Farm Drain Tiling Increasing at Rapid Pace

There are a number of agricultural drain and sewer services that are available, such as running main lines, barn lines, trench lines, and installing drains. And because farms have a lot of dirt slinging around, culverts need cleared and lagoon lines cleaned. In the winter, drains and frozen sewer lines need to be thawed to avoid expensive problems.

In addition, some farmers are opting for farm drain tiling and are doing so at a rapid pace, which is causing a debate between whether or not the practice truly yields better crops or if it just causes more water-quality concerns.

To give an idea of how fast the tile is being installed, there is a small area on the western border of the state where the Watershed District approved permits for subsurface tile to be installed in a 2.9 mile area in 1999. In 2008, the permits covered 779.3 miles of this artificial way to drain water away from land. In 2011, permits were issued for 1,558.3 miles. By April 2012, the total number of miles for the year was already on track to exceed 2011.

From the Red River Valley to the porous karst of southeastern Minnesota, many have seen workers and machines digging trench lines and using GPS technology to determine the best course of action when installing the plastic drainage tubing into the ground.

While effectiveness can be debatable, many farmers are saying that the practice is influencing more productive farming operations that have become more profitable.

With guaranteed crop-insurance programs, high land and crop prices, set-aside contracts that are expiring, built-in tax advantages, and drought conditions, a rather interesting storm has emerged. Farmers are taking matters into their own hands so that they can produce as much as they can out of every acre. The main way to do this is improve the health of the soil. This is what farmers say tiling is doing for them. In fact, crop yields have increased by 30%

As for the environmental impact, water that once stayed on the land is being drained off elsewhere into streams, ditches, and rivers. Some critics say this leads to more flooding and the erosion of streams and banks, which has them arguing that the increased crop yields are not worth the long-term damage. This does not make sense to others from an economic standpoint. Some experts feel that there is an in between somewhere and more data on the practice will help find that middle ground.

Perhaps some farmers have already found that middle ground because they have discovered that there are systems that manage the water better. This is leading to the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center to investigate what works better and what doesn’t so that the better can be used, creating that middle ground that preserves profits for farmers while also minimizing the environmental impact.