Inside Drainage Water Management

Drainage Water Management System

Managing water resources is demanding more attention from farmers. The most commonly publicized concerns are related to supply and demand for irrigation water. But drainage water probably impacts even more farmers and acreage.

Drainage of excess water has been a key factor in U.S. crop production for over 100 years. Much of the tall-grass prairie of the Central and Eastern Corn Belt was unusable swamp land before surface ditches and subsurface tile drainage lines were installed. Millions of acres of our most productive cropland could not be farmed without the use of tile drainage systems to remove excess rainwater. Large areas that were partially drained 50 to 100 years ago are getting new systems installed to more effectively and more rapidly remove excess water.

Where drainage tile was previously installed to drain only the low spots, new grid systems are being installed to uniformly drain entire fields. Parallel lateral lines are being spaced closer together for quicker, more efficient drainage. Older full-field grids were typically installed with laterals spaced 100 to 120 feet apart. New systems commonly have laterals spaced 50 to 60 feet apart, or less.

Unfortunately, these systems work 24/7 — and continue to remove water even when the danger of crop loss is past.

Drainage Water Management (DWM) provides tools and practices to help farmers make more efficient use of their water resources two ways: By allowing drainage to facilitate field activities or protect the crop from excess water; And allowing the water level in the soil to be raised to support the growing crop.

Control structures (see above) installed in the drain lines at the edge of the field are used to adjust the water level in the field up or down as desired, preserving the water resources available to the crop and reducing the loss of nutrients that are also removed with the tile drainage. These nutrients are lost from benefitting the crop, and also pose a potential threat to water quality in the streams, rivers and other water bodies downstream. Nitrate loss can be reduced by 45% or more using DMW systems. Yet only about 1,000 DWM structures have been installed on U.S. farms up to now.

Flexibility, Automation

DWM control structures can be adjusted to freely drain water from the field in the spring to allow for field work. The gates, or stop-logs, are then closed after planting to hold back water loss. During the growing season, the water level is adjusted downward to support deeper root penetration as roots move down the soil profile. In the fall, the gates are again removed for harvest and other fall field work. They can then be closed to hold water during the winter months.

Of course, heavy rainfall at any time may result in the need to release water to prevent flooding. The DWM stop-logs can be adjusted as needed. It usually takes only a few hours to lower the field’s water level with a properly designed system. Each DWM structure can usually control the water level for 20 to 30 acres.

Newer technology allows the control structure gates to be operated electronically and powered by solar cells, with radio or internet control. The operator can monitor the system and adjust water levels from a computer or cell phone. If farmers work cooperatively, it may soon be possible to network these systems to manage water levels throughout a watershed. Operating DWM systems might someday become a service provided by Certified Crop Advisers for their clients.

Before installing a new tile drainage system, or upgrading an existing one, landowners should examine the feasibility of incorporating DWM components into the new design. Often systems for DWM need to be laid out with lateral lines parallel to the field contours, and mains running down the slope. New technology permits DWM systems to even be used on sloping fields, with a step control unit (Water­Gate) inserted into the main line for each 12 to 18 inches change in elevation. If a new drainage system is put in place without considering DWM, it may not be possible to retrofit it for DWM to be added later, and the opportunity to manage drainage will be lost for decades to come.

Usually DWM can be incorporated into a new drainage system for about a 10% increase in overall investment in the system. A typical installation of a DWM control structure costs about $1,200. It may be possible to get cost sharing assistance through NRCS EQIP program for up to 75%, bringing the out-of-pocket cost to $400 or about $20/acre. Amortizing that cost over 20 years, the real cost of a DWM system can be less than $1 per acre per year. The potential savings in better water and nutrient management can be many times that amount. Benefits include potential yield increases, especially in dry years, and potential substantial reduction of nitrate losses from the field.

As pressures to increase crop production to meet the world’s growing demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel, water management will be under increasing pressure. For many farmers, efficient water management will mean implementation of drainage water management. As new systems are installed and older ones upgraded, consideration of DWM possibilities should definitely be a part of the plan.

Leave a Reply

Equipment Stories

Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Factory Layoffs
August 18, 2014
Deere & Co. has announced it will reduce the size of its manufacturing workforce at some agricultural equipment factories in response to current market demand for its products. Read More
A finished Willmar 16-ton side-shooting tender.
TendersNew Production Facility Helps Willmar
July 17, 2014
In 1963, a group of businessmen started Willmar. Today, a half-century later, the company is one of the ag industry’s longest-running brands. Read More

Trending Articles

CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More

Latest News

NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More
HerbicidesValent’s Fierce XLT Herbicide Receives EPA Approv…
September 8, 2014
Valent U.S.A. Corp. announced today that Fierce XLT Soybean Herbicide is now federally registered for preemergence weed control in soybeans Read More
Eric SfiligojIndustry Consolidation Set To Increase Going Forward
September 8, 2014
As the agricultural marketplace moves into fall, one observer predicts the pace of consolidation will grow at all levels. Read More
LegislationCropLife America Leaders Address Regulatory Landscape, …
September 8, 2014
As CropLife America enters its 81st year, the organization’s leaders have seen another period of rapid and visible policy and public issue activity. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires North Dakota Retailer
September 5, 2014
Wilbur-Ellis Co. has acquired the assets of Poynter’s Ag Supply, a retail facility and Wilbur-Ellis alliance partner located in Sawyer, ND. Read More
Crop InputsAg Leader Chris Novak To Become NCGA CEO
September 5, 2014
Industry veteran Chris Novak will take the place of 14-year veteran Rick Tolman, who earlier this year announced his intention to retire from the organization. Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakot…
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
Crop InputsBayer CropScience Plans Further Growth In U.S., Opens N…
September 5, 2014
After the official inauguration of Bayer CropScience's new integrated R&D site in West Sacramento, CA, the company aims to grow faster than the U.S. market. Read More