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The Land Improvement Contractors Association will host their 2016 Winter Convention in San Antonio, Texas, from March 1-6.
An Iowa water utility is pursuing a novel strategy in the battle against nitrates by taking drainage districts to court. reports. | READ MORE
Various aspects of farmland drainage will be the focus of a daylong workshop on Dec. 10 at the Polk County Extension office in Altoona. The program begins at 8:15 a.m. and will adjourn at 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 11, 2015, United Kingdom – A plan to sink more than 35 miles of electric cabling in a wind farm project in Lincolnshire, U.K., poses a threat to damage a network of clay or plastic drain tile, reports | READ MORE
Nov. 3, 2015, Ohio – The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service say they will join forces to create and manage demonstration farms in the Blanchard River watershed, to find ways to reduce the runoff of agricultural nutrients from fields, reports The Courier. Through 2020, the Farm Bureau plans to create two to four demonstration farms in the watershed, which will be models for innovations that can reduce and prevent agricultural nutrient runoff. | READ MORE
Nov. 2, 2015, Wisconsin – A group of public and private entities has come together to provide another avenue for farmers to address water-quality issues in Wisconsin. | READ MORE
Oct. 20, 2015, United Kingdom – Poor farmland drainage and unsatisfactory levels of soil pH could be seriously hindering grass growth on UK farms. Drainage Contractor columnist Rob Burtonshaw tells Farmers Weekly that much of the farmland in the UK has not been drained since the 19th century, with cost prohibiting farmers from doing so. | READ MORE
Oct. 20, 2015, Arthur, IL – Tesmec USA will be demonstrating its TLM 60/60 in Arthur, IL on Nov. 17, 2015 (with a rain date of Nov. 18 if needed) at 9 a.m. The TLM 60/60 is a large ladder trencher with a maximum depth of 14 feet and maximum width of 60 inches. The 18-square-foot ROPF and HVAC-equipped cab greatly contributes to operator comfort. Tesmec also manufactures a smaller farm drainage trencher, the 775 DT. The demo will be organized with the help of local LICA chapters, and more information about the TLM 60/60 can be found in the Fall 2015 issue of Drainage Contractor. For more info on the demo, please contact Stephen Leghissa at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Oct. 15, 2015, Ontario – Claybelt Drainage in Kapuskasing, ON, is one of six projects to receive funding from the government of Ontario. The company will receive $200,000 to build and equip a maintenance facility for their newly established tile drainage installation business. The initiative is part of the province's Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), with the purpose of investing in projects that will help farmers and food producers expand their businesses.
Oct. 8, 2015, MI – Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie, but critics say the self-congratulation is misleading. Michigan Radio reports. | READ MORE
Oct. 8, 2015, Novelty, MO – The University of Missouri’s Greenley Research Centre is studying tile drainage and irrigation to help farmers address the wet and dry extremes that affect crops in the northern part of the state. Missouri Farmer Today reports. | READ MORE
Sept. 30, 2015, Sioux Falls, SD – Farmers and ranchers in Minnehaha County wanting to move water off their properties with drain tile still need to first get a permit with the county planning office – for now. The Argus Leader reports. | READ MORE
Under overcast September skies, David Wideman of Wideman’s Farm Drainage marked the end of an era, laying what he believes to be the last clay drainage tile to be installed in Canada.
Now, after an exciting few months that saw two retirements and two successions transferring ownership of established businesses from one generation to the next, we’re checking back in with Bower Tiling Service to find out what’s new with this fourth-generation family business.
Water: the single most important substance in the world. Water: the most available substance in the world. On the surface of those statements it would seem that all is well; we all know there is a “but” lurking within them.  
Traditionally windmills are used to extract water for livestock or irrigation. Not on the Coon Farm.
Take a trip back in time with Luft and Son Farm Drainage, laying field tile in Roosevelt Township, Iowa, circa 1973.
When Fostoria, Ohio, farmer Lanny Boes purchased his first ditch machine 40 years ago, he had no idea it would lead to him starting a drainage contracting company.
Since the mid-1970s, the province of Ontario has had a plow testing and certification program and is currently updating the program. With the significant increase in plow-installed subsurface drainage over the last several years in both the U.S. and Canada, it seems that it is time that a drainage plow testing and certification program be considered for development in the United States. Corrugated plastic (HDPE) subsurface drain tubing installed with plow-type equipment has increased dramatically since the early 1970s, in both Canada and the United States. All of the early drainage plows were equipped with laser-based automatic depth and grade-control systems. Older systems have now been upgraded on many plows, and some trenchers, with the modern satellite-based 3-D GPS depth and grade-control system.
I had the great fortune to study journalism with some of the best in the business. Although I walked away from j-school with a bunch of practical skills, I often think that the bite-sized pieces of fortune cookie wisdom my professors passed along were the most valuable lessons I learned during my studies. Some of my favorites – “There’s a reason you have two ears but only one mouth” and “The only stupid question is the one you never ask” – by no means apply exclusively to journalism. They have, however, had tremendous influence in how I view my role as your new editor of Drainage Contractor.
“From snow buckets to manure buckets, we can fix it. Bring it in or we can come to you. We've made everything from hoof trimmer cow cages to handicap elevators in homes. Bring your own design, or let us design and build.”
The last time I wrote a column for Drainage Contractor, I thought the weather was so unusual and such a talking point that I could not write about anything else. Yet again, this thought occurs to me: we have had record rainfall levels here in the U.K., and I have read about the chilling weather inflicted on those in North America. However, as this would soon become the dullest part of the magazine if I just gave a weather report, I will resist the temptation. Regardless of what is causing the changes, I doubt many in Britain would disagree that something strange is going on. Every couple of months the headlines report weather records being broken or set. This might be a blip or a pattern, but the weather is headline news like never before, and many believe climate change is the cause. I believe that drainage contractors should greet it as an opportunity.
