Row Crops


| Share

Determining Soybean Variety Response to Tile Drainage in the Red River Valley

Description of research project

Research idea

The proposed research plan will investigate the yield response of a range of soybean genotypes to tile drainage.  soybean grown under tiled and non-tiled conditions. In addition to measuring yield, crop plants will be evaluated for disease and other growth characteristics. Soil scientist will monitor water table, soil properties, and temperature between tiled and non-tiled experimental units.

 1)         Description of the importance of the project

From the 1990’s through 2008 excess water has significantly impacted crop production in the region. Besides acres not seeded due to water logged conditions, excess water caused yield losses on acres that were harvested. The fall of 2008 was wet and harvest in many fields was delayed. Perhaps the most compelling evidence that excess water is the major factor contributing to reduced yields comes from farmers, themselves. University of Minnesota Extension staff (including Dr. Kandel) in northwest Minnesota conducted in-depth farm diagnostic visits on 24 farms in 1999 and 2000.  These farmers uniformly ranked excess water as their number one production problem, with no other factor coming in a close second. Computer modeling of tile drainage in the region (Conducted by Dr. Sands, U of M Extension Engineer) suggests that delayed planting may be one of the most significant impacts of excess water on crop yield. Also in season saturated conditions can reduce the yield potential of crops including soybean. There is an increased interest in tiling but no research in the region has looked at the soybean genotypes, iron chlorosis, planting dates, and phytophtora between tiled and non-tiled conditions and the effect on yield. The proposed research is part of a larger plan that will investigate the yield response of commonly grown crops in ND and MN under tiled and non-tiled conditions.  After identification of crop responses to tile drainage further studies will focus on fine tuning crop rotation, fertility management, and crop residue management. 

2)         Description of the anticipated impact from project outcome

The expected impact of this research will be:

  • Growers will have quantifiable data on the soybean losses associated with seasonal water logging that will help them determine the value of practices that mitigate the effects of excessive soil moisture.
  • The value of tile draining on soybean production in the heavy soils of the RRV will determined.
  • Best genotype, iron chlorosis, disease management practices for soils prone to excessive moisture compared with tiled ground will be measured
  • A student will be trained at the masters level in soybean agronomy (we have the unique opportunity to train a North Dakotan, who is also a soybean grower, to the MS level as part of this project). 


3)         Previous research in this particular research area


Relationship to Past Projects:

The proposed project builds on previous drainage research that examined the feasibility of tile drainage for sugar beet, soybean and wheat production in Northwest Minnesota. That research compared different water removal rates and showed yield increases comparing tile drainage with non-tiled areas. The research did not look at planting date differences, genotype, iron chlorosis and root disease or opportunities to change crop management practices.


Although surface drainage is a component of a successful water management system, tile drainage is also a very important water management practice in many parts of the Midwest and elsewhere. Tile drainage can help to establish more optimum conditions for field operations and crop growth by lowering the water table in poorly drained soils (Skaggs and Van Schilfgaarde, 1999). Limited studies on wheat response to drainage have been conducted and show significant response of wheat to water table depth (Cannel, et al., 1980). Field research at Lamberton, Minnesota indicated that under favorable climatic conditions, cereal rye substantially reduced artificial subsurface drainage nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate-N) losses when planted after the fall corn harvest in a corn–soybean crop rotation (Feyereisen, 2005). Iron Deficiency Chlorosis is a major issue in the soybean production areas of eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Moisture is a major factor that affects the severity of iron-deficiency chlorosis (Franzen and Richardson, 2000). Phytophthora root rot caused by Phytophthora sojae might be a serious problem when the soil is excessively wet (Berlin Nelson, NDSU Soybean Plant Pathologist, personal communication and Nelson et al. 1996). Tolerance to water-saturated soil and role of resistance to Phytophthora sojae was reported by Helms et al. (2007).

