Lessons learned from a drainage demo farm

The Huronview Demonstration Farm will take years to tell all its drainage stories, but two years in, some anticipated lessons are starting to take shape.

The site near Clinton is a collaboration among the Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Huron County, land drainage companies and the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority.

In 2019, the county-owned property was tiled, using a variety of water management techniques, to demonstrate the value, or lack of value, of traditional and emerging drainage technologies.

Some are simple and show the quickest results, says Rick Koostra, a farmer who works the land. He spoke to a recent tour of the demonstration farm.

Rip rap, a term for the strategic placement of stone cracked to have flat edges, was placed at several spots around the farm’s edge where surface water once flowed, creating washes and cuts. One was a flow off the parking lot from the nearby Huronview Home for the Aged and another from county offices, which resulted in erosion. That erosion stopped after rip rap was placed at the edge of the lot.

Standing in a low spot of a field, Koostra said it was once a serious cut through the land. With the edge-of-field amendments, tile installation and rehabilitation of the land, the area is more productive. 

However, it’s still unknown how productive because researchers don’t yet have enough years of results. Crop yields so far are well beyond yields seen before the work on the site, to 104-bushel wheat and 62-bushel soybeans over the past couple of years. 

Those years have also been good growing years and more years of data are needed to understand long-term effects of the different drainage treatments.

The site has numerous treatments, including standard tile drainage, no drainage, drainage at 15 feet and 30 feet spacing, contour drainage and controlled drainage. 

Newest and least used in Ontario is contour drainage, where contours are created across the slope of a hill to keep water from gaining speed as it runs downhill.

The controlled drainage system is most expensive but has the most potential to manage yield. It manages how much water flows from the field so it can be maintained for droughty periods. Gates along the tile header control flow in and out.

No trials have yet been done to assess the controlled drainage system. However, Koostra has other examples on the property that show progress.

One area was left without any drainage. It was a lower area that Koostra says would usually have been tiled first because lower, wetter areas are targeted for drainage.

However, the slope above it was tiled and Koostra says that has significantly affected the land below. The untiled area has since become more productive and it wouldn’t make sense to tile it now.

That shows some areas might not need to be tiled if the areas that load the region with water can be drained first, he says.

The Huronview Demonstration Farm is on Hwy. 4, south of Clinton, behind the county buildings at the front of the property. It is open to visitors.

Source: Farmtario.com