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Tiles improve planting conditions

With all the wet and unpredictable weather we’ve received the past couple of years, tile drainage has become a huge talking point. Though it is true we can’t control the weather, we need to start thinking of water as a manageable variable. As more fields in our area are being drained, the benefits are definitely beginning to show.

In November 2008, we tiled two large fields — more than 500 acres total —here at Carl Peterson’s farm. The following spring, we were able to work the ground enough to seed corn, as well as some wheat, on 40 acres used for our research plots. This was an important piece of ground to tile since much time and money is put into our plots with the goal of gaining valuable data for our grower/customers. We did not want to risk losing any plots to water damage.

Key Points

• The advantages of using tile drainage showed up this spring.

• Farmers could plant corn and soybeans earlier in tiled ground.

• Yield increases should make tiling a profitable investment.

That first spring after tiling, the corn was planted in good time. The timing for getting in to spray was much improved due to the drainage. But just like many areas in the region, our farm had cool growing conditions, which postponed corn harvest until December.

This spring, we did more leveling of the tile lines and planted soybeans. The tiled plot area has a portion to its south that isn’t tiled. After a big rain this spring, I could walk out into the tiled area, but could not even drive an all-terrain vehicle onto the untiled land.

Timing advantages

This tiled field was the first field of beans we were able to plant. I also was able to get four different planting dates for the corn study in my plot. In past years, it was tough to get two or three dates when fields were fit to plant.

Soils that are high in salts are a perfect fit for tile drainage. Salty soils can hurt your yields by 50% or more. Tiling flushes the salts out and is really the only remedy in bringing these soils back into good condition.

In ground that does not have salt issues, the ability to get into wet fields earlier in the spring is the big economic advantage to tiling. Most local research has shown that you lose 1 bushel of corn per acre for every day in May that you don’t plant.

The other big positive is not having to “mud in” the crop, which usually results in sidewall compaction in the row. This alone can reduce yields by restricting the plant’s root growth. Planting into good growing conditions allows the plants to germinate faster and more uniformly, which in turn leads to higher yields.

Start early

Like most things, adding tile to your land is not completely painless. North Dakota has some of the tougher procedures for gaining permits and permissions, so it is best to start planning early for any tiling projects.

In the flat soils of the valley, having enough elevation to dump the water can be an issue, and lift station pumps are needed, adding expense. But the previously mentioned benefits outweigh the expense and make the economics of tile drainage profitable.

Talk to neighbors in your area who have experimented with tiling to discover if it is a fit for your land. We’ve seen the benefits firsthand on our land. Stop by our office in Prosper, N.D., if you’d like to take a look.

Spelhaug is an agronomist with Peterson Farms Seed, Harwood, N.D. Contact him at 866-481-7333 or visit

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.