Drain without deluge: slow the water flow

FARGO, N.D. — Jeff Penner isn’t selling a machine so much as he’s selling a concept. He’s showing farmers how to achieve good drainage without letting a drop of water flow off the field.

There’s an old saying about how everybody lives downstream from somebody else. Likewise, we also live upstream from somebody, which carries a certain amount of responsibility.

If you do a good job of draining a quarter section, chances are you will send water spilling down into another field and from there into the municipal and provincial drainage networks.

If it’s a normal year for snowmelt and rainfall, this doesn’t create a problem. But if there is a major snowmelt and heavy spring rains it can cause catastrophic flooding in towns plus hundreds of thousands of lost cropland acres.

But it doesn’t have to happen like that, says Penner, a farmer at Swan River, Man., and inventor of the V-Wing drainage machine.

Penner attended the Big Iron Farm Show held Sept. 12-14 in Fargo to promote his smaller 2100HD V-Wing drainage plow.

The V-Wing is an assembly of blades and hydraulic cylinders capable of performing intricate soil moving operations. Penner developed the V-Wing because he needed a machine to support his radical idea of draining fields without removing the water.

Leading up to the V-Wing project, Penner had envisioned the exit end of a drainage ditch in a wet year, but one in which the exit point is dry. No deluge was flowing into the municipal ditch. The dry drain is not just a visionary’s dream. The V-Wing made it reality.

“The drain exit is dry because the wide shallow ditch has meandered around the field, lazily crawling from one pothole to the next as it gradually finds its way down toward the edge of the field,” says Penner.

When water crosses a drier patch it soaks in.

“Water that might otherwise have caused a downstream problem is kept at home. It’s almost a form of terracing to slow down the water.”

One V-Wing feature in particular plays into the slow flow concept: the Automatic Slope Control. Instead of being tied to a straight-line ditch, Automatic Slope Control keeps the blades at the correct cutting depth as the operator follows a zigzag path from pothole to pothole, heading toward the ultimate destination, which is the field edge. It produces a uniform slope the length of the ditch.

“For example, cut a ditch that drops 10 feet from a high point down to the edge where it dumps into a bigger drain. You can do a straight-line shot with a half-mile ditch. Water will flow fast. You’ll get it off the field quickly, but very little soaks into the soil and you may have significant soil erosion.

“Or, if you have Automatic Slope Control you can meander around in the field for a mile and a half and stretch that 10 foot drop out over that length so water infiltrates the soil. You’ll have no erosion and little or no water leaves the field.”

Penner says Automatic Slope Control uses slope sensors that send messages to a monitor, which sends messages to the hydraulic valves controlling the blades.

Efficiency was also one of Penner’s main criteria. The fall drainage window is small and a successful drainage implement has to work faster and use less fuel.

In most soil conditions, his V-Wing 3200 HD can make a four-inch deep cut at five mph pulled by a 450 h.p. tractor. The new, smaller 2100 HD needs 300 h.p. to make a four-inch cut at that speed.

The 2100HD V-Wing is smaller than the original 3200HD. Penner says he wanted to build the big one first to test his design theory and prove that it would pull easier.

He says once they had the 32-foot model working, it was easy to figure out the smaller 22-foot unit. In field tests, the 2100HD can cut and finish a flat bottom ditch a half-mile long and 40 feet across in 30 minutes. After making the main drain and pushing the spoil dirt up the edges, the V-Wing returns to make one pass on each edge, straddling the soil and winging it out away from the ditch.

He says some people think it will create earth dikes at the edges that slow water flow but that isn’t the case.

“Our wings work more like grader blades. They’re hydraulically controlled to work in all kinds of different directions and angles. You can go all left, all right, V-plow or any combination in between. That way you keep grading the soil away from the ditch, feathering it out to keep a smooth edge.”

He concedes the V-Wing is complex to operate. It does ditching, windrowing, grading, dragging dirt and scraper work. Both the large and small machines are able to play the role of scraper. The original machine can pull 32 cubic yards and the new machine can pull 21 cubic yards. To wring everything out of the machines, owners are switching to more automated control systems.

“You can put controls on the wings so you can set them at one degree slope or two degree slope and the controller will automatically maintain that slope on the sides of the ditch.”

The gradual side slopes doesn’t hurt seeding and spraying and harvest equipment.

“We all know your crop will suffer in the depressions. It’s easy to locate them on your maps, so you can pull some soil in so you aren’t wasting inputs. There’s two schools of thought on that. Either fill those little potholes by dragging in some dirt or try make a ditch to get the water out. This machine does both.”

He says once farmers are experienced with the machine they use it to slow water flow rather than drain it away.

“That’s a good sign. They’re learning it’s better to keep their water in the soil so their crop can use it.”

The 2100 HD base price is $79,900. The 3200 HD base price is $136,500. There are a variety of optional automated control systems available.

For more details, visit www.hitecag.com.

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