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Research: 2022 Ag Census reveals surprising trend in acreage of tile drainage in the Midwest

February 26, 2024  By Ehsan Ghane | Michigan State University

The 2022 Ag Census data was released on February 13, 2024. One census question asked, “During 2022, considering the total acres on this operation, how many acres were drained by tile?” This is the same question that was asked in 2017.

Importance of subsurface tile drainage in the Midwest

Subsurface tile drainage is concentrated in the corn belt (Figure 1). It accounts for a considerable portion of the cropland harvested in the Midwest, especially in states that are dominated by rain-fed agriculture and have poorly drained soils that require drainage (Figure 2). These states have some of the world’s most fertile soils that require subsurface drainage for crop production. Without drainage, crop production would not be able to meet the growing food demand because of poor crop yield due to excess water. Read more about the Pros and Cons of drainage.

If the field is not dried out before spring field operation, it could delay planting, or even prevent planting altogether like in 2019. On the other hand, if field operations are performed on wet soil, it could cause soil compaction, which in turn reduces infiltration, increases surface runoff, causes drainage underperformance and harms the crop from wet stress. Therefore, increased crop yield, reduced year-to-year yield variability, timely field operations and trafficability are some of the main reasons why subsurface drainage is expected to increase.

Variation in acreage of tile drainage among Midwest states based on 2022 Ag Census

Similar to the 2017 Ag Census, the 2022 Ag Census shows that Iowa has the largest acreage of subsurface tile drainage, followed by Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan (Figure 3). The top ten states with the highest acreage of tile drainage did not change rank in the 2022 census compared to the 2017 census. | READ MORE


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