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Drainage systems key to land improvement

With soaring land prices,
subsurface drainage might be a good option for farmers who want to raise yields
while also decreasing the effects of sediment and nutrients on nearby streams
and lakes.

A University of Missouri
Extension workshop, February 16-18 in Chillicothe, will provide a crash course
for farmers and contractors on designing and installing subsurface agricultural
drainage systems.

Because of high land prices,
more farmers are looking at improving their existing land as an alternative to
finding more land to cash rent or buy, said Kelly Nelson, an MU Extension
research agronomist. “This workshop provides a hands-on opportunity to go
through the process of surveying, working with the soil type they have to
estimate optimal drain tile spacing and sizing of pipes.”

While subirrigation and/or
drainage systems can cost $500-$1,200 per acre, when properly installed they
can boost corn and soybean yields by 20 to 40 percent, according to Nelson.

“Yield monitors on the
combines have shown us how much of an impact poor drainage has on our crop
performance,” he said. “I’ve been inundated with calls this fall about
subsurface drainage, and we’ve seen contractors as busy as can be."

A new system can mean
planting and harvesting earlier. The systems also decrease soil compaction and
increase fertilizer efficiency, especially in wet years.

“With integrated
water-management systems you have built in slides that work to reduce nitrate
loss in the winter and then lower the water level as we move into spring to
plant, and once the crop is established can conserve water,” Nelson said. “When
it comes to crop production, environmental stewardship and water conservation,
a lot of our farmers are looking at these systems and we just want to make sure
they are designed right when they are making that investment.”

MU researchers have been
collecting subirrigation data on one research plot since 2001, looking at tile
spacing, yields and soil porosity. With the help of the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources,
water-monitoring equipment was installed at the MU Drainage and Subirrigation
(MUDS) site at the Greenley Research Center in Novelty, Mo. “Water quality can
really improve,” Nelson said. “Other states show up to 75 percent reductions of
nitrate loading of surface water streams through managed drainage.”

This year will be the fourth
year since 2006 that this workshop has been offered. Speakers include farmers,
contractors, and scientists and engineers from MU, Iowa State University and
the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

By the end of the workshop,
contractors and farmers will be able to return home and put their knowledge to
use, Nelson said. “There are a lot of right ways to design a correct system but
there are also wrong ways. Often it is just about finding the most
cost-effective way for each farmer.”

Those interested can enroll
in the workshop
for $30 before the February 9 deadline. There is no on-site
registration and capacity is limited to the first 50 people.

By Roger Meissen, University
of Missouri Extension

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