Keeping cover crops out of tile drains

Will the growth of cover crops lead to an explosion of plugged tile drains?

According to Ohio State professor and farm drainage specialist Dr. Larry Brown, there’s little evidence to suggest that cover crops are going to cause drainage headaches for farmers. At the recent Ontario Certified Crop Advisors annual meeting, Brown says he often gets calls from growers asking whether deeper-rooted cover crops could be filling their tiles and cutting water flow. In his experience, however, he believes most of the instances of tile plugging that growers link to cover crops actually have more to do with poor tile installation, not the crops themselves.

When tiles stop flowing the problem is most often linked to contractors using improper fittings, not maintaining grade, and improper connections, says Brown. “We can almost always go back to the field and see that there may be an installation problem that really caused the condition to occur and roots begin to accumulate in that position.

“Some people will just cut a hole in a main and stick a lateral into it and not use a manufactured fitting coupler or tee. We recommend that they use the manufacturers’ tees and fittings,” says Brown. He adds that often the roots that plug a drain may have originated from a crop several hundred feet away and accumulated in areas where there are poor fittings.

When it comes to grade, “we need to maintain a steady, constant grade and that means you’ve got to have grade control on your machine and know how to use it properly,” adds Brown.

Listen to Dr. Larry Brown describe how properly installed tile drains can mitigate the impact of increasing use of cover crops.

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