He really digs his work
There is a real art to tiling a farm field, says Mark Gregor of Gregor Tiling in Minnesota Lake.
And, he should know. Gregor has been doing farm tiling for a long time. He started his business in 1993.
It is more a combination of science and art, he adds.
“We use modern technology,” he says. “We develop maps of the fields to design the layout of the tiling. I am a firm believer in mapping and we make the best maps available.”
But with his many years of experience, Gregor also has the ability to study a field and know just where all the tile should be installed. He studies the direction the tile should take according to the slope of the land.
“People joke and say all you have to know about installing tile is that water runs downhill,” he says with a smile. “But there is a lot more to it than that.”
They use GPS and laser sights to get it right. They have to know the depth to install it in all the locations in the field.
“And there are different types of soil all over the county,” he adds. “And there can be other issues, like an old drainage tile in the field. We need to locate that as much as possible and try and tie into it. It is not easy to do, but I think we are very good at it.”
So why do farmers want to tile their fields?
“It is to increase their yields with better plant health,” Gregor says. “It helps make better use of their land.”
He explains that the soil has pore space that when it rains fills with water and, leaving no oxyden in the soil, basically drowns the plant. The drain tile removes only the excess water so the plant can stay healthy. Some farmers get worried that the field will get too dry with tiling but that actually is not what occurs. It only removes excess water.
Gregor says farmers can’t always see an increase in a yield just by looking at it, but when it comes to harvest time they see the results of tiling.
“That is the reason why I love what I do,” Gregor says. “I have never had a farmer come back to me and say ‘I wish I hadn’t done that tiling.’ They are happy they did it and are pleased with the results.”
There are some real challenges in the tiling business, Gregor says.
Last week he and his crew of three were installing tile in a field west of Easton.
“With everything so dry, installing tile goes very smoothly,” Gregor says. “But we often are installing it under very wet conditions, and that can be a real challenge.”
The field they were working on last week is owned by Dean Schimek. He had planted oats on the field and had just finished chopping them for feed.
“Dean asked me if I could do the tiling real quickly, because he wants to plant sorghum sudan in the field as soon as he can.
Schimek shared that he will then plant corn there next spring, as part of his extended crop rotation program of sustainable soil health.
Another challenge for Gregor is that the tiling season is short. Obviously they cannot be installing tile while the crops are growing or when the fields are frozen in winter.
“We have a few weeks in the spring we can work if it is a decent spring and the fields dry up early,” he says. “Then we get real busy in October and November, maybe even into December, depending on weather.”
It is a business where they try and cram 12 months of business into three weeks in the spring and two or three months in the fall.
And, of course, when conditions are dry, farmers postpone getting fields tiled. But, when wet weather hits the area, they want the tiling done, and done now.
“We can actually tile when there is corn in the field,” he says. “But farmers think we will damage too much of the crop. They treat each corn stalk like they are their children. But, we would actually damage much fewer plants than they think.”
Even so, Gregor understands their concerns. After all, he is a farmer, too.
“I farmed with my dad and started this tiling business because we did not have a large enough operation to support both of us,” he explains. “Then I did more tiling than farming. But now things are a little different and I am doing more farming.”
He explains that when times were better and corn prices were higher, he, and the other tiling companies in the area, were doing a lot more tiling work. Now, with the economy the way it is, there are fewer tiling jobs.
The tiling business itself has changed over the years.
“Back in the 1920s farmers just tiled potholes in their fields,” Gregor explains. “Then it was pattern tiling in the low spots. Now we are doing pattern tiling in whole fields.”
Tiling is still changing. Gregor notes that he knows some tilers in Ohio who put their lines way closer together than he does in Minnesota.
“When we were 100 feet apart they were 60 to 80 feet,” he says. “When we went to 50 feet they were already at 20 feet apart. We were at 42 inches deep and they were doing 30 inches. It is different soil there of course, but they were always claiming to be ahead of us.”
Gregor Tiling is located in a building they built in 2001 which is on Highway 22 just south of Minnesota Lake. There are four full time employees out in the field; Gregor himself, Steven Supplial, Corey Petersen and Jordan Schnoor. There are a few part-time workers as needed as well. In the office, Gregor’s wife, Rebekah, is the office manager and Denise Bach is the drafts person and map creator.
“I like to think we have a very good reputation and good at what we do,” Gregor says. “We have a lot of experience in doing this work, and we really know what we are doing. It is a ton of hard work, but it is very rewarding.”
He says pattern tiling is his business’ bread and butter, but they also are able to do specialty work as well.
In fact they recently put in a new drainage tile northeast of Blue Earth which would alleviate an issue with neighboring tiling systems.
“We really are drainage experts,” Gregor says. “That is because we have been around a long time and have seen a lot of things, and fixed a lot of issues.”