s water supply—something we must provide for our not-so-distant future selves.

Better Together: How Manske LLC Became Family

It’s a known fact that Fratco would not be here without its loyal customers. This is a sentiment expressed by employees across every location. But sometimes, the inverse is true, and Fratco is able to make an equally profound impact on its customers. 

Manske LLC, located in Le Sueur, Minnesota, is one of Fratco’s largest customers and distributors, though they did not start out that way. When the owner of Manske LLC, Ron Manske, was first introduced to Fratco in 2012, he was selling golf carts. He heard rumors of Fratco opening a plant in Iowa and through a mutual friend of Fratco salesman Alan Kruzska, knew they were looking for a distributor in Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota. Having previously been a salesman for a competing drainage supplier, he had bought fittings from Fratco and knew of the high quality products they produced. He had the knowledge of the industry and an insatiable desire to provide for his family.

Kruzka encouraged Manske to join him at an engineering show at Iowa State University. Manske decided to attend the show to meet Kruzka and within an hour and a half the deed was done. 

“They shook my hand and made us a distributor,” said Manske. “They took a big chance on us. I didn’t have a lot of collateral or receivables. But there was trust in that handshake between Fratco and Manske LLC.”

Eight years after that fateful handshake, Manske’s business is booming. What started as he and his wife, Dana Mankse, hauling pipe on a golf cart trailer hitched to the back of a Ford Escape has evolved into a 15-truck and trailer fleet with five full-time employees. They have accumulated an impressive customer base who are incredibly loyal. So much so, that they refuse to work with other drainage suppliers, even if that means shifting their schedules or switching products.

“Once the customer uses our product and experiences our service, the loyalty and the honesty that we receive from them is the best,” said Manske. “I’ve even had a couple customers that knew they couldn’t get their product from us because it involved sizes that we didn’t carry. Instead of going to one of my competitors who was closer to them, they waited until we could get their products in stock and switched to a different job that we could help with in the meantime. They say, ‘Nobody treats us like you do.’”

This loyalty is something to covet as it is not easily won. For Manske LLC, that means they can be reached 24/7 to ensure any issues are resolved and any order can be fulfilled as quickly as possible. While it is unconventional and many companies are weary of being open seven days a week, Manske explains it helps to keep them competitive. Plus, with a team as passionate about service as Manske’s, they are happy to do it for their customers.

Speaking of customers, one of Manske LLC’s biggest customers is a company owned by Manske’s younger brother, Bill. When Manske first started distributing Fratco products, Bill was thrilled because he was aware of Fratco’s overwhelmingly positive reputation and jumped at the opportunity to start taking pipe orders. Bill has connected Manske LLC to a number of new customers over the years and has supported his brother in countless ways. Without him, Manske asserts the company would not be as successful as they are today.

Another important aspect of Manske’s success is the cohesive team behind the operation. Manske stresses that Manske LLC would not be the same without his wife leading the charge, his son, Ben, by his side and the rest of his team working collectively to reach their goals. While his other son, Matt, lives in North Carolina, Manske acknowledges that he has been a huge supporter of the company’s success.

Manske also considers Fratco to be an incredibly crucial member of this team. Their partnership with Fratco has worked remarkably well, largely because of a shared vision of family, quality and going the extra mile for their customers.

“There are so many instances where Fratco went the extra mile for us,” said Manske. “If they know a customer has a purchase order and we are limited on time, they are so quick to act. They’ve brought it out of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and St. Anne, Illinois. They’ve brought it out of their headquarters in Francesville, Indiana, too. These guys have gone above and beyond to supply products to our customers, even if it means loading up the truck and sending it out the next day just make our customers happy. You won’t find that many places.”

The pairing of these two companies is successful because they see eye-to eye on a fundamental level. With both companies placing family at the forefront, their customers ultimately become part of their respective families. That means doing everything in their power to make sure a job is done well, and working effectively to solve problems as quickly as possible should they arise.

Manske’s appreciation for Fratco extends beyond customer service. He expressed his gratitude for Fratco’s devotion to maintaining the quality of their products. Manske is proud to say he’s a distributor for Fratco because he knows the processes Fratco has in place, from sourcing the materials to quality checks throughout the entire manufacturing process, allow for only the best pipe to make it into the ground.

