Soil is one of the three critical elements to healthy plants, so optimizing soil conditions is a high priority for farmers. There are a lot of elements of soil health that are beyond control, like soil temperature. However, managing water and salinity have become increasingly important on our farm. This has lead us to start investigating our options.
Last summer I began listening to the Hefty brothers talk about the importance of tile drainage. Essentially, tile drainage is a series of underground pipes designed to manage excess water by routing it intentionally, thus lowering the water table to below the depth of the tile line.
Their message was still loud and clear at the soils clinic held in Winnipeg last month – tile drainage is the highest-impact, long-term investment you can make in your land. They point to these five benefits of tile:
Tile reduces erosion
Tile reduces flooding
Tile improves downstream water quality
Tile improves roads
Tile helps farmers maximize production on current farmland, which leaves non-crop land for relaxation and recreation
However, tile requires dedicated time and planning: obtaining permits and developing land maps for the tile installation is a process. Due to the extensive nature of this pre-installation work, this is an opportunity to work together and build trust with companies offering mapping and/or tile services. Once this phase is complete, the actual installation requires significant investments by landowners and their financial institutions.
The mole plow seeks to address the high cost of tile, by providing a lower cost alternative. Essentially, mole tile is a subsurface tunnel, without the infrastructure of the pipe. So, while the planning stages are similar to that of tile, the infrastructure cost is much lower. In exchange, the lifespan of mole tile, is also shorter, and is very dependent on the soil type and consistency. In January, at Ag Days in Brandon, we investigated this option for some of our fields, particularly those located alongside a natural ravine.
Keep reading to keep learning along with us, as we continue to do our homework about tile, irrigation and their relationship to each other as part of our overall water management strategy.