Tile drainage soaking in more interest from farmers
HARRINGTON, Del. (Jan. 16, 2018) — While irrigation is the preferred tool for crop production in dry spells, drainage deals with the other side of the water coin, taking excess water away when it can hurt crop growth.
With more at stake in the field each year from high production costs and advances in precision tooling, tile drainage is getting more interest from farmers looking to better manage their land.
A session during Delaware Agriculture Week focused on tile drainage and provided growers with information from several perspectives.
Rich Gorlich, NRCS agricultural engineer, said tile drainage isn’t new to the area. Decades ago, farmers used sections of terra cotta pipe or tile to move away excess water.
“A lot of fields still have tile drainage, made of tile, and still working today,” he said.
But advances in precision agriculture and precision tools becoming more common on farms, tile drainage has become more attractive, said Chris Pugh, a precision agriculture specialist at Hoober Inc., and former tile drainage installer in Ohio.
“It enables you to be more efficient,” he said of the improved technology.
Using field mapping data, software programs can plan out a drainage project accounting for slope, depth, length of run and other design factors.
The plan can then go back into a guidance program linked to the tile plow for installation.
With years of using many precision agriculture tools under their belts, Pugh said many farmers’ have opted to install drainage themselves.
“They’ve already got a lot of precision components, why not utilize them more?”
Kevin Anderson, a Princess Anne, Md., farmer who’s installed drainage in about half the land he farms estimated technology has cut installation costs in half due to reduced time and labor needed.
“It makes the acres you have more productive,” he said “With farming, environmentally, we deal with two big issues; making it rain and getting rid of the rain.”
At the University of Delaware’s Warrington Farm, tile drainage was installed recently over two years to keep areas that were continually drowned out more productive and producing irrigation research data.
“The driver for us was we were losing data because the plots were going under water and we were trying to do irrigation research,” said James Adkins, who is a University of Delaware irrigation specialist, and session moderator.
Sharing experiences from their installation, Adkins said they had a second tractor on hand to pull the plow through difficult spots for smooth traveling.
“The more stopping you have, the more chances you have for issues,” said Pugh.
“We hook two tractors together before we start,” Anderson said of his installation projects.
Adkins added if installing drainage in a harvested cornfield, to mow the stalks beforehand.
Stubble can catch the plastic tubing, causing stretching or kinking neither desirable during installation.
Going over considerations in planning a drainage project, Gorlich said farmers need to determine if the issue is groundwater-driven or surface water-driven as each takes a different approach.
Addressing groundwater issues could involve intercepting a spring and conveying the water to a ditch or a pattern tile system covering much of the field.
Surface water issues may use a tile well, catch basin and other tools to keep water from staying in low spots.
The crops to be planted should be also be considered too as it can inform tile spacing in the field.
Gorlich stressed continued maintenance as well. Keeping tile wells from filling with sediment, and keeping rodent guards on outlet pipes are two musts to keep the system working properly.
Jayme Arthurs, resource conservationist for Delaware NRCS recommended farmers know the status of the land with state and federal agencies in preparing a drainage project.
Installing on land determined by NRCS to be a wetland can make the farm operation ineligible for federal programs, Arthurs said.
Impacting wetlands can at also cause issues with the Clean Water Act, he added.
“If you think it might be a problem, it’s a lot better to call and check with us,” he said.
Making a determination could take multiple visits in different seasons, adding to a possible projects preparation time.
“If you’ve got an irrigation project coming down the road you need to plan for that delay,” Arthurs said.
Another call farmers should make is to Miss Utility to make sure buried power lines are avoided, said Adkins.
“Even if you’re in the middle of the field you’re supposed to do it,” he said.
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