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Managing Excess Water Utilizing Tile Drainage (08/06/20)

The 2020 cropping season has been challenging. In some parts of North Dakota, there has been drought and in other pockets of the State there has been abundant rainfall, causing excess water conditions (Photo 1).

The 2020 cropping season has been challenging. In some parts of North Dakota, there has been drought and in other pockets of the State there has been abundant rainfall, causing excess water conditions (Photo 1).

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Water ponding and saturated conditions has an effect on various chemical processes in the plant and will usually reduce crop growth and yield potential. As soil pores are filled with water plant roots are deprived of oxygen. The plants need oxygen for cell division, growth and the uptake and transport of nutrients. In well-drained soil oxygen is available for the plant.

Often, the major source of “damage” from inadequate drainage relates to timeliness of field operations. Inadequate drainage can delay spring field operations from days to a week or more. Occasional wet spots also interrupt field traffic patterns and cause field operations to be less uniform. Machinery traffic on soils that are too wet will cause increased soil compaction. Delays in planting mean a shorter growing season for the crop. Once the crop is planted, inadequate drainage can cause stunted plants (Photo 2) and shallow root growth, and sometimes, complete crop failure due to excess-water stress.  Planting delay, soil compaction, and excess-water stress, combined, can translate into significant crop yield impacts. The magnitude of the yield impact for a growing season depends on crop and variety, soils, and the season’s rainfall pattern.

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Although a crop currently under water stress cannot be rescued, risk of future water logged conditions can be reduced by subsurface tiling a field. Tile drainage is used to remove excess water from the root zone but does not remove plant available water from the soil. The greatest benefits of tile drainage are realized in wet years--but because drainage promotes deep root development, crops will have better access to soil moisture in dry years. In general when poorly drained soils are tile drained, crop yields will be more uniform from year to year. To increase options producers are encouraged to consider installing water management control boxes. Water table control structures can be used on fairly level fields, which provides the producer the option to close the outlet and conserve water when needed. In some cased a drainage pump unit is installed, which could be switched off when there is a concern about dryer growing conditions. We recently produced an educational recording about controlled drainage with some more details about this practice. For more information about tile drainage see the NDSU publication AE1690 Frequently Asked Questions About Subsurface (Tile) drainage.

 

 Hans Kandel

Extension Agronomist Broadleaf Crops

 

Tom Scherer

NDSU Extension Agricultural Engineer

This site is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27144/accession 1013592] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the website author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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