Contour drainage goes with the flow

Contour drainage can sure draw a crowd.

More than 400 people travelled to a drainage innovation field day last weekend at the Huronview Demonstration Farm at Clinton, Ont.

The stars of the show were new contour and controlled tile drainage systems with surface drainage terraces. These systems will provide research insights on how these systems can function in Ontario conditions.

Installation of the drainage systems was led by Jeremy Meiners, vice president of Illinois-based AGREM water management systems. In this video interview, RealAgriculture agronomist Peter Johnson asks Meiners why an Ontario farmer would consider contour drainage as opposed to the standard straight-line approach we traditionally see in the province.

Peter Johnson and Jeremy Meiners discuss the benefits of contour drainage. Story continues after the video.

Meiners notes that a contour system is indeed a form of pattern drainage with similar spacings and purpose — to drain excess moisture from within the field. The thing that really distinguishes contour from standard drainage is how the tiles are placed in the field; instead of being placed in straight lines, the tile is placed in curves to match the contour of the field.

Meiners tells Johnson that farmers can expect three specific advantages when they invest in contour drainage. Atop the list is better interception of subsurface water flow as it moves down the hill. “You can pull the water off more efficiently. You can then drain more rapidly,” he explains.

Another advantage is more consistent depth placement of the tile. This allows farmers to keep tile placed in topsoil as opposed to having it drift downward into heavy clay in parts of the field. Keeping the laterals out of heavy clay where water percolates much slower significantly improves drainage, Meiners notes.

When the tile is placed on the contour, different elevation zones can also be maintained within the field. Meiners tells Johnson that with the addition of control gates, farmers can then hold back water in the field during drier summer months and release water, if required, during planting and harvest seasons.

Johnson also asks Meiners how the contour system will preform in Ontario’s shallow topsoil compared to what growers have to work with on Illinois farms. What kinds of yield benefits the contour system delivers — 5 to 10 per cent — and cost are also discussed. Contour is “in the ballpark” compared to a regular pattern system, says Meiners.

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