From FCC Express
By Owen Roberts
Drainage used to be all about getting water off your land, not keeping it there.
But times have changed, owing in particular to climate change. The overall concept of moving excess water off land remains sound, but climate change has also brought about more extremes in drought.
And research has shown that during such times, holding water back through controlled drainage – that is, managing water flow from fields with simple flow control systems at tile drain outlets or designated locations upslope – can improve corn yields by up to 25 per cent in some cases.
With that in mind, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association has launched a new federally funded partnership with researchers at the University of Ottawa to further determine the benefits for farmers of controlled drainage, and develop best practices for doing so.
Harold Rudy, OSCIA executive officer for research and business development, says tile drain installations are an essential tool for sustainable agriculture in Ontario. With more than half of southern Ontario’s crop land systematically tile drained, he says there are many opportunities to enhance the systems to better balance both economic productivity and environment.
That includes taking measures to reduce drainage during drought. The researchers will work to determine best practices that can minimize any impacts agricultural practices may have on downstream water quality, such as targeting high risk locations, and working with a combination of control valves and inlet filters.
The OSCIA says significant research has been undertaken by Agricultural and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), in cooperation with the South Nation Conservation Authority in the Ottawa Valley, and that increases in adopting controlled tile drainage are being seen particularly in eastern Ontario.
David Lapen, an AAFC scientist working on this research, says if tiles are already installed systematically as a capital investment, relatively little additional expense is required to add a tile flow control structure. He says controlled drainage works best when employed on field slopes typically less than one per cent.
Rudy says controlled drainage is part of an overall water management strategy modern producers need to consider.
“Climate change also brings us more severe storms, so not only are drainage designs essential to handle the capacity of greater rainfall, but soil and crop management systems also are required to keep soil covered year round to hold soil in place,” he says. “Conservation tillage, cover crops, and healthy soils will be a priority of good soil and crop managers.”