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

EquipmentFarmLink Launches Farm Equipment Sharing Program
July 23, 2015
FarmLink has introduced a new online farm equipment sharing community – MachineryLink Sharing – leveraging this new economy business model Read More
EquipmentKinze Celebrating 50 Years This Summer
July 15, 2015
Fifty years after its humble beginning as a small welding shop, Kinze Manufacturing is reflecting on a half-century of innovation Read More
EquipmentDeere, Case And Other Equipment Companies Join Forces On Planter Design Standard
July 14, 2015
As many of you already know, generally speaking there isn’t a whole lot of reaching across the aisle going on Read More
EquipmentNew Hagie STS Sprayer Features AirScout Precision Package
July 8, 2015
Hagie Mfg. and AirScout have formed a new joint endeavor to deliver value to customers by uniting state-of-the-art field prescription Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Asmus Farm Supply liquid fertilizer facility features 20,000 square feet
CropLife 100Slideshow: Asmus Farm Supply Shows Off Its New Liquid Fertilizer Facility
July 15, 2015
Asmus Farm Supply, Rake, IA, recently added a new liquid fertilizer facility to its company operations. The new liquid fertilizer Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Feed Division Facilities Receive Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification
July 13, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Feed Division, a marketer and distributor of value-added feed ingredients for the aquaculture, livestock and pet food industries Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Expands To Brazil With Acquisition
July 8, 2015
BRANDT has acquired a majority interest in Target Brasil Fertilizantes Ltda. through its Brazilian subsidiary. Target Brasil manufactures, distributes and Read More
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Match Made In Deviation
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
Winter Wheat
CropLife 100South Dakota Co-op Member Owners Vote No On Unification
June 26, 2015
The Boards of Directors for North Central Farmers Elevator (NCFE) and Wheat Growers (WG) have announced that member-owners have voted Read More
Latest News
StewardshipOhio Water Quality Project To Determine How Much Phosph…
July 27, 2015
Researchers with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University are looking for farmers in Read More
FertilizerKoch Agronomic Services Launches N-TEGRATION Technology
July 27, 2015
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC (KAS) has launched  N-TEGRATION Technology, a process technology platform designed to enable production of enhanced efficiency fertilizers at Read More
HerbicidesExpert: IARC Herbicide Classifications Leading To Confu…
July 24, 2015
Few people in the crop protection industry had heard of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) before this Read More
ManagementFCI Trade Summit Update & Precision Tank Turns 50
July 23, 2015
Editors Dave Frabotta and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the upcoming FCI Trade Summit in Las Vegas, NV, and how Precision Tank Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
HerbicidesUSDA Deregulates Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Cotton Trait
July 23, 2015
The USDA today issued its decision deregulating Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist cotton trait in the U.S. The USDA has now completed its Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Showcases Versatile Product Por…
July 23, 2015
Technology has revolutionized agriculture by bringing farmers, retailers and distributors to the forefront of the digital age. To meet the Read More
FertilizerWSJ: Cf Industries Exploring Merger With Dutch Chemical…
July 23, 2015
U.S. fertilizer maker CF Industries is in advanced merger talks with Amsterdam-listed chemical company OCI NV, the Wall Street Journal Read More
HerbicidesNufarm Releases New Panther SC Herbicide
July 23, 2015
Nufarm has announced the availability of new Panther SC herbicide. Panther SC is the first liquid formulation of flumioxazin available Read More
EquipmentFarmLink Launches Farm Equipment Sharing Program
July 23, 2015
FarmLink has introduced a new online farm equipment sharing community – MachineryLink Sharing – leveraging this new economy business model Read More
HerbicidesCould The South’s Most Troublesome Weed Represent A Thr…
July 22, 2015
Palmer amaranth is undoubtedly the most troublesome weed in the southern United States, taking a devastating toll on both cotton Read More
Industry NewsH.J. Baker Hires New Director Of International Sales
July 22, 2015
Global Agriculture firm H.J. Baker announced today that Steve Langley has joined the company’s Crop Performance Division and Animal Health Read More
InsecticidesSyngenta Recommends Soybean Scouting To Prevent Economi…
July 22, 2015
Proper soybean insect pest control begins with scouting. As the warm weather continues, Syngenta encourages growers to implement a scouting Read More
Crop InputsH.J. Baker Launches Fall Sulphur Campaign
July 22, 2015
H.J. Baker has launched their “Keep Your Future Green – Use Tiger This Fall and Win Big” campaign. The campaign Read More
Central Valley Ag Randolph, NE
Retail FacilitiesStueve Construction Builds Fifth Facility For Central V…
July 21, 2015
Central Valley Ag partnered with Stueve Construction Co. to successfully design and build its Monroe, Oakland, Wakefield and Royal hub facilities Read More
FertilizerNew Research Could Lead To Less Reliance On Nitrogen, E…
July 21, 2015
Farmers often are required to apply nitrogen fertilizers to their crops to maintain quality and improve yields. Worldwide, farmers used Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Targets Farmers, AFBF In Syngenta Takeover
July 21, 2015
As Monsanto Co. struggles to convince rival Syngenta AG to discuss a potential merger, the seed and agrochemical giant is Read More
CHS Building exterior
Retail FacilitiesSackett Helps CHS Expand Blending Facility, Improve Acc…
July 21, 2015
CHS needed a blend plant that could vastly expand their capabilities in St. Charles, MN. The A.J. Sackett & Sons Read More
Industry NewsH.J. Baker Adds To HR Team
July 21, 2015
H.J. Baker announced today that Barbara Sullivan has joined the company’s executive team as Vice President of Human Resources. Prior Read More