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Holding back water in the field tile

By Staff | Dec 5, 2014

BRUCE VOIGHTS, project coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy for Eagle Creek in the Boone River Watershed, demonstrates how one of the field drainage structures work. Drainage structures as the two in front of him, can be used to hold tile water in the field if the producer chooses to keep water available to row crops and to keep nitrates from escaping fields into surface waters.


STANHOPE – One year it’s too dry, the next too wet, the next it’s too wet then turns too dry.

It plays havoc with a field’s water table, not to mention the farmer’s nerves.

As climate changes continue to bring volatile weather patterns, farmers are looking at ways to keep water at the root level for row crops as long as possible.

Bruce Voights, project coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy in Eagle Creek, in Wright and Hamilton counties, said at least one farmer will be giving it a try during the 2015 growing season.

Arliss Nielsen, of Woolstock, is in the early stage of installing water-restricting devices in his tiling system. The idea is to give him the option of holding water in his field, or opening the structures and draining, depending on the field’s needs.

Voights said drainage structures work as a dam, of sorts. Gates can be closed to hold a portion or all of the water that falls on a field.

Voights said the structures also help to keep nitrates in fields, rather than leach out into surface waters.

He said the plan is for these structures to be on field edges or in saturated buffers, so row-crop produces wouldn’t have to farm around them.

Voights thinks Nielsen’s project may the first, or one of the first in Iowa.

The Natural Resources and Conservation Service is offering some cost-share funds for producers interested in looking at the possibility.

“The field has to be relatively flat,” Voights said, “so it will eliminate many Iowa fields.

“The best time is while installing new tile lines.”

The level of cost-share funds will be dependent on the field, but a priority in this area will be a field within the Eagle Creek portion of the Boone River watershed, Voights said.

Inquiries can be made at any county NRCS office.

“It’s something new,” he said. “We’re trying to get some farmers interested in it.”

He said the Iowa Soybean Association is involved in the promoting of drainage control structures.

“There’s goal is crop production,” Voights said, “and our (NRCS) goal is nitrate reduction.”

Workshop set

A workshop to inform farmers how these structures can work is set from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 11, in the Stanhope Community Center in Stanhope.

This program will provide information essential for designing and planning a new drainage system or retrofitting an existing system.

In addition, the economic and long-term benefits of tiling will be discussed.

While the economic benefits of tiling are well recognized, Voights said there are environmental impacts created by tile drains.

New technologies designed to minimize negative environmental impacts will be discussed.

The workshop cost is $35, and registration is required by Dec. 8. The cost is $45 after Dec. 8.

“We are offering this farmland sub-surface drainage workshop due to the overwhelming interest in this topic in recent years,” said Kapil Arora, a field agricultural engineer with Iowa State University Extension.

The morning session will focus on sub-surface drainage design concepts, economics and long-term benefits of tiling.

The afternoon session will include discussions on drainage maintenance issues, compliance with USDA-NRCS requirements, controlled drainage, bioreactors and managing drainage water quality with wetlands, as well as legal issues related to tiling and Iowa drainage laws.

Those attending will learn information essential to designing and planning a new drainage system or retrofitting an existing system, while learning about environmental impacts and new technologies that may be useful in minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Iowa State University Extension speakers include Arora; Kelvin Leibold, a farm management specialist; Matt Helmers, professor and Extension ag engineer; and John Baker, an Iowa Concerns attorney; and USDA-NRCS drainage specialist Bruce Atherton.

ISU Extension, Iowa Farm Bureau of Hamilton and Hardin counties, various industry partners, and the NRCS are sponsoring the program.

Industry representatives from Prinsco, ADS, Midwest Plastic Products and Agri Drain will be available during the workshop to answer any questions.

The workshop qualifies for certified crop advisor credits.

Workshop materials, morning refreshments and lunch are included in the fee.

Registration can be made by completing the form located at www.extension.iastate.edu/hamilton and making payment to ISU Extension-Hamilton County.

For more information, download the workshop brochure or call ISU Extension in Hamilton County at (515) 832-9597.

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