Top 6 Reasons Farmers Tile Their Fields

Mark’s dad owns and operates Hewitt Drainage Equipment, which has turned into a family business. Ray, Mark’s brother, works full-time for the business, and Mark helps out when he can during trade shows, spring and fall. He also does some troubleshooting of the GPS technology.
We sell Gold Digger tile plows, tile, tile stringers, and GPS units. We will also do some tiling and train farmers how to operate their equipment.

Gold Digger Tile Plows

Some of the Gold Digger tile plows we sell

I often hear a lot of myths about tiling, and I get a lot of questions about it during my speaking engagements. I wanted to give the Top Six Reasons Farmers Tile Their Fields to help clear up some of those questions and answer why we install tile in our field.

1. It Helps Prevent Soil Erosion

One of the main reasons we tile is to prevent soil run-off. When you let water sit on top of your field, it erodes the soil as it flows, and along with it fertilizer and other nutrients, and washes them away. You may have noticed a field that has a  wash out, where no crop has grown, and instead water has created a gully, taking topsoil with it. We try and protect our soil as much as we can. Tiling allows us to do that, by keeping more top soil where it belongs, and not letting it get washed away. It helps decrease soil erosion long term, which is important to ensure productive fields.

2. Tiling Let’s the Soil Act as a Filter

We always say that soil is nature’s best filter. With tiling, we are actually drawing the water down through the soil, allowing it to act as a filter, filtering out substances that we might not want in our water. It also lowers levels of elements in the soil such as iron, that aren’t always the healthiest for crops to grow. If the soil is acting like a filter, it helps slow down water-run off, trap particles and act as a buffer for acidic soils.

3. We Have To Replace Old Tile

This one is kind of common sense on the farmer’s end, but most people don’t even realize that most fields have been tiled already for a long time, with clay tile. If we want to talk historically, this goes way back to the time of Cato and the Roman Empire, but agricultural tiling practices started as early as the 1830’s in the  United States. Often times, when you see a farmer out installing the plastic drain tile, they are updating clay tile or broken tile lines. In Minnesota, a farmer has a legal obligation to fix a broken tile line, so they have to maintain their tile lines even if it means acquiring permits to do so first. It just makes sense to invest in new drainage tile to fix and update what is already in the field.

Gold Digger Tile Plow

Pulling the Gold Digger Tile Plow

4. It Warms the Soil Faster

In Minnesota, and the surrounding states, we have pretty harsh winters. In fact, this winter was the coldest on record in over 20 years! With continuous temperatures in the negatives, the ground freezes pretty hard. We often have a small window of planting time. Part of this is due to weather, in fact last spring, a lot of farmer’s couldn’t even get in the field! Another part of this is due to insurance plant-by dates, and then you have to factor in the number of days it takes for the crop to reach maturity for harvest. With tile, your soil temperature is often anywhere from 5-15 degrees warmer. The soil has to be a certain temperature before you can plant in order for the seed to germinate, so soil temp is extremely important. Tiling helps ensure we are in the field on time.

5. It Creates Better Crop Roots.

I’m going to word this two different way in an effort to make it easier to understand: tiling increases the water table depth- so if it was at 3 feet before, it maybe be at 5 feet with tiling, allowing more water to be held. OR If you look at it on a visual, it looks like it is being lowered. Think of a horizontal line at 3 feet than another one at 4 feet below ground. The crop has to reach further down to get the available water, as the tile has pulled it down through the soil, rather than allowing it to sit on top. This encourages stronger, deeper roots. Root strength is important for a variety of a reasons. For example, If a strong wind comes along, and the crop has very shallow roots, your entire crop could be wiped out.

Corn Crop

A corn crop coming up in early spring 2013

6. It Contributes to Increased Yields

One of the biggest advantages for farmers with tiled fields, is the increase in yields. For corn, the increase runs around 35%, Soybeans 30%, Wheat 75% and Alfalfa 40%. Those are pretty large increases in yield for a one-time investment that will last the next 50 years. Farmers are able to grow more crop with less land through tiling. The cost of tiling is often very low compared to the return on yields, making it an economical decision for farmers.

 

Overall, farmers tile for a variety of reasons-there are more than I listed here. Depending on the state and county rules, farmers have to apply for permits prior to installing or fixing drainage tile. There are rules that have to be followed, and there are best practices that farmers follow when tiling. We use the Gold Digger tile plows for a variety of reasons, but one of our favorites is the minimal soil disturbance rather than bringing in heavy equipment to do the work.

Do you have more questions about tiling? Something you’d like me to explain more? Are you interested in the Gold Digger tile plow? Leave me a comment below or email me at hewittfarmsinc@gmail.com

-Sara

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One thought on “Top 6 Reasons Farmers Tile Their Fields

  1. Interesting. My uncle had a tiling business for many years in the Windom MN area. He still tiles a little these days. He’s got one of the old wheel trencher models and he gets called when people are concerned about hitting an existing line or other complications are present.

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