Across Canada, there are considerable challenges in managing our surface water quality. One factor that can greatly affect this is agricultural nutrient runoff, and among those areas where this is a major concern are Lake Erie and Lake Simcoe, in Ontario. Nutrient runoff is also an increasing concern in areas of intensive agriculture across Prince Edward Island, a province in which 100 per cent of drinking water comes from groundwater wells.
The fire service is often said to represent years of tradition unimpeded by progress. Unfortunately, this old and rather clichéd adage applies to many industries, and when I became the editor of Drainage Contractor in early 2013, I wondered if the same saying would ring true for ours.
The system was developed at AAFC’s Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, ON, and combines tile drainage, reservoir and controlled drainage with irrigation. It works by using strategically placed riser pipes, which can be installed on existing tile drainage systems, to prevent water from leaving the tile until it reaches a pre-determined level controlled by the farmer. The system is attached to a reservoir or artificial wetland to store excess water, which can then be returned to the field by using subsurface irrigation and/or drip irrigation during dry periods.
It’s a short jump to change many drainage systems into drainage subirrigation systems, says Mark Nussbaum, an area engineer at the United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). Add a bioreactor intended to eliminate water pollution and it equals good news for farmers and the environment.
Nitrate loss through tile drainage systems has been a water quality concern in the Midwest for many years. Reducing concentration from current values to a maximum level of 10 mg N L-1 has been adopted as a goal in many nutrient reduction plans.
Few soils will drain fast enough to allow golf to be played in comfort after a period of prolonged rain, but effective drainage techniques can make a huge difference to the speed at which water will drain away. Here are seven steps for successful fairway drainage that will keep costs down.
The importance of good water management is sometimes lost in the busy world of farming. As an Australian Nuffield Scholar, travelling to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States and Canada to gain knowledge on ways to reduce waterlogging, I soon realized the importance of looking at multiple ways to combat this issue.My study topic is finding ways to reduce waterlogging in high value cropping programs. Controlling water from rainfall and irrigation is an important part of any modern farming business. Crop stress, either by being too dry or too wet, limits plant growth. My wife Sarah and I run a mixed cropping farm in the Northern Midlands of Tasmania, Australia. Tasmania, being an island with a moderate climate, lends itself well to niche crops such as poppies, vegetables, cereals, and seed crops such as grass seed, carrot, etc. On the property we also run a prime lamb trading operation. As crops are harvested in summer, wheat and grass seed crops are planted and used as a cover or fodder crop to fatten lambs. Most of the property is irrigated using pivot irrigation. The soil is a red clay loam with very heavy clay subsoil. Crops suffer badly through the winter and early spring from losses attributed to waterlogging. Because of the heavy clay content, water infiltration is very slow and most crops suffer after prolonged periods of wet weather. Tile is used in conjunction with raised beds, surface drains and mole drains. All tile is put in by local contractor Tas Land Drainage, using a Mastenbroek trenchless plow with the aid of a laser. The company has been experimenting with GPS grade control and will hopefully take this technology on in the future. Gravel aggregate is placed around and on top of the tile up to 300 mm (one foot) of the surface to broaden the tile profile. In addition to this, mole draining at a depth of 600 mm (two feet) and two metres (approximately six to seven feet) apart is installed adjacent to the tile lines to allow water infiltration. The mole drainer is simply a vertical leg 600 mm (two foot) long with a cylindrical torpedo attached. Following this is an expander, to help compact the mole wall. Mole draining needs to be done when the clay is damp enough to hold the shape of the expander, but not too wet to be compacting the surface with machinery. The mole will stay there for four or five years and must then be reinstalled. My goal was to find out what causes waterlogging and how to reduce its effects. I studied monitoring soil, plant health, irrigation management using variable rate application, drainage and nutrient loss. Drainage was a large part of my investigation. During my travels I met with many contractors, manufacturers, researchers and farmers. It seems drainage itself hasn’t changed a lot over the years, but many things that surround it have. There is no doubt the addition of GPS technology has made a big difference to the way fields are drained. The design work takes minimal time using the latest watershed modelling programs. Utilizing these programs enables contractors to quote when looking into a new job. For the farmer or grower, this technology means they have a complete plan laying out the costing, tile size, tile placement and how much water can be drained off the field. Upon completion of the job, a record can be kept for reference in future extensions or repair work. GPS is also used to control tile grade and placement in regards to the field topography. This technology is a giant leap forward. Controlled drainage systems, utilizing control structures, have been well highlighted to show benefits in the reduction of nutrient loss. Tile control structures have become very popular. By placing these structures just before the out fall, the water table can be raised to hold water in field and let the rain soak in and filter through the soil profile. This also holds nutrients in the field longer and doesn’t allow them to flow straight through the drainage tile into the waterways as a pollutant. It is a very simple structure that drastically reduces the amount of nutrient loss, keeping nutrients in the field to aid in crop growth. I also met with researchers working on some very interesting programs. Richard Cooke, at Illinois State University, explained research is being done on saturated buffer zones and woodchip de-nitrification bioreactors to reduce nutrient loss. Hopefully, by using these methods in the future, nutrient loss will be vastly reduced.Another relatively new idea is the use of in-line water gates to raise water levels. Using these for subsurface irrigation was another idea that was really pushing the thinking of water management. As Chin Tan, with the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, Ont. explained, the tile is already there and if it can be utilised as an irrigation option from beneath the plant it will promote deeper “searching” roots. Of course a close monitoring program needs to be in place in case of a major rainfall event. This can be done by lowering the water profile before rainfall through the use of stop logs in the control structure.I was very impressed with the professionalism of the contractors that gave up some time to talk with me. They showed great precision and care when installing tile pipe. I am grateful for their honesty and openness when questioned on certain ideas and customs.  On returning home, after meeting so many great people with an array of ideas, I am focusing my time on a full system approach to waterlogging. The plan is to use the technology available to monitor as many factors as I can, and use drainage technique, design and technology, nutrient loss management, controlled tillage practices and variable rate irrigation to try to reduce crop loss from waterlogging. Greg Gibson is a Nuffield Australia 2014 Scholarship winner.
