Tiling gets people's attention. They weren't especially excited when the two wagon loads of people on Jason Webster's tour at Beck's Hybirds Field Days near Atlanta, Ind. Recently heard him say that in one of their practical farm research studies, tiling didn't show much benefit the first year. In fact, it didn't show much benefit for the first few years. Finally, it began to show dividends. They're still trying to determine why it took longer than expected for tile to begin to pay off, which it finally did.
However, when Webster, manager of Beck's Practical Farm Research Station near Bloomington, Ill., showed them a field where they were comparing a new practice for them, subirrigation, to non-irrigated corn, ears perked up. The yield difference could be huge this year. Dry weather has also hampered the area where Beck's are located, although perhaps not as much as in some other areas. The heat was definitely as much a factor there as anywhere else.
Subsurface irrigation as a concept is not new. More than 20 years ago, Ohio State University researcher Dick Cooper, also with USDA, demonstrated at Wooster, Ohio, that he could use the system to produce soybeans that produced very high yields. A farmer here and there in Indiana has tried it over the years. The problem is controlling the water flow, installing tile lines at the proper spacing, and making it pay. What it amounts to are tile lines installed about 2 feet deep in the Beck study, on 15 foot centers, with 3-inch diameter tile.
Expensive to install, the benefit comes not only when the tile begins removing unwanted water in the spring , but also when you control the gates and let water flow back into the field from a collection pond in the summer. When water flows back through the tile lines, it keeps corn green while patches around it that aren't getting the water suffer.
If this is one of those 50 bushel per acre difference years, which is possible, for irrigation vs. non-irrigation, with $7 per bushel corn, one year could go a long way toward paying off the investment.
Naturally, that's not going to happen every year, Webster knows. Farmers will have to decide whether they can pencil out the cost of a system that will be effective used both ways over time, with more realistic yield and price numbers over a longer period, say perhaps a 10-year period.