Saturated soil conditions can stress plants and may limit plant growth and yield (Scott et al., 1989). Limited oxygen in soils has a negative effect on plant growth (Pezeshki, 1994). Fehr and Caviness (1977) reported a 20% soybean yield loss after three days of saturated soil conditions at the V2 and V3 stages. Recent studies by Dr. Ted Helms indicated an interaction between soybean genotypes grown under saturated and natural rainfall conditions. The average yield of 40 soybean varieties under saturated conditions was 26.3 bushel compared with the natural rainfall yield of 33.2 bushel per acre, which is a 20% yield reduction for the beans grown under saturated conditions. (

Some farmers have observed significant yield responses to tile drainage using combine yield monitors, in areas where tile drainage is common.  Although tile drainage is a very popular water management practice in the corn belt and southern Minnesota, there has been limited tile installation in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, until very recently. Information from this region (ND and NW MN) from farmers who have tile drainage suggests that there are some real benefits to be gained from this subsurface drainage. Farmers maintain that their tiled fields are now those where field operations take place first, instead of last.  However, flat topography, tight soils, economic uncertainty, and a tradition of surface drainage only, still limit its more widespread adoption in the region.  Both technical and economic feasibility must be clearly understood before tile drainage can become a widely accepted water management practice in the eastern part of North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Earlier planting, particularly for cool season crops such as field pea, canola, and spring wheat, often results in higher yields because the crop may avoid the high temperatures during the critical phase in its development.  Tile drainage may reduce some field operations and other input costs in addition to improving yield.  Producers with tile drainage list a number of benefits they receive from tile drainage including: lower fuel cost to work the tiled ground, less wear and tear on equipment, better timeliness of all field operations, better and more uniform crop stands, better weed control, fewer field ruts and less soil compaction, and better overall soil tilth.  Producers with tile drainage are reporting many effects that are very difficult and/or expensive to research.  A relatively modest amount of tile drainage has been in place in Northwest Minnesota for a decade or more.  However, in recent years many more producers have installed some tile drainage on their farms and are experiencing the results.  These producers are amassing a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding the performance of tile drainage in the region.


Cannell, R.Q., R.K. Belford, K. Gales and C.W. Dennis. 1980. Effects of water logging at different stages of development on the growth and yield of winter wheat. J. Sci Food Agric. 31:117-132.

Fehr, W.R., and C.E. Caviness. 1977. Stages of soybean development. Extension Bulletin 80. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Feyereisen, G. 2005. A Probabilistic Assessment of the Potential for Winter Cereal Rye to Reduce Field Nitrate-Nitrogen Loss in Southwestern Minnesota. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota.

Franzen, D.W., and J.L. Richardson. 2000 Soil factors affecting iron chlorosis of soybean in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. Plant Nutr. 23:67-78.

Helms, T.C., B. J. Werk, B. D. Nelson, and E. Deckard.  2007. Soybean Tolerance to Water-Saturated Soil and Role of Resistance to Phytophthora sojae. Crop Sci., 47(6): 2295 - 2302.

Nelson, B.D. , J.M. Hansen, and C.E. Windels,1996. Races of Phytophthora sojae on soybean in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota Plant Disease. Vol. 80, no. 1, 104 p.

Pezeshki. S.R. 1994. Plant response to flooding. P 289-321. In: R.E. Wilkinson (ed.) Plant Environment Interactions. Marcel Dekker Inc., New York.

Scott, H.D., J. DeAngulo, M.B. Daniels and L.S. Wood. 1989. Flood duration effects on soybean growth and yield. Agron. J. 81:631-636.

Skaggs, R.W. and J. Van Schilfgaarde. 1999. Agricultural Drainage. Madison, Wisconsin: American Society of Agronomy.

Gomez, K.A. and A.A. Gomez. 1984. Statistical Procedures for Agricultural Research. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

4)         Project objectives

The objectives of this research are to determine the level of yield loss associated with excessive soil moisture during the season and to explore ways to mitigate this problem through tile drainage. We will test a range of soybean varieties that will include genotypes that will allow us to test for the interaction between water management and traits that are known to be influenced by excessive water (iron chlorosis and disease). 


Soil and disease observations will provide the essential background in making soybean management decisions. This project will also provide funding for a graduate student.

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.