In 2005, Murray and Wilma Scott approached the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority with a common drainage issue. With hard work, they resolved the issue for good and were awarded the Ontario Minister’s Award for Environmental Excellence for their efforts.Ten years on, the Scott farm continues to demonstrate to drainage contractors, farmers and community leaders alike the benefits of using a systems approach when it comes to drainage.The rolling farm near Belgrave, Ont., has been in the Scott family since 1856, when it was purchased from the Crown. While the fields are heavy clay, a gravel bottom provides great natural drainage and a high water table means that the Scotts have to manage a lot of water. A municipal drain was dug in the early 1950s, outletting to the Belgrave Creek, which flows to Lake Huron via the Maitland River. For years, runoff coming from the farmed slopes brought a steady stream of sediment into the open section of the drain. While the drain’s consistent flow meant that it didn’t require dredging, the Scotts still had their share of troubles with it flooding their fields. “It was a messy thing and it was getting wider over time,” Murray says. They also noticed the trout that had once spawned in the watercourse had disappeared.  To address these issues, the Scotts wanted to create clear and cold water on the property, says Simon VanDriel of VanDriel Excavating in Clinton, Ont. “Water comes from over there and leaves over there, we can’t change that,” he explains. The solution is to slow down the water by capturing it in wetlands and forcing it to take a much longer route to Belgrave Creek. “When water gets to the lake, it is lost. I know that sounds funny, but you actually want to get it underground and to keep up the water table,” VanDriel says.Between 2005 and 2009, the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) coordinated the funding and construction of a project that would showcase a whole suite of drainage solutions on the Scott farm. Agricultural runoff is now redirected through 2,558 feet of berms, 2,030 feet of grassed waterways and four standing inlet pipes into six constructed wetlands. Flow is controlled with three control boxes and an overflow culvert, while water is filtered through two French drains and three nitrate filters. In total, 813 feet of the channelized drain was restored to a low flow meandering channel with native shrubs and trees planted in the riparian areas. An additional 4,033 feet of trees were planted as windbreaks to protect topsoil from wind erosion.This solution was far beyond what the Scotts had originally expected. “And tours were never something we imagined when we started this,” Murray says with a laugh. In the last decade, the Scotts have taken hundreds of people around the property to show them how it all works. In looking back however, Murray feels that they started working on the wrong end of the drain. “We should’ve started upstream and worked our way down,” he says. “Any project of this nature should be done on a watershed basis.” Geoff King, stewardship coordinator with the MVCA agrees. The organization is currently working with the four landowners upstream to intercept the runoff in a series of erosion control berms that will slow the water down even before it gets to the Scott drain. King is also exploring the possibilities of including these berms and other improvements under the protection of the Drainage Act. This will ensure that the area’s natural infrastructure is maintained for optimal function. Murray points to the fact that his farm was once part of the extensive Queen’s Bush that was cleared and drained for agriculture over a century ago. “Water used to pool in these places and go down into the aquifer, but now we’re draining it all in a short period of time.” He believes that with a bit of common sense, we can mimic Mother Nature while still making agriculture viable. “We still need to tile drain because we can’t be productive without it,” he adds. “But through the experience of doing all this it has become clear to me that we were doing things all wrong in just letting the water go downstream and all drain away like that.” His field tiles no longer outlet directly to the drain, but empty into a series of constructed wetlands that allow the water to filter and seep down, along with the yard and roof runoff. When Murray systematically tiled an adjacent 80-acre field in 2009, a control box was put on the main header at the downstream end of the field, so water can be stored there underground if needed. The field drains into a 370 by 130 foot stormwater management pond. The pond was dug over the 14-inch municipal drain, and VanDriel opened the municipal tile with a control structure that diverts water to the pond in low flow conditions and back into the drain during high flow conditions. The pond can hold 290,000 cubic feet of stormwater and extra overflow culvert outlets along a grassed waterway into the woodlot. The pond drains back into the municipal tile through the control structure and outlets just 37 feet further downstream onto a rock chute within the woodlot. A field tile from the north also outlets through a nitrate filter in this location. Here a deeper pond was dug to act as a sediment trap and as a low flow pond for fish.  Overflow from two wetlands in the southeast join the drain here. These were naturally wet depressions that were dug out to increase the area’s water storing capacity. Perhaps the biggest project was creating a 1,920 foot-long berm and grassed waterway that curves along the north edge of the Scott drain and has also provided a new access road for machinery and tours. The grassed waterways safely convey the field runoff to two separate catchment areas, one 80 acres to the west and the other 60 acres to the east. At the base of the east berm, a 620-foot long circular French drain filters water before it outlets in a four-inch pipe under the laneway and into the Scott drain. The drain is lined with filter cloth, backfilled with sand and “A” gravel, and then covered with topsoil and grass. A six-inch overflow culvert outlets under the road at the top end of the open section of the drain. This section had long been straightened, but King was eager to construct a low flow channel that would meander