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The Growing Popularity of Subsurface Tile Drains

January 25, 2018


Agricultural subsurface tile drainage is a practice that has been around for many decades but has recently become increasingly popular among growers throughout the Midwest, given improvements in technology and increases in commodity prices. This practice allows growers to effectively change the drainage properties of their land to remove excess water and recover some of the most fertile soils that could otherwise not be farmed. Subsurface tile drainage has become so prominent in some agricultural regions that drainage districts have been formed, leading to excavated man-made drainage ditches providing landowners a place for the water to go in order to make land arable.

Paired field, subsurface tile and rainfall monitoring stations

While this practice has been extremely effective in achieving its primary goal, it has not come without a cost. Just as it allows water to circumvent natural drainage pathways and associated soil retention times, it also allows any constituents in that water to do the same thing. This has led to an undeniable effect on the water systems that receive agricultural drainage tile discharge. However, given its vast benefits to growers who are constantly challenged with feeding an ever-growing population, the associated externalities of this practice must be weighed and carefully considered.

Agricultural subsurface tile drainage, automated water monitoring station installation

As a result, Waterborne Environmental has partnered with commodity groups in three states in the Midwest to complete six different monitoring and numerical simulation projects. These projects examined the issues related to agricultural tile drainage, putting them into perspective across the broader landscape, and evaluated the effectiveness of conservation best management practices to meet constituent loss reduction goals. As a company with locations throughout the corn belt and a team with families rooted in agriculture, we are very sensitive to the delicate balance that must be struck between protecting grower interest and shielding the environment and that optimal balance is exactly what we aim to achieve through projects such as this.

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