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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Fratco Adds Second Unicor UC 1800 Corrugator

Production Soars!

Fratco is pleased to announce our manufacturing capacity has reached new heights with the addition of a second Unicor UC 1800 corrugator to our production line. Unicor’s UC 1800 produces corrugated pipe with an inside diameter between 18” and 60”. Adding a second UC 1800 corrugator has helped ramp up fabrication of Fratco’s trusted, durable and dependable pipe like never before.

As a “first-mover” in the pipe industry, Fratco places tremendous value on our partnership with Unicor, whose machinery allows us to produce more high quality, large diameter HDPE and PP pipe. “Investing in an additional Unicor UC 1800 corrugator allows Fratco to expand our production capacity to meet ever-increasing demand efficiently,” said Chris Overmyer, President and CEO of Fratco. “Having invested in the first North American UC 1800, and now bringing the tenth machine to the United States to meet increased orders, illustrates our vote of confidence in Unicor’s technology.”

Unicor, a manufacturing company based in Hassfurt, Germany, develops, manufactures and sells machines ranking among the leading corrugators on the international market. Their partnership with Fratco gives this Midwest-based pipe producer a greater engineering edge in the industry. Unicor’s innovative equipment partnered with Fratco’s standard of bringing technologically advanced pipe to the marketplace continues to be a mutually beneficial relationship. In addition to the UC 1800, Fratco recently purchased the first UC 5XX corrugator from Unicor, allowing a new level of throughputs and quality in small diameter, dual- wall pipe.

Leading the industry in HDPE and HDPP corrugated pipe production, Fratco is focused on creating long- term solutions for drainage needs. The attention to detail in every foot of pipe is what customers have come to expect from the brand they trust. Whether clients work in agricultural, commercial or residential drainage, they turn to Fratco products as the time-tested, smart solution for their jobsite.

For up-to-date information on Fratco, visit the News & Events page at fratco.com/about/news-events.

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.