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

Agrible Pocket Spray Smart App
EquipmentNew Agrible Pocket Spray Smart App Alleviates Spraying Concerns
March 10, 2017
There’s a new app to help farmers decide when to spray their fields. Pocket Spray Smart is a free iOS Read More
BBI MagnaSpread Salford BBI
Equipment14 Fertilizer Spreaders For 2017
March 9, 2017
Application equipment manufacturers stressed flexibility and accuracy with this year’s crop of fertilizer spreaders. From AGCO’s TerraGator TG9300B and Case IH’s 810 Read More
Forbes Mixing Bowl NYC
Precision AgGrowing Demand For High Tech Agriculture Sparking Discussion
March 3, 2017
How can information technology be best harnessed to solve challenges in food and agriculture? That’s a question being asked more Read More
Junge Innovation Center
EquipmentAg Retail Plants Adapt Designs, Software
March 2, 2017
A host of factors could be cited for “the rise of the machines” in ag retail plants — and the Read More
Trending Articles
AdjuvantsA New Weed-Control Era Begins: But First, One Last Obstacle
March 4, 2017
There is trepidation, there is reluctance, and there is excitement. Ag retailers feel it all about the new dicamba and Read More
LIFT Academy video screenshot
Crop InputsLIFT Agriculture Academy: A Q&A With West Central Distribution’s Dean Hendrickson
March 1, 2017
West Central Distribution recently launched its LIFT Agriculture Academy, a new, premiere training and professional development resource for West Central’s ag Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
AgriSync
Matt Hopkins17 Agriculture Apps That Will Help You Farm Smarter In 2017
December 9, 2016
Ag professionals are working smarter, not harder, than ever before. Smart farming technologies have enabled them to reduce costs, maximize Read More
R4023 Sprayer, John Deere
CropLife 100Ag Retail Equipment Report: The Green Party Continues
December 7, 2016
In the annual race for sales in the ag retail equipment marketplace, the color schemes for participants are a little Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Latest News
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionProtecting Nitrogen Provides Economic, Environmental RO…
March 28, 2017
Every business looks to improve its return on investment and reduce its risk of loss. Farmers are no different, yet Read More
Water Drainage
Eric SfiligojDMWW Lawsuit Dismissal Good News for Ag
March 27, 2017
On March 17 while most of the nation was toasting St. Patrick’s Day, agriculture was likely lifting a glass (or Read More
Eric Jenks, Wilbur-Ellis
Crop InputsWilbur-Ellis Launches ADVANTIGRO Plant Growth Regulator…
March 27, 2017
Wilbur-Ellis Agribusiness, a recognized leader in the marketing and distribution of crop protection, seed and nutritional products, as well as Read More
Yara West Sacramento Ribbon Cutting
Crop InputsYara West Sacramento Is Newest Addition
March 27, 2017
Yara’s West Sacramento Terminal was officially welcomed March 21 as the newest Yara North America facility in the U.S. While continually Read More
UncategorizedPrecision Ag, Iowa Water, and GM Corn Updates
March 24, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj look at the state of precision agriculture, the dismissal of the Des Moines Water Read More
Pam Marrone
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Enters Biostimulants Market Wit…
March 23, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. is expanding beyond biopesticides and crop protection and into the biostimulant market by commercially launching Haven Read More
Nutrients for Life Foundation Teacher
FertilizerNutrients For Life Foundation Celebrates 10 Years Teach…
March 23, 2017
Those in agriculture know fertilizer is a vital ingredient to grow strong, productive crops. In fact, fertilizer is responsible for Read More
ManagementThink You Know Water? Take WinField United’s R…
March 22, 2017
Water is among our most precious resources, and arguably the hardest working, with just one percent available for human use, Read More
Corn Field
LegislationTFI Hopes Court Dismissal Is ‘Final Chapter’…
March 20, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) released the following statement from President, Chris Jahn on the March 17, 2017, federal court dismissal Read More
Wheat Growers
Industry NewsWheat Growers CEO Dale Locken To Retire
March 20, 2017
CEO Dale Locken has announced that he plans to retire from Wheat Growers. Locken has served almost 15 years as Read More
Bayer Monsanto
Eric SfiligojBayer-Monsanto: Life, LibertyLink, And The Pursuit Of R…
March 20, 2017
As the calendar officially turns to spring, life is in full renewal mode. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and Read More
Corn Field
Crop InputsUltra Yield Micronutrients Acquires Kronos Micronutrien…
March 16, 2017
Ultra Yield Micronutrients, Inc. ”Ultra”, an affiliate of Cameron Chemicals, Inc., is pleased to announce that it has acquired the Read More
ManagementSnowstorms, Asset Sales, and Soybeans Prices
March 16, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the weather, precision ag, crop protection company mergers, and commodity prices in this Read More
Soybean Field
Seed/BiotechBayer Invests $8.1 million In Soybean Advancement In Th…
March 16, 2017
Growers in Illinois and across the Midwest now have the added benefit of a state-of-the-art soybean research facility, increasing accessibility Read More
CHS
CropLife 100CHS Acquires Western Co-op Transport Association
March 16, 2017
CHS Inc., North America’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, has purchased Western Co-op Transport Read More
Young corn plants in soil
HerbicidesBest Management Practices To Control PPO-Resistant Weed…
March 14, 2017
Weeds resistant to the class of herbicides called protoporphyrinogen oxidase (PPO) inhibitors are spreading at a faster rate than weed Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Eric SfiligojFungicide Resistance On The Horizon
March 13, 2017
For many years now, the agricultural market has struggled to keep ahead of an ever-growing number of herbicide-resistant weeds. According Read More
Management2017 Commodity Classic Review
March 10, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss what happened at the recent Commodity Classic in San Antonio. Read More