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Ag Drainage Management
Practices and Results

January 2012

By Dr. Harold F. Reetz, Jr.,
Ph.D., CPAg, CCA

Executive Director, ADMC
Monticello, Illinois

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Much of the Corn Belt is dependent upon subsurface (tile) drainage to be productive. Many of our best corn growing soils are poorly drained and could not be used for crop production before tile drainage was installed. Systems designed to efficiently remove water in the spring and fall to facilitate field work continue to drain the water from fields even after the excess rainfall has stopped. Drainage Water Management (DWM) systems allow farmers to save some of the water so that it can be used by the crop, by stopping or reducing the water flow from tile lines. DWM involves installing control structures, which use stop logs to create dams within the tile line that can be sued to adjust the water table and the rate of water flow from the field. These controls can be lowered at different times during the growing season to allow field to dry out for field work, or raised to hold back the water for more efficient use by the crop. Holding back the water helps to increase water table recharge, too. DWM is also a positive management practice for reducing loss of nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fields, increasing nutrient use efficiency and reducing potential for contamination of downstream water resources. The USDA/NRCS has launched a major effort to promote the use of DWM, including incentives for technical assistance and for installation of DWM systems. Field studies by the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) and various university, industry, and farmer cooperators found that DWM reduced water loss by 35%, nitrate loss by 34%, and increased crop yield by 1.5% over 20 locations in 5 states. Soil type and weather variability affect results at any one location, but there are many positive effects of using DWM.

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