Drainage keys agronomics for these Minnesota farmers
During his crop-consulting career, Mark Bernard has heard farmers complain about the costs of all kinds of inputs. Seed. Fertilizer. Machinery.
There’s the price of one input, though, that never raises a peep among farmers.
“I’ve never heard farmers complain that they put in too much tile,” says Bernard of New Richland, Minnesota. “Without good drainage on our soils, all other practices take a backseat.”
Tiling Unleashes Productivity
Tile drainage is a cornerstone for Duncanson Growers, Mapleton, Minnesota. Farm partners include Pat and Kristin Duncanson, brother Karl and wife Jackie, and the brothers’ mother, Mary.
The deep and black soils of this area aren’t what European settlers found when they trekked to southern Minnesota in the 1800s. “Our soils are old geologic lake beds, prairies and swamps,” says Pat. “They are silty clay, some with little loam in them.”
These swampy soils masked excellent farmland that emerged when settlers improved drainage. Some peat soils the Duncansons farm consist of 10% to 15% organic matter. That’s off the charts, as many Corn Belt soils top off at 4% to 5% organic matter or less.
This high amount enables soils to hold water during drought. They also can provide 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen per percent of organic matter. High organic matter also protects against erosion and ensures excellent soil structure.
There’s a catch, though. Excess water that seasonally saturates these soils slows drainage and stifles tillage and planting. That’s where drain tile comes in. It persistently drains excess water from these soils, which creates a moist and warm seedbed that spurs germination and early growth. It also helps ensure timely planting, aiding the Duncansons in their goal of planting corn during the first week of April. Well-drained soils also help ensure timely spraying and harvesting, too.
“You can do nothing to control the weather,” says Pat. “But tile that removes excess water helps yields more than anything around here.”
Most of the Duncansons’ fields are pattern tiled. “In some cases, we take it to the extremes,” Pat says. “In some fields we have 30-foot tile lines; other fields have 40-foot lines.”