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Control your tile drainage

Jeff Caldwell 03/26/2013 @ 10:08am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If there was a way to preserve the lifespan of your field tiling, prevent nutrient buildup within that system and let you start spring fieldwork earlier than normal, would you adopt the tool in your fields?

Those are some of the functions of adding a controlled drainage structure to your existing drainage system. The structure essentially retains drainage water from tile lines and holds onto it until it's ready to release. And, according to Ohio State University Extension educator Bruce Clevenger, a controlled drainage structure can be adjusted vertically to accommodate different fieldwork operations.

"Controlled drainage involves an in-line structure added to the outlet of a subsurface drainage system. The structure allows the farm manager to artificially raise the outlet elevation and thus retain water in the field subsurface. The outlet is not plugged nor is the outlet elevation raised to retain water up to the soil surface," Clevenger says. "Controlled drainage structures can be adjusted to incrementally raise the elevation from the bottom of the field main to within 12-24 inches of the soil surface, depending on the time of year."

The controlled drainage structure's flexibility allows it to adjust to both the amount of water that's taken into the system as well as the amount of water to be expelled. The latter quality makes it easier for things like spring tillage to happen under less-than-ideal field and moisture conditions, Clevenger says.

"Controlled drainage is flexible and allows for management options year-round. Farmers need dry soils during planting and other spring field operations, thus the controlled drainage structure would be set to free drainage 30-40 days prior to planting through the completion of spring field operations. After spring operations are complete, the control structure would be set to conserve/retain water in the subsoil from rainfall to be used during dry periods of the summer, leaving 12-24 inches of drained soil at the surface available for rainfall," he says. "If excess soil water is anticipated or received during the summer, farmers can lower the water level in the field by adjusting the control structure. As harvest nears, the growing crop may have used all the retained water or farmers may need to return the structure to free drainage to lower the water level in the field. Following harvest and fall field operations, farmers would raise the outlet elevation to 12-18 inches below the soil surface and hold it there until 30-40 days prior to spring planting."

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