Getting the most from tile drainage

Ag Days speakers emphasize there’s no one-size-fits-all tile drainage system for Manitoba

Tile drainage’s benefits to their operation have included reversing soil salinity, said Souris-area farmer Aaron Hargreaves, an Ag Days speaker.

There’s no doubt tile drainage can boost productivity and profitability. Just don’t assume it should look just like the neighbour’s system.

Anyone eyeing the better yield prospects and earlier field access it offers must have a thorough understanding of how the subsurface pipe system works in their specific field conditions, Ag Days speakers said.

‘Should it be the same as my neighbour’s or are there other options?’ said Mitchell Timmerman, agri-ecosystems specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, who facilitated the Jan. 17 seminar.

“Certain tile spacing is common in the province but that doesn’t mean it fits in every scenario.”

Clearly, many farmers are keen to learn the ins and outs of tile drainage, judging by the packed audience listening to the Brandon panel. It included one farmer’s experience with tile drainage, perspectives from tile installers as well as provincial staff on the regulatory framework.

Aaron Hargreaves farms 15,000 acres of corn, soybeans, canola and wheat in the Souris and Wawanesa areas. They decided tile was the way to go after very poor crops during the intense wet year of 2011. They began installing tile in 2012 at a point where it was still a relatively new practice in Manitoba.

One of the benefits Hargreaves emphasized in Brandon was the way it reduced the problems they were experiencing with worsening salinity on their land.

“We’ve seen salinity essentially gone,” he said. “If there’s anyone who doesn’t believe it can solve salinity issues… we’ve seen it on our farm.”

Higher yields from previously saturated land have made the farm more productive and profitable, justifying the investment in his eyes.

“You’re looking at $40 net profit without tile, with tile $80 net profit,” he said. “You might say ‘that’s not much money.’ But how else can you double your net profit on the farm? Buy more land, more seeders and combines and do twice as much work?’ It’s a no-brainer really.”

Todd Walker, a partner with Frontier Drainage Systems, a new company formed in 2014 to provide design and installation services, spoke about various aspects of drainage design such as layout and pipe sizing and shared photos of clients’ fields showing pronounced crop growth along tile lines.

Tile gets farmers on fields earlier in spring and spray seasons, makes the soil profile more arable and can reduce peak flow surface run-off by anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent, Walker said.

Timmerman hoped the talk would help dispel some of the misconceptions and myths around tile drainage, including that it is an unregulated drainage practice.

“Regulation is vigorous in Manitoba. This is no exception,” said Timmerman, who outlined the various roles of the provincial departments as well as the role of the municipality in the approval process for applicants seeking to tile their land.

Timmerman is a member of the provincial Tile Drainage Interdepartmental Working Group, formed in 2016 and comprised of representatives from the provincial departments of Sustainable Development, Agriculture, and Indigenous and Municipal Relations.

The Red River Basin Commission, meanwhile, is working with this group on the development of a tile drainage bylaw template to help municipalities.

Timmerman said the main thing organizers hoped the Brandon seminar would get across is how important site specific information is in the assessment of the suitability of this practice.

“We want to have knowledgeable people making knowledgeable decisions,” he said.

“We’re encouraging farmers to learn as much as they can, and to have a constructive relationship with their installers and other folks like ourselves.”

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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