It’s all about control
By LARRY KERSHNER
CLARION – One of the downsides to tiling a farm field is that during a dry year, such as 2012, it would have been nice to have some of that drained water in the soil for thirsty row crops.
The ag students at Clarion-Goldfield High School, during November, convinced themselves that there is something that can be done in future dry seasons to keep water in tiled fields.
During a class discussion of drainage water management, conducted by guest speaker Bruce Voights, of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, housed in Clarion, class members said they wanted to build a model system that producers could control for keeping more water in their fields, yet could release the water during heavy rains or other times in the season.
Starting on Nov. 1, several class members set to work on the system. Picking up NRCS funding for materials, and technical assistance from Agri Drain, in Adair, which provided float control devices from its Smart Drainage System, they pieced together a simulated field drainage system, installed the control devices and turned on the water.
There were some leaks and some technical tweaks needed, but by Monday night, they had a working simulation to demonstrate to about two dozen people in the school’s ag shop.
CGHS senior Matt Odland said class members’ interest in drainage water management was piqued by Voights’ talk and a video.
“You can make anything look like it works with a video,” Odland said. “But we wanted to see that it works.”
Besides, he added, “It’s something different than taking notes.”
Team member Gavin Disney, junior, said he was skeptical at the outset.
“I didn’t think the structure could back up a field’s water,” Disney said. “But now I’m convinced this is going to work.”
Odland said this is the first he heard that there is something that can be done to control the rate of water being drained from a field.
Team member Brett Osterman, a junior, said this system can also be used to raise the water level in a field to create a temporary wetland area.
Producers, some parents and area farmers with NRCS-funded water control structures in their fields looked on as the demonstration showed the blue-dyed water backed up along the clear tubes functioning as tile lines..
To relieve the downstream pressure on the control box, float-operated valves upstream systematically close off preventing tile blowout.
The idea behind the structure, Voights said, is to keep water close to the root systems of row crops. The water can be released prior to planting and harvesting.
At times of heavy rain, the structure is opened and the tile system does its work. By retaining the water in the soil profile, plant roots have a chance to feed on nitrates.
Voights said the drainage water management system also reduces the amount of nitrates that seep into surface waters from runoff, which eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. He said that Iowa and Illinois contribute a combined 70 percent of the nitrate leaching into the Mississippi River.
Since much of Clarion County is within one of several focus areas of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, there is federal cost-share funding for implementing a water control feature in existing tile lines, as was demonstrated Monday.
Angela Charlson, CGHS ag education instructor, credited the students with Monday’s demonstration.
“They took the initiative on themselves,” she said, “and they did it all themselves.”
The students worked on the project during a seventh-period study hall through November.
A few of those watching the demonstration asked a question or two, but most looked it over and left.
Voights said he was still encouraged.
“At least people know about drainage water management,” he said. “I think the drought drew their attention. But most will wait to see if it works.”
Overall, Voights said, the project was a lifelong learning experience for the students.
“I saw how well they worked together,” Voights said, “they didn’t yell at each other. It was a life skill they’ll take with them.”
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