Tile Drainage Key To Successful No-Till System

Importance of tile drainage on wet soils can't be overemphasized, farmer says.

Published on: Nov 30, 2012

Ask Jack Maloney, Brownsburg, about the keys to making a no-till system work. Somewhere early in the conversation he will stress how important the planter is to the system. It needs to be equipped properly, making it an expensive but valuable tool. If you run cover crops, as he does, the planter must be configured to plant into that type of environment and do it efficiently and accurately. The result must be uniform stands of both corn and soybeans.

Either just before or after he talks about the planter, he will give you a list of the most important things that have helped him make his system work on naturally poorly drained and somewhat poorly drained soils in Hendricks County in central Indiana. The first six things are all the same. One word – drainage!

Tile it first: One of the best ways to prepare land for no-till and cover crops is to tile it first.
Tile it first: One of the best ways to prepare land for no-till and cover crops is to tile it first.

"You can't overemphasize how important it is," he says. "You've got to have good drainage to make this type of system work. If your soils are naturally wet, then you need to install tile so that you can improve the drainage in the field."

Once you install drainage, however, you need to be careful, more careful than ever, about how you apply and manage nutrients, he says. What you've created is a screen door whereby things could flow more easily into tile lines. You want to make sure you retain nutrients. Cover crops growing and tying up nutrients in the fall is one way to get that job done. '

Maloney believes in drainage so much that he talks about it to his landlords who have land that needs tiling. In fact, if they grant him a 10-year lease, he will install tile on their land. A written clause in the rental contract covers how he is paid back for the tile. He's found that it works well in many situations.