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

Craig Houin Sunrise Cooperative iPad
Precision AgState Of Precision Ag 2016: Gut Check Time For Value
May 31, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Equipment manufacturers have fine-tuned the hardware for Read More
fertilizer blending and storage, Top 100
BlendersCHS Dakota Expansion Features AGCO’s GSI InterSystems Handling Equipment
May 25, 2016
The continued growth of precision agriculture has increased farmer use of customized fertilizer blends best-suited for their soil conditions. Several Read More
Topcon’s X30 display with CropSpec sensors
EquipmentGPS Autosteer Systems: Product Updates From Precision Ag Companies
May 24, 2016
Throughout 2015 GPS Steering solutions continued to evolve from what was once an after-market add on, to today’s cab where Read More
Trimble TMX-2050 In-Cab Display
Eric SfiligojThe Precision Ag Revolution Continues
May 24, 2016
It’s funny how much “the first time” tends to mean to someone as they get older. I sometimes can’t recall Read More
Trending Articles
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More