RURAL ROUTE 4

A tale of field tile drains and too much rain

2013-04-22T04:30:00Z 2013-04-22T07:28:39Z A tale of field tile drains and too much rainJennifer Ewoldt The Quad-City Times
April 22, 2013 4:30 am  • 

Well, folks, I’d like first to apologize. When I wrote about the lingering drought last time, I had no idea it would then rain every single day for two weeks!

I think we can officially call the drought and the soil moisture deficit over now, and I hope we never have to talk about it again.

Instead, I thought I’d mention something on the opposite end of the spectrum — tile drains in fields. With all of the rain the past two weeks, we have certainly seen the tile drains running like crazy, and I’ll bet this is something few of you know about.

Tile drains are very long pieces of black plastic tubing that help drain excess water out of the soil and dump it in a drainage ditch or creek. These tubes are 3 to 4 inches in diameter and come in huge rolls, which some of you may have seen in fields waiting to be placed.

The tubes are installed in the ground by a huge machine called a tiler that essentially cuts a deep furrow in the field and places the tubing in the furrow and then the soil closes in behind it. It’s similar to a trencher that some of you may have used in your yard. After a field is tiled, it looks like a bunch of huge groundhogs or moles left tunnels across the field — at least until the field is worked up and the furrows level out.

Tile drains work on the principle that water will move to the area of least resistance. The tubing has many small holes throughout, so water seeps through the holes and into the tubing, where it runs along  to the end of the line.

Any of you who have had water in your basement in the past two weeks know all about water moving to an area of least resistance! Your basement is acting like a field tile drain, collecting water out of the soil.

The tiles are connected in the field so they all run together to a drain. As they connect, the sections of tubing get progressively larger and the main one can reach 10 to 12 inches in diameter. In many cases, this drain runs into a creek or a pond, which keeps the water away from the field.

Tile drains usually are placed in the historically wettest parts of the field and arranged so that gravity allows the water to continue moving downward. This allows some areas of the field that would otherwise be too wet to farm to be cultivated. It also allows historically damp fields to dry out sooner in the spring so they can be planted earlier. Right now, I’m betting there are fields out there that could use some tile drainage!

Tile drains can eventually become filled with soil and plug up, at which time new drains have to be placed. Many tile drainage systems can last for decades, however, and continue to function because they are flushed every time it rains. These fantastic systems allow for better farming conditions overall.

Here on our farm, the tiles are all running, as are the creeks that flow through our farms. In fact, most of our creeks are overflowing into the pastures and creating even more mud than we already had. The cattle lots and pastures are, unfortunately, mud holes right now, but there’s not much to be done about that.

Cattle walking in the same areas over and over tends to churn soil into mud even on a good day. Add to that about 10 inches of rain and it becomes a mud bath. I hate to see it, and to see the cows and calves covered in mud, but what can you do? The only way to avoid it is to keep cattle on concrete all the time, which is not good for them, either. We just try to move them around a bit, but cattle do like to congregate in one area.

The grass has finally begun to grow in the pastures, which is a good thing, too, because we were about out of hay and silage and need something for the cattle to eat. Mother Nature came through just in time for us.

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(1) Comments

  1. GLDL
    Report Abuse
    GLDL - April 25, 2013 11:06 am
    You should not mention tile drainage in Iowa without also mentioning that this is the root cause of flooding we see in Cedar Rapids or SE Iowa or further down the Mississippi River right now. When the goal is to get the water off the land as fast as possible... you cannot forget that it needs to go somewhere... and sometimes that somewhere is a town downstream.
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