Tile Drainage Growing by the Foot in Minnesota and Beyond

The University of Minnesota Extension Service has estimated that nearly 100 million feet of tile, which is close to 19,000 miles, has been installed in Minnesota.

Thousands of miles of plastic pipe has been buried under many farm fields throughout the state as farmers invest in field drainage technology that helps them get a much faster start on their planting season. This is something that adds to their competitiveness with other farmers vying for the same markets.

What some wonder is how much of the valleys surrounding the Twin Cities and all throughout Minnesota are tiled?

This is actually a question that not many can answer, but Minnesota tile installers know they have put down a lot. The figures given by the Minnesota Extension Service is merely an estimate. The rate in which it is expanding is rather tough to say, but it is estimated that there has been a 25 percent increase annually for the past nine years.

As a result, installers have gained quite a foothold on the agricultural industry, which means the manufacturers have too. In fact, some of the manufacturers have located in Minnesota over the past few years because the demand is so incredibly high. Some of these companies started small and now they have become rather large in order to meet that demand.

However, it is expected that the demand will level off for a few years since the farm economy is not extremely strong right now. After it levels off, demand will most likely increase again.

There is also regulation, such as the fact that watershed drainage in Minnesota is regulated by watershed district rather than by county, such as what is done by other states. For example, a permit may be issued for drain tile, but controls on pumps and regulations as to when the pumps can operate may be required. In the next watershed district, this may be different. There may even be limits on how much water can be pumped from a field in a 24-hour period, but those limits can vary from district-to-district.

One district has a website and is adding a component to the website that will use green or red lights o indicate when farmers can operate their pumps. This particular district covers a six county area, so it can be a very useful tool.

While this is something that is proving to be useful to farmers, there are a number of studies that have been done recently that show the benefits of drainage, but more studies need to be done. Flooding is an issue that needs to be addressed, which is why there are strict regulations on when farmers can operate their pumps.

So far, no studies have been done that exam the long-term environmental effects of these massive and complex draining systems, but it has been determined that tiling does pay for itself when conditions are really wet. With the drainage systems controlled, the environmental impact does appear to be minimal at the moment.