Cooperation with ISU Extension Staff, Government Agencies, and Private Industry to Conduct Tile Drainage Water Quality Research and Education

Jim Fawcett, Field Specialist-Crops, Southeast Area

Problem Statement:

For decades farmers have installed tile drainage to remove excess soil water and improve crop yields. In many years there is excess soil moisture early in the growing season and water deficits later. In addition to the excess water, the tiles also deliver nutrients and pesticides in the water to streams and rivers, contributing to water pollution. There is a need for more research and education on how soil drainage methods can be modified to reduce environmental impacts and potentially increase yields, but funds are limited.

Programmatic Response:

Greg Brenneman, Jim Jensen, and I worked out a plan by which we could utilize the new ground at the SE Iowa Research farm for tile drainage research by finding a way for two grants to complement each other in a way where the tile could be installed in the summer when contractors could donate their time, and also allow the farmer renting the ground to continue cropping it without losing any income. Brenneman and Matt Helmers obtained a grant from the NRCS for conducting tile drainage research. Brenneman, Jensen, and Norm Stone, NRCS, persuaded several tile contractors to donate their services and/or materials to put in the tile, but only if it could be done in their slow time in the summer. By using a grant that Tom Miller and I obtained from the Leopold Center to study double cropped peas, we were able to provide Tom Bonnichson, the renter of the new ground at the research farm, with a good income even though there would be no crop on the land in mid-July when the tiling would be done. Winter wheat was harvested in early July and double cropped peas planted in late July, with the tiling and a Tile Installation Field Day being conducted on July 12, 2006.


Over 150 attended the field day on July 12, where they could see a wetland being constructed to reduce nitrates in the water, as well as various contractors installing tile. Research projects initiated included a controlled drainage project to store water during times of excess and utilize during times of deficit, and shallow, closely spaced tile to reduce nitrates leaving the field. In addition, 27 certified crop advisors received training in soil and water management and received a personal tour of the events occurring at the field day. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours were donated by a dozen private companies to help make the field day and tile installation project a success. By ISU extension personnel cooperating across disciplines, utilizing grants, and working with other agencies and private industry, research has been started at a reasonable cost that can help Iowa farmers to remain profitable while reducing environmental impacts.

April 5, 2007
150 - Environmental Stewardship


Page last updated: April 11, 2007
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,