Field day focuses on alternative drainage
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 08/02/2012 2:24 PM
GRAND MEADOW, Minn. — Boe Brothers Tiling gently laid soil atop a water gate and tile, being sure to get the tile flat.
As they worked, about 20 people stood beside the hole, watching the installation during a Alternative Drainage Field Day June 14 in rural Mower County.
The purpose of the field day was to show how water gates and water control structures are installed, said Cody Fox, district technician with the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District. He hoped to reach interested producers. This was only the second drainage water management system installed in the county, he said, and the first using water gates.
Water gates and water control structures are part of drainage water management.
Phil Algreen of Agri Drain Corporation of Adrian, Iowa, spoke about drainage water management at the field day. He defines drainage water management as not draining any water that doesn't need to be drained. The idea is to keep water in the field by raising the water table higher than
it would normally be. During a dry year, this should benefit crops because they are able to use more of the water and nutrients than would normally be unavailable.
The water table in the field is managed by a series of water gates and a control structure. The control structure at the field day site was located in a ditch buffer so the land operator doesn't have to farm around it. The control structure is filled with logs and each log raises the water level in the tile line by about six inches.
The water gates stair step the water table up through the field without installing other control structures. The water level control structures range in price from $420 to $3,500. Water gates cost about $800.
Water gates are buried, so farmers don't have to farm around them. Each one is installed at a foot higher elevation.
Water gates are basically floats that either let water through or hold water back.
"The best thing about them is they are buried … the worst thing about them is they're buried," Algreen said.
Algreen said Agri Drain and many tilers are trying to be proactive when it comes improving tile's image.
Farmers know tile is a good investment and Agri Drain promotes tiling, he said. Yet, they are also aware that some view tile in a negative light and blame it for hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico among other things.
Some of those concerns may be warranted and some not, Algreen said. At Agri Drain, their goal is to use drainage water management to reduce the amount of nutrients that leave a farm field and enter a waterway.
Cost share is available to install drainage water management, Fox said. Interested parties need to stop in the office and then contact a certified contractor to develop a plan. Producers get payments for managing the system for a couple years because it takes some time to get used to managing the water level in fields.
Installing drainage water management costs more than traditional tiling, that's why there is cost share, Fox said. Tile must be done on the contour and then there is the cost of additional structures.
Drainage water management works best on flatter fields, Algreen said.