and have the ability to self-maintain. While most of these meandering channels are professionally engineered, in this case the team spent time observing the channel’s flow patterns and then put in sod clumps to make the channel narrower and accentuate its existing shape. They found shallow ground water seeping out of the bank that now added cold and clear water to the base flow, whereas before it had been oozing from the silt along the drain. The Scotts were impressed with the naturalized channel. “A week later it looked like it had always been that way,” Wilma says. On the west side of the property, surface water is intercepted in two areas behind the long berm and drains through standing inlet pipes and into a wetland, along with the field tile from the north. Decades ago, the Scotts built fish hatcheries along the drain, but the concrete tanks were left vacant for many years before the team thought of using them as nitrate filters. In 2008, Will Robinson with the University of Waterloo joined the team to pilot a nitrate filter design project. Two hatcheries were laid with a grid of four-inch PVC perforated pipe and filled with woodchips. Overflow from the wetland runs along a grassed waterway into the first filter, on to the second and then outlets to the Scott drain. Water quality monitoring has shown that the filters were effective at removing 100 per cent of the nitrates from the water that went through them, though they can only filter a small fraction of the total runoff. One challenge with this system is that it needs to have a consistent flow of water through it. “If the flow is too high, then it doesn’t have enough time to take the nitrates out,” VanDriel says. “But if you don’t put enough water through it, it dries out and becomes too acidic to work.” The team worked with Parish Geomorphic to engineer the naturalized channel near the filters, and other difficult areas of the project were professionally designed as well.“It was a unique project, because there was no ‘blueprint’ so to speak,” VanDriel says. “It existed in Geoff’s head and we worked on our hunches. We knew the principles, we knew the landscape, and we knew what we needed to accomplish.” They have replicated these principles across a number of subsequent projects in the area, most notably in the Pine River watershed, to the north. The Scott Farm project was made possible by funding from Greencover Canada, Huron County, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ministry of Natural Resources, Parish Geomorphic, VanDriel Excavating, MVCA and, of course, the landowners themselves. The Scotts retired 10 acres of land and put much of their own time and money into the project. Their enthusiasm and dedication to the project, including running tours for the public, has earned them some well-earned recognition, including the 2013 Minister’s Award for Environmental Excellence. Fish sampling in 2014 monitored a substantial amount of small brook trout, and water quality samples indicate that the area has been significantly improved.  The Scotts will admit that these improvements haven’t put any money in their pockets, but they are happy to be keeping their topsoil on the property. In the last decade, the drain has required no maintenance and it has withstood some of the worst weather on record in Ontario, including one of the driest years on record in 2012, followed by one of the wettest years recorded in 2013. The proof is in the water: while nearby watercourses are running full and muddy, the base flows of the Scott drain remain constant, clear and cool.
Researchers are in agreement; too much phosphorus is finding its way into field tile. But rather than demand a moratorium on tile drainage installation, many are suggesting more practical drainage solutions for the agricultural industry.The problematic algal blooms that are plaguing Lake Erie are being fed by high concentrations of phosphorus, particularly between March and June each year. Although there are many contributing factors to the growing problem, the timing suggests agricultural sources may be significant. After heavy rains in the spring of 2011 spawned the largest algal bloom in Lake Erie’s history, the International Joint Commission, which was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty to prevent and resolve disputes between Canada and the United States, formed the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority (LEEP). In a report released last year, the organization identified that non-point sources (which include agricultural operations) truly are contributing more than 50 per cent of incoming phosphorus loads. Douglas Smith, a soil scientist working with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) in Temple, Texas, has a dominant interest in phosphorus transport. Between 2004 and 2013, he was involved in research that aimed to clarify the impact of conservation farming practices on the Lake Erie basin, and found several undesirable effects on the amount of phosphorus entering the watershed. No-till, for example, doubled soluble phosphorus loading compared to rotational tillage (tilling only before planting corn). But in the same study, Smith found it also decreased total phosphorus loading by 69 per cent compared to rotational tillage. Similarly, grassed waterways increased soluble phosphorus loads, but not total phosphorus. Only the recommended rotational practice of planting corn, then soybeans, wheat, and oats reduced both soluble and total phosphorus loads (by 85 per cent and 83 per cent, respectively) compared to the standard corn–soybean rotation. Now researchers are concluding even the best farming practices can’t be solely depended upon to protect the lake and Smith is offering a piece of advice to drainage contractors.“Be aware that drainage may have a target on its back,” he warns. Both the International Joint Commission and the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force set phosphorus loading reduction targets of 39 per cent and 37 per cent respectively in 2013. In looking for ways to make those targets a reality, Smith says he personally has already been involved in multiple studies focused on tile drainage discharge. What he was surprised to discover in research fields was that as much as 49 per cent of soluble phosphorus and 48 per cent of total phosphorus losses occurred through tile discharge.