Yield benefits in wet, dry years | Cost could be up to $600 per acre
ROULEAU, Sask. — Tile drainage hasn’t traditionally been installed on Saskatchewan cropland, but the last several wet years and a backlash against agricultural drainage have sparked interest in the practice.
Wayne Weber, designer of the Crary Tile Pro plow from Morgan, Minnesota, predicts a lot more will come.
“This is going to be a new wave of precision farming,” he said at a recent field day and demonstration at MJK Ag Ventures near Rouleau.
Weber said changing climate and weather patterns have farmers wondering where water they aren’t used to dealing with should go. However, the benefits extend past wet years.
“Even in a dry year you increase yields,” he said. “It’s an all-round winning proposition.”
Tim Weisberg drove several hours from his farm southwest of Melfort, Sask., to the field day in a search of a solution to soil moisture in his region.
“We don’t have big bodies of water,” he said. “But probably since the fall of ’05 we’ve been wet.”
The land is so saturated that at times it’s difficult to walk on.
“This year we had the best looking crop we’ve had in the last 10 years,” Weisberg said.
“Then we got seven inches of rain. After the first two inches it was toast.”
He is looking for ways to farm his land without digging drainage ditches.
Tile drainage takes some time to work, said Mike Kleckner of MJK Ag Ventures, who hosted the field day at his farmyard.
His company has just started to offer tile drainage equipment, from tile to the required electronics to the plows, in response to what he has seen farming on the heavy clay of the Regina plains.
“It’s not an overnight fix,” said Kleckner, who operates a custom spraying, swathing and hauling business.
“It takes time to get the soil trained.”
Tile drainage is designed to remove subsurface moisture and allow oxygen to get at plant roots. The roots develop better, which improves yields.
Pipes placed about a metre below the surface catch water and move it to an outlet located at a lower elevation.
Typically it has been used on higher-value vegetable crops because the payback time for installation and equipment is seven to 10 years.
However, some American farmers have found payback periods of three years because of higher yields.
Estimates for the Prairies suggest a cost of $400 to $600 per acre.
Tile drainage will also clean up salinity and increase production, particularly on irrigated land.
Justin Dugdale, who farms at Pense, Sask., said his family farm intended to buy the first unit that Kleckner brought in with a view to draining into a creek.
He and other farmers in his area are struggling with soil saturation.
However, he had questions about how the pipe would perform in clay soil, which is prone to heaving, and when he would find the time to install the tile.
Dugdale also said he would obtain the proper permits from Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency before starting work.
Kleckner said anyone considering tile drainage should contact the agency, which falls under the environment ministry. There are also underground utilities and pipelines to consider.
However, neighbours are likely to be the main concern.
Water and drainage have fractured many a friendship, and Kleckner advised meeting with neighbours or forming a conservation and development district to work together to develop a drainage plan.
The water has to go somewhere, he said.
“Maybe it’s your own place you sacrifice.”
Weisberg said he likes the idea of increasing productivity on his own land without harming anyone else or buying more land.
“To me, if everybody tiled and closed their ditches, it would be better for everyone,” he said.
Kleckner thinks it will take time for Saskatchewan farmers to adopt the technology.
Added Weber: “Education is the key.… Their biggest fear is how to do it.”
However, he said new computer software is available that helps farmers determine where to place the tile.