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Drainage tile still a hot commodity

Last month, Timewell, Illinois-based Timewell Tile sold 12 times the amount of farm tiling supplies and materials than it did in March 2011. That's despite some major increases in raw materials in the last year. And, it's a sign that a lot of farmers are making the investments in their land to maximize its protection.

"They're starting to see the benefit of just improving what you've got instead of buying more," says Kris Durbin, a regional manager for Timewell based in Louisville, Kentucky, and whose territory covers southern Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

But yes, costs are increasing. Durbin says the price for resin -- the primary component in tile pipe -- has been increasing "almost weekly." But, that hasn't stopped farmers from adding more tile at a faster rate than in years past.

"It's still the most inexpensive way to improve your land," Durbin says. "I think the only real headache is that it's just more expensive. Guys have just been so used to paying a nickel or dime per foot and now they're paying a dime or quarter per foot.

"In an odd way, the more resin prices go up, the more business we get."

In west-central Illinois, the folks at Hunt Farm near Blandinsville have installed new tile lines on a few fields in the last few months. They've farmed most of the ground for quite some time, but on a rental basis. In the last year, they bought the ground, says Jake Hunt, and now that they own it, they're taking on capital investments like new drainage tile to get more out of their land.

"If we put it in, it was in an a place that we needed. It was ground that we'd been renting and bought it," Hunt says. "We'll generally tile only what we own. We've found that it's easier; landowners are a little scared of buying more land where prices are at and want to improve what they have."

If you're looking at adding new tile to any of your fields, Durbin has a few recommendations:

  • Choose the right size lateral line. Durbin says this is one of the most common questions he hears. This varies greatly by field, but typically 3- to 5-inch lateral lines will suffice.
  • Make sure you're installing tile at the right grade. "The most common mistake I've seen is having the wrong grade," he says.
  • Consider doing it yourself. At least in the mid-South, Durbin says a lot of farmers are buying pull-type plows and installing their own tile lines. "You're starting to see a huge growth in the owner-operator end of the tiling spectrum," he says. "Decide what's best between doing it yourself and hiring a contractor."
  • Ask a lot of questions. "Most farmers know how tiling works, but it's more about asking more specific questions," Durbin says. This includes what kind of main line size to install, how much water a specific-sized system will remove, etc.

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