“The water was hitting the tile much quicker than what I was expecting,” he says. “Our peak discharge in surface runoff happened at almost the exact same time as the peak discharge in the tile flow, so there’s a lot more surface connection through macropores, root channels, worm holes, and soil cracking in the region than what I had realized.”Smith says these preferential flow paths have proven to be more pronounced in certain soil types. Kevin King, an agricultural research engineer also with the USDA ARS, but located in Columbus, Ohio, says most of the soils in Ohio are poorly drained and couldn’t be farmed without tile. They also tend to be soil types that are prone to developing preferential flow paths. “We did a review article for the Journal of Environmental Quality and the fine textured clay soils will have more losses than your sandy soils due to preferential flow paths, even though phosphorus will bind to those clay particles,” King says. The fact that clay binds phosphorus only further complicates the problem as farmers increase fertilizer rates accordingly. King notes that if farmers in Ohio were applying phosphorus fertilizers through subsurface placement, this may not be as much of a problem, but the most common practice still seems to be broadcast application. “If we have preferential flow paths that develop in fine texture soils, then any water that migrates into those is carrying that rich phosphorus off the surface, into the tile.”North of Lake Erie, subsurface application of phosphorus seems to be more common. Merrin Macrae, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont., together with a team of surface-water chemistry students and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) recently concluded a study of field surface runoff and tile systems effluent from Ontario cropland. Between May 2012 and April 2013, this research team demonstrated that although tile sources contributed 78 per cent of total runoff at one research site, surface runoff contained 81 per cent of the soluble phosphorus lost and an equal amount of total phosphorus. Their other site produced similar results. But in the first year of data at a new high clay site, tile drainage played more of a role relative to surface runoff. Macrae says that although there’s still a lot to learn, especially about the role of soil type, their research produces some clear lessons.“Overland flow has much higher concentrations of phosphorus than our tile drainage effluent,” Macrae says. The challenge, as far as she’s concerned, is keeping that surface water from running directly into tile systems. “I’m not saying tiles are not a phosphorus source, but they seem to move phosphorus at a lower rate partly because of the soil types at our sites and how they are managed.”For example, Macrae says it is clear a surface inlet that takes field runoff right into the tile drainage system is disastrous from a phosphorus standpoint. That’s why she’s working with OMAFRA’s Kevin McKague to promote the use and proper construction of surface water treatments such as water and sediment control basins (WASCoB). Macrae says she doesn’t think people outside of the research community have any idea just how much beneficial collaboration is currently in progress, on both sides of the border.“The research that’s gone on for the last four or five years has very much been a collaboration between governments, farmers and researchers working together to get the right answers,” she says. King agrees that a lot of good collaboration has gone into addressing the issue so far, but he believes meeting phosphorus reduction targets is going to require the help of even more contributors. “How we get from science to implementation is where drainage contractors, ag retailers and the governments fit,” he says. “It’s all of our responsibilities to not only learn the science, but then to relate that to the producers to get that implemented.”King believes drainage contractors are well equipped to offer advice to farmers when installing tile systems, taking soil type and farming practices into consideration. Farmers that broadcast fertilizer and practice no-till on a high clay content field need to hear about the effects of artificially adjusting the outlet elevation of their tile. “If we raise that outlet elevation to 16 or 18 inches from the surface during the winter months, we have the potential to reduce the amount of water leaving the site anywhere from eight to 45 per cent,” he explains. During winter months, when phosphorus losses start to rise, King says drainage control can reduce the amount that’s leaving the site anywhere from 40 to 65 per cent.King also recommends blind inlets, sometimes also called French drains, in a no-till system. Smith says they’re absolutely perfect for closed depressions and pothole sites. “Blind inlets are basically an alternative practice to tile risers,” Smith said. “We put them in at the lowest point of potholes and we got pretty good reductions for phosphorus, in the neighbourhood of 40 to 80 per cent phosphorus reduction depending on the year.” Smith says that in the comparative study conducted over six years, he found that sediment and nutrient loads were particularly improved during extreme weather conditions such as the wet spring of 2010. The study was so conclusive, it led to the development of a Natural Resource Conservation Service Standard for installing a blind inlet in Indiana. King says they’re currently looking into improving this system even further by back-filling the leach field with steel slag rather than pea gravel, which would offer greater phosphorus binding properties, but the effectiveness of these strategies is yet to be determined. King says there is still a vast amount of research to be done.“Right now we’re putting band aids on a severed arm, just trying to stop the bleeding,” he says. “We’re going to have to stack practices and we have to understand that what works on one operation may not work on another.”Smith agrees, noting that even now there are a number of research projects that could prove very effective. He also agrees one size certainly won’t fit all and there will potentially be lots of new practices for drainage contractors to get involved in developing.