“The best quality pipe in the world is right here and it points to Fratco, and it has for many years,” said Manske. “They’re almost a hundred years old and that’s evident in what they’re doing. They are incredibly quality-conscious which truly makes for a superior product.”

Before Manske LLC was established and he worked as a salesman for another pipe company, he didn’t get the same amount of positive feedback as he does with Fratco. With Fratco, when customers call unexpectedly, it is rarely to express dissatisfaction; it’s almost always to order more pipe. Manske is convinced without Fratco’s commitment to quality, Manske LLC would not be experiencing the success they are today.

Manske LLC has now helped to encourage Fratco’s expansion, specifically through the construction of their new Algona plant, and Fratco has bolstered Manske through the highs and lows of the last eight years. The mutual respect between these companies has formed an honest, everlasting partnership. Manske expects their company to continue experiencing rapid growth in the future, with Fratco by their side every step of the way.

Reminiscing over the years of hard work and looking back at how far he and his family have come, Manske feels emotional. The intense gratitude he feels for Fratco supporting his business and the pride he experiences doing his job everyday is palpable.

“I don’t call it work anymore and I haven’t in years,” said Manske. “When I wake up in the morning, I know Dana’s going to be okay, and I know my boys are going to be good. I just thank God he gave me the chance and the opportunity.”

Meet Stacie Baccam

Creating an efficient and productive workflow is a team effort and at Fratco, one important member plays a key role. Stacie Baccam is an operations manager at Fratco’s Mt. Pleasant, Iowa location and has fulfilled this role since September of 2011. While her job involves overseeing facility operations and making sure everything is running according to plan, Baccam sees her job as much more than that.

“Fratco is a place where I can come to work every day and enjoy what I do,” said Baccam. “I love that about it. It’s a job, but it doesn’t feel like it.”

Prior to working at Fratco, Baccam was working for a much larger company. When the company sold, she had the option to relocate. But as fate would have it, Fratco was moving into town right around that time. In Baccam’s eyes, it was perfect timing.

Once Baccam began working at Fratco, it did not take long for her to see how differently things were run from her previous employer. She was surprised when her coworkers started to feel more like family members than colleagues, and how everyone genuinely seemed to care for one another.

“I absolutely feel connected to my coworkers, always,” said Baccam. “I don’t look at us as individuals, I look at us all one a big team. Our team works together to make things happen and get our customers what they need.”

The connectedness among the Fratco family does not stop at its employees. Baccam notes how the family feel extends to customers, too. She explained when customers come through their doors, they are greeted by name and asked about their lives and their families. At times, people will come in simply to chat and get out of the fields on a rainy day, proving that Fratco goes far beyond serving its customers, making it feel more like a friendship than a business transaction.

Baccam also notes Fratco’s growth-centric mindset, both for the company and its employees. She described the fascination she feels in watching Chris Overmeyer explore new ideas, create new products, expand their reach and redefine ways of doing things. But the company also takes the time to invest in the development of its people.

“I’ve grown in every way since starting at Fratco,” said Baccam. “Fratco has a way to guide you and support you from every angle to help you grow as an individual within the company. Everyone’s there to help each other improve.”

For Baccam, she is proud to be part of a company that excels in the quality of the products manufactured and the customer service extended to old clients and new faces. And for those who wish to join the Fratco family, Baccam offers a word of advice:

“My biggest advice for someone coming into Fratco would be to work hard because hard work is always noticed. They’re always looking for people to move around and move up in the company and they really do reward hard work.”

ADMC: Building a Brighter Future

Improving Water Quality and Agronomics through Drainage Management

In a world where the conservation of resources is becoming increasingly important, supporting the mission of experts is going to be the key to ecosystem productivity, wildlife survival, environmental biodiversity and, in the drainage realm, farming success. The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) was established to promote this exact mission, and Fratco is proud to be an active member in supporting this important cause.

ADMC was formed in 2004 and serves as a resource for educating the public on the latest technologies in drainage water management systems. They aim to assist the agricultural and environmental communities by promoting practices that improve water quality and increase yields for food and energy producers. ADMC works at the local and state level to educate farmers, drainage and conservation groups as well as local, state and federal authorities to build an understanding of the latest drainage water management systems. In addition to controlled drainage, the organization promotes the use of other practices that improve water quality and agroeconomics, including saturated buffers and refined bioreactors.

