It’s All about Drainage Now

Buckeye Farm Beat

OSU professor fears heavy Ohio soils could face severe compaction problems as farmers race to get the crop planted this spring.

Published on: May 3, 2011

How long will it take to dry farm fields so farmers can begin to get a crop planted? It depends on the soil type, says Larry Brown, an Ohio State University ag engineer who specializes in drainage. “Water moves only as fast the soil properties allow it to,” says Brown. “In silty clays it may take several warm and windy days to dry it out. In silty loams it may be quicker. We are talking about several days of the right weather not a night or two.”

Drainage contractor Len Davis from Defiance says farmers are not worried. “I haven’t seen anybody get discouraged yet. There’s no attitude of gloom and doom. I think we will get this water drained off in time. It’s later than farmers would like to run, but we’ve had years when the crop got planted in mid to late May and still had decent yields.”

Davis and other Ohio contractors have been busy this year as farmers took advantage of high crop prices to get their fields tiled. Although prices for tiling can run anywhere from $600 to $1000 an acre depending on how much is installed and how many openings are required, it is a practice that pays off.

“It’s a bargain,” Davis says. “There are too may variables to say how much you gain, but the guys who get their fields tiled keep going and get more tiled.”

Brown says studies have shown a yield advantage of 20 to 30 bushels per acre because of being able to plant in a more timely manner. Davis can’t specify how much earlier tile will enable farmers to get to work, but it will be significant, he says. “In a year like this it really shows up,” he says. “It really makes a world of difference.”

Good drainage is a plus, but Brown is concerned that some farmers are likely to think they have good drainage in their field and be tempted to get out on the ground too soon. “Farmers are in a bind,” he says. “They don’t want to do long-term damage to their soil, but the also want to get in and get the crop planted. If they get antsy I am afraid they will compact the heck out their soil. I suspect we will see some sever compacting on the heavy soils following this spring.”

Brown says many Ohio farmers have taken steps to increase the amount of drainage they have in their fields in recent years. Higher corn prices have enabled farmers to spend on drainage improvements in their fields. In addition farmers now use yield monitors in the combine, which show areas of the field that need to be drained for better production. Finally, many farmers now own drainage plows which enable them to put drainage into the ground themselves.

Davis has been busier this year than ever before. He says the tiling will continue even as planting begins. “We have tile piled all over the countryside, but the weather won’t let us get to work. We can run our tile plow in wheat or in beans without doing much damage. It just depends on what the farmer wants us to do.”

Right now they just want the tile lines to keep running.