The beautiful established scenery of an old golf course can rarely be beaten, but history can come at a price when standing water threatens course closure. One thing we can all be fairly sure of is that weather patterns are changing and, global warming aside, that appears to be something that is here to stay.As golf courses continue to be under increasing pressure for new membership, the ability to offer year-round play has to be an absolute given. The problem facing many old, established courses that were built before we all started to talk about greens built to United States Golf Association (USGA) specifications is that drainage systems were rarely installed in these older courses. At the time, golf was played infrequently and not at all in the wetter months.“The majority of greens constructed in the last 30 years were built to USGA standards and consequently should drain well,” says Mick Claxton from Shelton Sportsturf Drainage. “In practice they were not all constructed with materials of the precise specification, so improvement to their drainage may be necessary. Many of the calls we get about drainage are from older, more established courses that were built prior to USGA specs.”Drainage techniques are now so advanced that there are lots of options before a full green reconstruction should be considered. The main aim is to speed up the removal of excess water from the green without changing its character or original design features. Each situation is different, but if the problem is standing water on a green, we would generally suggest one of the following three options, all of which have been designed so greens can be back in play in a matter of hours or days, depending on the circumstances.The Shelton Gravel Band System can be carried out during the months when the ground is wet. It is a very simple system that uses the Gravel Band Drainer and Lytag LWA as a backfilling material. Lytag LWA is sold in the United Kingdom and is a versatile lightweight aggregate which is produced from pulverised fuel ash, a by-product of coal burning power stations. It is an ideal medium for land drainage applications, as its rounded shape and regular grading give excellent hydraulic conductivity. Lytag LWA gets better results than gravel due to its rounded shape, and its ability to retain water in the drier summer months. (Alternatives to Lytag LWA are available in the United States). Closely spaced one-inch wide gravel bands lead to a piped drain situated just off the green. Bands of the Lytag LWA are injected into the green by a vibrating channel opener and, as no soil is removed, any surface undulations can be minimised by hollow tining prior to the installation. The beauty of this system lies in its simplicity and speed: a large green can be drained in five hours and played on 24 hours later! System 25 is a versatile mini trencher used primarily for installing a secondary drainage system over a network of piped drains in a one-pass operation. System 25 may also be used to install land drainage tile and underground services. The trencher cuts a one-inch wide trench, removes the soil and lifts it into a trailer, whilst the Lytag LWA is simultaneously vibrated in. We would then suggest that a free draining top soil be applied over the drainage runs. This system generates fast results and, again, the damage to the green is minimal. In fact, the green can be played on 24 hours later – imperative in the busy summer months. We have seen this system used with great success at many clubs, including Farnham Golf Club in England. This system is carried out to best effect in the drier months.The third option is a Lightning Drain system. This is very similar to System 25 except the trenches are dug to 1.4-inches wide and a one-inch perforated land drainage tile is installed prior to backfilling with Lytag LWA. This gives greater longevity to the system and also speeds the flow of water out to the exit drain. The results are immediate and with good greens maintenance, including plenty of aeration, the effects will last for years to come. Lightning Drain is a popular technique, not just because of its effectiveness, but also because its use isn’t restricted to any particular time of year, although for optimum results, colder, wetter months are best avoided, so the grass is able to re-establish well over the cuts. Lightning Drain was recently used with great effect at the beautiful Boyce Hill Golf Club in Benfleet, Essex, England.  Mick Claxton is a director of Shelton Sportsturf Drainage Ltd. For more information, visit
An increase in the use of an innovative drainage system called “drainage water management” is being promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Illinois and other states in the region, as it provides significant benefits for both farmers and the environment.Drainage water management (DWM) allows farmers to control the amount of water that’s drained from the top few feet of the field’s surface. A box-like structure is attached to existing drainage pipe near the field outlet, with a number of large thick bars that can be inserted or removed to control water flow. It is similar to controlled drainage systems being used in Ontario, which employ a round structure and vertically movable panels.The DWM system provides a myriad of monetary and environmental benefits, from boosting crop yields to improving water quality of nearby watersheds through preventing nutrient run-off. “Farming is a risky business, subject to all kinds of influences like weather and global economics that are out of the producer’s control,” notes Dr. Ruth Book, an Illinois NRCS state conservation engineer. “With DWM, the farmer can decide when to drain the field and when not to. Think about how helpful this could be in a drought year, for example. If the producer knows that the summer is going to be hot and dry, he or she could hold back some of the water from the spring rains.” DWM can be installed with both new and existing tile drainage, but the field should have a slope of less than one percent. If that sounds restrictive, consider that in the state of Illinois alone, DWM is suitable for use in nearly 10 million acres of fields. There are now 14 counties in Illinois that are targeted for DWM demonstration projects. Many installations have already occurred through technical and financial support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and more are in the works. This year, NRCS sponsored a special DWM project in the 37 square-mile watershed around the town of Tovey in collaboration with the Christian County Soil and Water Conservation District. Book says the predominantly flat, tile-drained cropland in that area of Illinois is very suitable for DWM. “The partnership goal is to help producers implement DWM and related practices on at least 20 percent of the cropland in the watershed over the next five years, or approximately 750 acres per year,” she explains. “The expectation is that this achievement will demonstrate a measurable improvement in surface water quality entering nearby Sangchris Lake.”  It goes beyond the lake, however. Fertilizer use in Illinois crops is a major contributor to the nitrogen load in the Mississippi River Basin. About 90 percent of the nitrate-N that’s discharged via the Mississippi River is due to agriculture, Book notes. Research has shown a definite correlation between tile drainage and high nitrate levels in surface water, and although there seems to be an apparent conflict between needing to drain fields for crop production and the need to reduce nitrates entering surface water, Book says DWM is a way to accomplish both. “During fallow periods, the water table is raised, creating conditions that are very similar to what the field was like before the drainage system was installed,” she says. “Also, the water table can be raised during the cropping season to retain water that would have otherwise drained away, potentially supplying water to the capillary root zone of the crop, but also reducing nutrient loading.” The effectiveness of DWM in reducing runoff is directly related to the volume of drainage water that is retained in the field, so operators are encouraged to keep the system closed, draining the field only when necessary to grow crops and do field work.  Contractors, training and next stepsBook praises the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association as “a great partner” in the effort to spread DWM use. “Drainage contractors not only help us sell drainage water management and other conservation practices related to drainage, but they also are out there on the front line, actually installing,” she says. “Most drainage contractors already have the equipment they need to install drainage water management. Implementation is quite simple, usually involving just the addition of a water control structure at strategic places in the drainage system.”  Flat fields can often be managed with a single water control structure, but Book says it’s possible to stair-step the DWM system to accommodate changes in elevation. She explains that when the field has more slope, it’s helpful to lay out the drainage system so farmers can manage the water table with the minimum number of structures. “We’ve had many drainage contractors attend training sponsored by the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition and NRCS,” she explains, “where they learn how the drain system layout can be changed to facilitate DWM.”  Illinois is part of the 10-state focus area in the NRCS Agricultural Water Management effort to spread the installation of DWM, but it’s the state with the longest history of DWM use and the one with the most suitable acres. Following in Illinois’ footsteps, some of the other nine states are offering financial assistance and considering the development of special regional DWM projects. In a few years, Book believes Illinois District Conservationist Tony Hammond will be able to report a dramatic increase in the adoption of DWM in Christian County. “Tony and the staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture field office in Taylorville have been publicizing the great things DWM can offer, and he’s beginning to show some results. Now that we have our conservation professionals trained on the practice, I think we’ll be seeing much more implementation of DWM all over the state.” With all the benefits provided by the system – and the strong support being offered – DWM is poised to become the standard on flat farmland in the U.S. and beyond.
