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Drain tiling

Underground drain tiling channels out excess water so crops aren’t injured
Photo courtesy of Mississippi State University

Many landowners have spots in their fields that tend to hold water and it pools on top of the soil. Crops that have wet feet for 24-hours or more after a rainfall aren’t going to do well, and yield margins start to go down in those areas. Tile drainage under the soil carries the water away at a certain level so your crops aren’t drowning.

Stanley Solomon is an extension educator at the University of Illinois. He says soil type and topography make a big difference in the type and amount of drainage a field may need. Water on sloping land is often directed toward waterways because water is naturally headed to that location anyway. Draining a totally flat field is a different story.

"We come in and do what’s called “pattern tiling”. And that is because the whole area’s just basically wet, you go in and put it on a certain spacing, and that spacing is based on soil type, and soil type tells you how fast water will move through it, how far apart you can put those tiles," says Solomon.

In years past, drain tile was made of clay or concrete. Modern systems use perforated PVC pipe. It’s installed below the frost zone in one of two ways.

"One is with a trencher. They come in and basically dig a trench, lay the tile in it, then cover it back over. The other version is what they call ‘plow it in’. There’s several different designs of it, but the basic principle’s the same," says Solomon. "It basically goes in, lifts the soil just a little bit, there’s a tube that pipe is drawn into and allows it to go down, and it drops in behind the opener at whatever depth they’re trying to control it at."

Solomon says there is research being done on putting a structure with gates at the edge of a field to control how much water comes out of the tiles.

Learn more about subsurface drainage systems

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