Tile system lauded at drainage field day
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — It has been said that managing water on the Delmarva Peninsula is like managing water on a pool table.
The quest for a solution to drainage water management issues brought scores of the region’s farmers out on a chill, muddy day on Nov. 14 to see a conservation drainage project its proponents say can reduce risk by 30-40 percent and nutrient loss by 50-80 percent.
“A tile system, if it is designed right, it can bump yields maybe 30 percent,” said Alex Echols, vice president of Ecosystem Services Exchange, touting the advantages of the demonstration system.
“You can use the same system that’s designed to take water out of your field to irrigate by subirrigation. It’s much more efficient. You don’t have any evaporation, any loss. It’s not going to work everywhere. But if you have the right kind of topography like you’ve got here, it’s very efficient,” he said.
Paul Sweeney, ESE director of conservation planning, echoed Echols’ statements, emphasizing that, “With a tile system, you can drain excess water and if you can subirrigate, you can put water on when you need it, so basically, you are going to have the same yield almost every single year.”
The system being installed on the farm featured a water control structure that is “designed so you can elevate water in your soil profile to the elevation you want to have it,” said Sweeney.
He explained water control structures can be manually operated or automated. Existing systems can be automated if they were equipped with the appropriate water control structures when originally installed.
He described the year-round benefits of a drainage control system. “In the winter, you close up your system and hold as much water in the field as you can because you don’t need to let it go. If it’s leaving the field, it’s carrying nutrients with it.
“Ten to 14 days before you need to get into the field, you pull the stop blocks so water can run out of your field and dry it up. Ten to 14 days, even with rainfall, will drain a tile system if it’s designed right.”
“After you’ve planted, you shut the tile off by putting those stop blocks in and bring that water table up within a foot of where your root systems are going to be. Soil will capillary at least a foot in most soils,” he said.
“During the growing season, you keep dropping the water level to stay below that root system. In the fall, you pull that bottom stop block and you’re able to drain that field back down so you don’t have any problems with moisture,” he said.
Ryan Zook, a product specialist with Soil-Max, which markets tile plows like the one demonstrated for attendees, advised designing a system for an entire field rather than merely draining wet spots.
Zook said that allows the opportunity for future expansion of the system without disrupting tile that is installed to address just one part of the field.
Sweeney agreed, advising farmers to “plan for the future. Don’t just get rid of the water, but ask ‘what can I do in the future?’ The difference between a drainage system and drainage water management is whether you put in a control structure.”
Speakers explained drainage water systems do not come cheap, however, they said there is cost sharing and financial assistance for design and installation from USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the State of Maryland.
Return on investment, based on the benefits of sub-irrigation only, based on continuous corn and using borrowed money, is projected to be four years on a retrofit and six years on a new system.
The field day was held on RWP Farms owned by Rantz Purcell who grows corn, soybeans and wheat and raises broilers for Perdue.
It was sponsored by Soil-Max Inc. and Hoober Inc.
ShoreRivers contributed, in partnership with local Soil Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy, and Maryland Department of Agriculture, is installing six conservation drainage projects in four counties on the Eastern Shore.
Tim Rosen, ShoreRivers director of agriculture and restoration, said the group has installed a project in Dorchester County that is the first tile project in Maryland to trial blind inlets and drainage water management using a pattern tile system.
Another project in Caroline County will use a blind inlet and the first saturated buffer in Maryland.
The objective of the demonstration projects is to show that drainage necessary for production can be balanced with attaining water quality goals and re-shaping the image of drainage from only removing water to managing water to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925