On flat cropland, controlled drains may become the new norm in Ontario, replacing conventional tile drainage on many of the province’s farms. The flexibility of controlled drainage delivers benefits for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer, and the use of these systems is spreading accordingly.Controlled drains have been studied at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research station in Harrow, Ont., for two decades and some farmers in Essex and Kent have already installed them on their land. “This practice is somewhat common in that area because the land is very flat there,” notes Ken McCutcheon, owner of McCutcheon Farm Drainage Ltd. in Thorndale, Ont. “The Americans in various states have really embraced controlled drainage as well. However, there are not many areas where it works well in Ontario because it totally hinges on flat topography.” Earlier this year, McCutcheon (who has five employees in the field plus office staff at his 37-year-old business) installed two controlled drains on the farm of Henk and Annie Van Den Berg in Lucan, Ont. The project was spearheaded by Brad Glasman, co-ordinator of conservation services, and Craig Merkley, conservation services specialist, at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), along with Andrew Jamieson, senior water management engineer for AAFC. Each controlled drain covers a five-acre field. “It was an ideal site for this project as it was very flat,” McCutcheon says. “That’s a key factor in making this sort of controlled outlet work. It allows you to control the water table within 12 inches.” He notes that if there are elevation changes in a field, the installation of more controlled drain structures would be required to control water flow, and you end up with structures in the field instead of just at the outlet at the edge of the field. This interferes with planting, harvesting and so on.Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost two meters long integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow or pushed downward to stop it. Excessive rainfall can cause water to be pushed up and over the panels and flow out, so additional panels must be added to block water flow, if desired. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to drain the field, and closed during the summer to retain water. It is designed to allow faster drying of fields in the spring so that crops can be planted earlier, and to conserve the water from summer rainstorms. This year, the Van Den Bergs got a large rainfall at the end of July and closed the two controlled drains. “Water ran through the controlled drains for about a day,” says Henk, “and through the conventional drains on the rest of the farm for four days, which is a substantial amount of water loss in comparison.” Environmental benefitsKeeping nutrient-rich water in the field instead of having it flow away, as it does in a conventional tile drainage system, is not just better for crops and farmers. It’s also, as Glasman notes, better for the environment and human health. High levels of phosphorous from fertilizer, for example, can lead to algae blooms in Lake Erie. Nutrient runoff from farms also contributes to generally poorer water quality in creeks, rivers and lakes in Ontario, including the Great Lakes. The cleaner water provided by controlled drainage therefore benefits all organisms, from invertebrates to birds to human beings. Glasman, Merkley and Jamieson estimate that about 80 to 90 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in a field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional tile. Monitoring equipment to measure nutrient and water outflow from the Van Den Bergs’ controlled drainage fields, as well as their regularly tiled fields of a similar size and topography as a control, were expected to be in place by October. Jamieson says it’s a three-year project and will involve year-round monitoring. Measuring benefits“As far as how the system is working so far, it’s early days yet,” says Merkley. “We are still learning the drainage characteristics of the site and how the system is responding to rain events.” He says there are no plans at the moment to test the system on other fields, but they may look at the feasibility of automating the stop panels, tying in the raising and lowering of the panels to the amount of rainfall received. “We’re not sure it can be done, but there are plans to investigate the idea,” Merkley notes. In addition to needing flat topography for controlled drains, McCutcheon says newer tile drainage systems – with pipes that are closer together than in older systems – make controlled drains much more effective. “In older systems, the spacing of the tile is wider and you’re backing the water up in those pipes with the water level varying because of the distance,” he says. “In newer systems, the tiles are closer and you have more pipes in the ground with a more uniform water table, so with controlled drains [incorporated with those systems], you will more evenly distribute and store water.”  In terms of the economic benefits that controlled drainage may supply on the Van Den Berg farm, Henk says, “We’ll have to wait for harvest to see how much better the corn yield will be, but we had a dry August, so it should make a difference.” Glasman says yields should be able to be increased by 10 to 15 percent over time with a controlled drain system. The controlled drainage structures are approximately $700 apiece plus installation and are available from some of Ontario’s largest drainage material suppliers. When a farmer would achieve cost return depends on a few factors. Each year is different in terms of how much water conservation matters (how dry it becomes) in crop yield, weather patterns, the price farmers get for their harvests and so on. However, in these times of increasing drought conditions, return on investment for controlled drainage may be swift – as may be its spread in flat parts of Ontario and beyond.
A new storm water drainage system being installed at the Monsanto Company Learning Center will provide more efficient field drainage, resulting in more consistent results in its development of new seeds and crops.
Conservation drainage helps farmers increase yield, conserve water and reduce nutrient loss.
For us it is normally a struggle to find good people, and from my conversations with contractors around the world, I think most people in our industry would agree. Often overlooked, but just as important, is the fact that it’s also difficult to hold on to the good employees we already have. Let’s be honest: the work we have to offer involves sweat, mud, more sweat, and more mud. It’s freezing in the winter and hot in the summer and it’s almost guaranteed that at some point you will get sunburnt. It’s not badly paid work, but it’s not jaw-droppingly good either. There are perks and working in the beauty of the gentle, fertile, rolling hills of Warwickshire should not be understated, but it remains, I suspect, an average job.  
