Putting Producers in the Driver's Seat




Drainage water management systems can help to increase soil organic matter, eliminate compaction problems and reduce nitrate loss to nearby waterways.

Smart Drainage System™ Photo courtesy of Agri Drain



Putting Producers in the Driver's Seat


By Lisa Newby

The public is becoming more aware of what agricultural producers have always known – the cornerstone of environmental conservation is good resource management, and working together is essential.


The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) realizes cooperation is critical to environmental success. ADMC members serve as a resource on the latest technologies in drainage water management systems. Together, they utilize a public/private approach to quantify the impact of drainage water management on many environmental and economic issues.


For example, a $2 million, 20-site project involving Midwestern farmers is gathering yield, soil tilth and water quality data to assess the impact of drainage water management. The ADMC is funding this project, in part, with the help of a $972,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Conservation Innovation Grant. Preliminary results show yields may be increased by as much as 15 percent in some years.


One leader in the movement for water drainage management education is ADMC member Agri Drain Corporation of Adair, Iowa. Agri Drain hopes to make agriculture more productive, drainage systems smarter, and life a little easier for farmers through better water management.


“Producers live in a risky world,” says Agri Drain President Charlie Schafer. “This is one way to help put them in the driver’s seat.”




With Manual Water Level Control Structures, producers manage water in the soil profile according to weather conditions and needs of the crop and the environment.

Photo courtesy of Agri Drain

Agri Drain designs and manufactures products – such as Water Level Control Structures and Smart Drainage Systems – to help land improvement contractors and producers create more productive surface and subsurface water management systems.


Manual and Automatic Water Level Control Structures provide the ability to manage water in the soil profile, a practice called “Drainage Water Management.” In this system, the water table can be adjusted by simply adding or removing the stoplog boards inside the manual structure. The units can also be remotely programmed with a solar-powered unit and two-way telemetry to monitor, manage and record rainfall data, soil profile water level, water purity and flow rates.


Using these systems, producers can retain water through the fallow months, preserving nitrogen and other nutrients; lower the water table level for fieldwork in the spring; and raise it again through the growing season. The water table level can be adjusted according to weather conditions and the needs of the crops and environment, and adjustments can be made to reduce flooding in response to rainfall.


Drainage water management provides many conservation benefits. Proper drainage water management can increase soil organic matter content. Prior to fieldwork, drainage can help eliminate compaction problems. Increasing moisture can help control wind erosion.



And, less nitrate loss is good for the soil and results in less pollution downstream. According to Purdue University Cooperative Extension, as much as 15-75 percent fewer nitrates are released into streams and rivers with a water management system.


Greater yields are just icing on the cake.


Grant dollars and demonstration projects are boosting the widespread adoption of the practice. "However," Schafer says,"awareness and education are critical in giving drainage water management an edge in the conservation game."


Installation costs of drainage management systems range from $20 to $200 per acre more than conventional drainage systems. To offset these costs, government cost-share programs are an important part of the picture. Programs including Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative can provide assistance for installation. And, in some states, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) funds may apply to drainage management structures in riparian buffers.


Schafer says that "Ideally, farmers could be compensated to forfeit a year’s crop in order to facilitate construction of water management systems and other conservation measures.


“We need a longer construction season,”he added. “We’re limited to early spring and late fall, because a farmer cannot afford to give up a crop for construction to take place.”


For more information on the efforts of the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition, visit www.admcoalition.com.


For more information on Agri Drain, visit www.agridrain.com.


About the writer: Lisa Newby is the customer service and marketing manager of Agri Drain.


The views expressed in the Member's Column do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conservation Technology Information Center.