Drainage Contractor

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Drainage statistics reveal some interesting facts about Ontario

For one, the industry is worth $50 million to the provincial economy.

November 13, 2012  By Ralph Pearce

On average At the annual meeting of the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario and Drainage Supervisors Association of Ontario

At the annual meeting of the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario and Drainage Supervisors Association of Ontario, January 20, 2011, Sid Vander Veen of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), made a presentation on tile drainage statistics in the province. The presentation included figures and correlations that revealed some surprising details about drainage tile and how the industry is advancing in Ontario. Vander Veen, the drainage co-ordinator with OMAFRA, sat down with Drainage Contractor to discuss some of the findings from the study.

Q What was the idea behind the gathering of this information on tile drainage in Ontario?

A Through the management of the Tile Loan Program and the annual survey of tile manufacturers, we’ve been gathering this data for years. This data was collected to monitor the general state of the industry in Ontario, on an annual basis (e.g., the cost of installing tile on a per-foot or per-acre basis). So the collection of data was not done specifically for the purpose of this project.

Q Was there one facet that you wanted to study or evaluate more than any other?

This year we decided to look at some historical trends in the data that we had been collecting. One specific area we wanted to know about was how much agricultural land in Ontario was tile drained and how much agricultural land still had the potential to be drained.  

Q How much data did you have to comb through in order to come up with your findings (the foreword of your presentation states that plans have been developed by government engineers from 1910 to 1980 – but how much of that data would relate to drainage tile on agricultural land)?


A The area of land that has been tile drained annually has been captured for many years. Originally this information was plotted each year on Mylar maps for each township. For the past 10-plus years, we’ve been digitizing the information into a GIS tile drainage layer. We’ve also been digitizing the older data stored on the Mylar plans into the GIS tile drainage layer. With the bulk of this digitizing work done previously, it was relatively easy to calculate the total of land tile drained by county and across the province.

Q Was there any aspect of the study that shed little or no light on the current situation (in other words, what surprised you the least)?

A All of the statistics related to the number of contractors and machines.

Q What, out of this study, surprised you the most?

A I would say the fact that, with consumer price index (CPI) adjustments, the cost per foot of tile drainage is actually decreasing. That and the percentage of agricultural land that is tile drained in some counties (across southern Ontario, the average is 45 percent, with Lambton County leading the way at 85 percent, Essex at 84.2 percent and Kent at 78.2 percent. Numbers for central and eastern Ontario were considerably lower, e.g., the Regional Municipality of Ottawa led all counties and jurisdictions with 51.1 percent of land that is tile drained).

Also worth mentioning were some of the other summations from the study: On average, 100 million feet of tile is installed annually in Ontario; the average project size is 50,000 feet or 1000 feet per acre and the tile drainage industry is worth about $50 million to the Ontario economy, each year. And finally, the quantity of tile installed per machine has roughly doubled in the past 30 years, as has the quantity of tile installed
per contractor.

Q For our American readers, differentiate between what is important for contractors here in Ontario (surrounded as the province is by the Great Lakes) versus what contractors in the US Midwest might be facing (with so much information being made available about pollutants from farms and the inaccurate picture of how drainage affects that issue.

A It concerns me when I read references that suggest that tile drainage is the source of pollutants. Tile drainage can certainly be a conduit for nutrients and pathogens, but it is not the source. Controlled drainage can be an effective means of reducing the movement of nutrients through tile drainage systems, but its effectiveness is dependent on a variety of conditions.  

I understand that fall nutrient application is common in many US states and controlling drainage outflow during
the winter months can reduce the movement of these nutrients. In Ontario, application of nutrients in the fall is almost non-existent and, due to colder temperatures, controlling outflow of tile drainage during the winter is almost impossible.
Most tile drainage systems in Ontario are installed shallow (two to three feet of cover) while in many parts of the US it is installed much deeper. Unless the land is very flat, controlled drainage is difficult to achieve when tile drainage systems are installed shallow.

Q Do you have any plans to take this research a step or two further? Can you take it any further?

A There are no plans to take this research further at this time.

Q Is there any further extrapolation of the data that is available (can you mine it for more (or more in-depth) information)?

A From our Tile Loan Program, we have more data on the cost of installing tile drainage.  We could do an analysis on tile drainage materials and installation costs. We could also analyze tile drainage costs differences between regions of the Province.

Q Is there anything you would like to add, either as a summation or in general?

A We must not lose sight of the fact that tile drainage is a fundamental component of a competitive crop agricultural industry in a humid climate such as Ontario.

For more information on drainage issues, services, provincial resources and newsletters, go to the LICO website at www.drainage.org.

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