The new Clean Water Rule (often called the “waters of the United States” or “WOTUS” rule) went into effect on Aug. 28. Well, partially that is. The much-publicized rule that establishes the formal definition of waters subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act went into effect in 37 states on Aug. 28. Landowners in the other 13 states — which include North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming — are still subject to the old definition of jurisdictional waters.
A University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center study found an estimated 284,000 distracted drivers are involved in serious vehicle accidents every year. One of the contributing factors is cell phone use.
Water quality has been on the minds of lawmakers lately, as governments on both sides of the 49th parallel enact legislation to protect and improve water quality within their respective jurisdictions. If you subscribe to our e-newsletter, you’ve probably seen headlines such as “Minnesota’s water protection methods about to change” and “New rules for drainage projects in Saskatchewan.” (If you aren’t receiving our e-newsletter, you can sign up online.)  
Like many, I’m keenly awaiting the arrival of spring. This winter has been neither particularly snowy nor sodden for us, just a standard British winter, which makes draining land difficult. In the British Isles our weather is mild. We do not suffer from periods of extreme cold or heat and, on the whole, intense weather is something we experience only on the news. What we do have is rain and, in most places, heavy clay soils. These conditions are not good when combined with heavy drainage machines and over wintering crops. Our workload dwindles over the winter and each year we scratch around trying to find work that we can do. To begin with, this reduced pace makes a welcome change from the frantic pressures of the post-harvest rush, but by the time February arrives it is a drag on morale –and on the bank account. While I’m quite busy sending out estimates and drumming up work for next week, the guys are doing bits and pieces and painting our kit, none of which turns a profit. The only answer I can find, (and please correct me if you can) is to be flexible and try to say “Yes” to any opportunity that comes your way. This can lead us to places we have not been to before. That’s what happened to us this winter.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are generating a lot of buzz in the agriculture sector lately. The rapidly evolving technology is giving farmers the ability to understand what’s happening in their fields like never before, and new rules coming down the pipeline on both sides of the border have the potential to open up new opportunities to put these powerful machines to work. Drainage contractors too stand to benefit from adopting UAV technology into their operations.
Faulty workmanship is a risk specialty contractors face with each project they take on. Problems can come from a variety of factors and often take years to arise. For this reason, contractors need insurance coverages built for their unique exposures. To address this need, business insurance carriers are beginning to offer contractors errors and omissions policies, which can protect your company from significant losses.
Did you enjoy your last meal? Do you even remember what you had? In this country many take food very much for granted. But then why wouldn’t we? The grocery stores have an endless supply available, and that is where food comes from, right?
Public opinion can be a force to be reckoned with, especially in the Internet age when our wired world makes it easy for like-minded folks to find each other. Social media helps us connect, discussion forums give us platforms to share our ideas, and special interest websites and blogs help disseminate information and opinions. The Internet gives us the power to exchange information like never before, but there’s a downside to all of this sharing: it’s never been easier to step inside the echo chamber and immerse ourselves in online communities that confirm our beliefs. For those working to educate the public in order to inform opinion, making themselves heard over all the noise in the echo chamber can be a challenge.
The order book is full; we are officially delaying or turning work away for the next couple of months. We simply have no more capacity, there are only so many meters which can be laid per day and just to honor the promises already made we need good weather and to avoid breakdowns. That of course will not happen, but I hope to bend a few promises rather than break them. It’s far from ideal, but with a couple of sympathetic clients and a good dose of honesty from us the odds are in our favor.
William James, the famed American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “When two people meet there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as the other person sees them, and each person as they really are.” As a leader, how do you see yourself? And, even more important, how do the people you lead see you?
Oct. 18, 2014, Michigan – Increased interest in tile drainage for agricultural fields raises tax questions.
June 3, 2015 – Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. (ADS) has released a new online program for designing and estimating the cost of a storm water system constructed with its StormTech Chambers.
May 15, 2015 – The Bron TR450 wheel trencher is designed with the power and strength to easily dig in even the toughest rocky soil types.
May 15, 2015 – With a highly versatile design and line speeds of up to 115 feet per minute, the Corma HSC Series 2 perforator can be configured for on-line perforation of a variety of corrugated pipes.
May 15, 2015 – The Agri Drain Warthog floating pump is a rugged, highly efficient pump assembled in the United States.
May 15, 2015 – Major upgrades are taking Wolfe wheel trenchers up a notch with increased efficiency, safety and performance.
May 15, 2015 – Advanced Drainage Systems’ new fine slot N-12 is designed with fine slots in the valleys of the pipe.
May 15, 2015 – Tesmec USA’s 775 DT trencher is available in two different versions: chainsaw and bucket wheel.
May 15, 2015 – With more marginal soils being drained in recent years, the demand for easy to apply filtration fabrics with enhanced performance characteristics has grown.
May 15, 2015 – With thousands of miles of energy pipelines proposed or under construction in the Corn Belt, having a long-term, reliable way to repair tile damaged during pipeline construction is critical.
May 15, 2015 – Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS) has introduced the HP agriculture lift station, which manages water flow rate, field water table level and power consumption.
May 15, 2015 – Liebrecht Manufacturing, LLC has introduced the Liebrecht Gradable Trench Box. It is capable of installing 15 inch through 42 inch dual wall pipe.
May 15, 2015 – DK Precision Trenchers LLC is giving farmers and contractors alike the power to install drainage tile with a trencher and their own tractor.

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