“[We do] a little bit of everything. Starting with practice development, which involves finding these practical solutions that work in the landscape with our production systems and provide environmental benefits at the same time,” said Keegan Kult, the executive director of ADMC. “Once we have a good grasp on these practices, we begin educating people about them.”

On the education side of their work, ADMC offers training programs and workshops to inform and promote conservation practices. The types of people you see at these events range from water conservation district staff, farm managers, drainage contractors and sales representatives of drainage pipe manufacturers. This past year, ADMC facilitated activities at a two-day workshop for advanced conservation drainage training, which was organized by the Illinois Nature Conservancy. As highly-organized events like these increase in frequency, so will awareness of the environmental issues at play and best practices to hinder them.

The goal is to raise awareness for these practices to have them recognized as important and valuable in the industry. Then, companies can have candid conversations with their customers and clients, allowing them to make an informed choice when it comes to conservation practices.

ADMC also provides educational services to customers of companies who are involved with their programs to help explain the importance of these practices and the impacts they have.

“I really look at it as being the advocate for these conservation practices,” said Kult. “Just because we have a list of these practices that we know will work well in the landscape doesn’t mean that anybody is really picking up the charge to get them out there. It’s becoming more relevant that there’s increased pressure to start implementing these practices at a meaningful scale. It’s important for somebody to take that charge and that’s what ADMC is attempting to do.”

While raising awareness for these practices is a hurdle in itself, convincing landowners to front the cost for implementing them is another beast entirely. Kult explained that this is easier done with structural changes such as controlled drainage and drainage water management since those practices can illustrate their benefit through increased yields and higher profits. Saturated buffers and bioreactors on the other hand involve less personal impacts and instead have wider implications for national and even global water quality, which make them harder to sell. That said, part of ADMC’s work involves finding the most attractive financial aid packages for landowners. And by combining state and federal programs together, ADMC is often able to obtain 100-percent cost share for landowners to implement these practices, which is something they are very proud of.

As a voice of authority in the field, ADMC understands that actions taken in the midwest have a ripple effect, and can have bigger ramifications nationally.

Right now, a major concern for the organization involves looking into the effect the Corn Belt region has on the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. For coastal waters, hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, tends to be a topic of great concern. To help address this issue, a hypoxia task force has been created to set nutrient reduction strategies for states within the basin.

Concerns that hit a little closer to home in the midwest involve water conservation efforts in the Great Lakes, especially the western Lake Erie basin. Without a national regulatory approach in place, each state is addressing resource concerns differently, making the work that ADMC does all the more important in order to align strategies.

ADMC is always open to new members and encourages people to get involved with their mission when and where they can. They strive to connect farmers and landowners

with resources in regards to funding that make conservation more accessible and are excited about a number of new projects they are kickstarting in Iowa in the near future. There is power and strength in numbers, so the more people they can rally behind their cause, the closer they become to fulfilling their important mission.


Staying On Track

Launching Mobile Delivery Tracking

Constantly striving for innovation involves more than developing new products on the market. It also means frequently reviewing current processes and analyzing what improvements should be made in all areas of business. For Fratco, the most recent update comes in the form of streamlined communication with customers.

By leveraging a delivery management platform, Fratco now offers a seamless delivery tracking experience which allows customers to receive updates in real time directly to their phones. Additionally, customers can place a pin on a map to precisely indicate where they need their order dropped off as well as easily communicate with Fratco drivers and dispatchers via phone call or text message.

“Top-notch customer service is something we really pride ourselves on,” said Chris Overmyer, President and CEO of Fratco. “We’re always looking for new ways of doing things or methods to improve existing processes. Our goal with incorporating delivery tracking is to further open the lines of communication and make things easier for our customers so we can help them continue to be efficient.”

The convenience of this service is further emphasized by the fact that customers of Fratco will not need to sign up or download any additional apps on their smartphones to opt into this service. Once they place an order, they will automatically be enrolled in mobile delivery communications, receiving text alerts about the status of their delivery. They will also be texted a link where they can track their delivery driver throughout the journey. For customers, this means there’s no more time wasted guessing when or where the driver will show up to drop off the delivery, allowing them to focus on other necessary tasks while Fratco handles the rest.