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Drainage systems key to land improvement

Agriculture.com Staff 01/19/2011 @ 10:34am

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.

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