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Giving Back to Mother Nature: Drain Tile Project

Q&A With Heartland Trust’s Brian Halverson and Farmer Ross Algner

How did you get connected with Heartland Trust, and what did the first steps look like in getting this drain tile project underway?

Ross: Prior to meeting Brian, I knew the landowner who sought Heartland Trust to be the trustee of a trust. He brought Brian to my yard to ask me if I would conduct business with them–he wanted to retire. That was the first time I met Brian. It was just a quick, “hello, here’s who we are.” It has been quite a few years now, and Brian and I have learned a lot about each other, and we have mutual respect for each other. So it was easy for me to approach Brian, who seems young and progressive to understand that, “hey, I have an idea.”

Pollution and contamination are big problems we face in natural water sources. Walk us through the technical aspects and logistics of this drain tile project.

Ross: I have an Agricultural Degree from NDSU, with an emphasis on Plant Pathology and Soil Science. I don’t know what most people think of when they’re trying to fall asleep at night, but I think of different ways to improve farming. One of the things I’ve been thinking about for years was to do some tiling on ground that’s not performing the way I would hope that it could–and that led to more thoughts of what can be done with the water? I can’t just put my disposed waste waters directly into the system. If it’s high in nitrates, is there something that we could do about that?

What are some of the other benefits this drain tile project provides to Mother Nature?

Ross: My goal with this whole project is to get the drain tile implemented, get it operating and then spend time collecting data. And what I know from my education is that nitrogen is a wild card; as far as nutrients go, it’s expensive. It’s necessary, yet it moves. If it moves away from our root zone, I wanted a way to capture it so it doesn’t get into the ditch system. That leads to the Red River, which leads to the Fargo municipal drinking supply, or Grand Forks or Lake Winnipeg–where there’s a big dead zone of algae bloom every year because of the runoff that can occur naturally or through drain tile. The other benefit would be that we’ve created a much larger wetland that could be not only the kidney for what we’re doing, but the larger wetland is going to be a place for fungus, microorganisms, birds and animals. Anything utilize could this four-acre wetland we’re creating.

Who was involved in this project from start to finish?

Brian: There was Ross and I as well as Ellingson Drain Tile, who did the work.

Ross: Anytime you do a drain tile project, you have to use the Farm Service Agency and get permits. You also need a permit through the Watershed District. Then we used Eric Jones from Houston Engineering to help with size and ideas of how to do things. People from the County Soil and Water Conservation District helped me get in contact with people from other agencies like the Minnesota Department of Ag and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in just reaching out to them for ideas on how to go about this. Every one of the agencies has declared that they want to be a part of it; they want the data, they want to know if this is something that’s going to work and if this is something that should be replicated and put on the land more often.

Heartland Trust isn’t afraid to roll its sleeves up and get involved in helping farmers and families. What else sheds a unique light on Heartland’s initiative
to help people in the community, outside the office?

Brian: Heartland Trust’s mission is, “to provide a lifelong commitment to the well-being of those we serve,” which includes our employees, our clients and our communities. We take an active part within our communities by volunteering and supporting many local non- profits. We fulfill a unique role in ensuring care of our beneficiaries’ assets, and providing stability for their future and beyond. In this case, there are two types of beneficiaries; there’s a current beneficiary who receives income off the farmland, and in the future, there’s a charity that will be the beneficiary.

What story are you hoping this project tells about Heartland Trust’s passion for what you do and helping Mother Nature?

Brian: As a trust company, we carry a responsibility or obligation to be good stewards of the assets we take care of for individuals and their families. In this case it is a piece of farmland that we have to make sure produces income now while also staying a meaningful asset for the future beneficiary, years down the road. With this project, we can also think about water conservation and helping the environment.

Ross: I think it’s important to understand the treated wetland is going to have another asset to conservation with the minimization of nutrient loading into the system. There’s some highly erodible land out in that farm–pattern tiling is going to allow me to leave more of a residue on top, whether it’s minimum-till or no-till, and yet get in there in the spring in a timely manner, and put another crop in. Now, I’m protecting it from wind erosion also; there are so many layers to what we’re doing. What intrigues me with Heartland Trust is their willingness to step outside of the closed little box that most landlords are in, rightfully so. They want to help you improve, they want to improve the land and they’re part of the really important process of securing a large and safe food source for the world, and also making sure that we’re being environmentally friendly.

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