Since Roman times, farmers have practiced agricultural tile drainage to improve their crop yields.
Modern tile drainage involves installing perforated plastic piping beneath a field at a specific slant so water runs away from the crops into a drainage ditch or county drain system. The lowered water level in normal times aids crops in growth by allowing the root system to extend deeper into the ground to reach the water level. Stronger roots result in a larger crop yield.
This year Michigan farmers who have tiling beneath their fields are benefiting in terms of drier planting conditions during an unusually rainy spring and summer.
Dani Dryer not only farms at her family-owned Dryer Farms & Daughter in Portland, but also installs custom field tile throughout the mid-Michigan region.
“One purpose of putting tile drainage in is it helps drain fields, especially those with soil that is heavier with clay where it is harder for water to move,” Dryer said. “A lot of farmers who have tiling find it very effective in this type of rain, especially this year when we are getting more rain than ever before.”
In the spring, tile allows for early field access. It eliminates drowned-out spots, which allows farmers to get into the field to do fieldwork, according to an article in Successful Farming.
Logistically, tiling allows you to do fieldwork when you have the time, said Chad Watts, project director for the Conservation Technology Information Center. The result is more timely access for not only spring planting, but also spraying and harvesting. Saturated fields in the fall could prevent a timely harvest, leading to the same negative impact on timely planting that Michigan’s spring rains have caused.