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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Tile Drainage Doesn't Have to Hurt the Environment

Author
item Russelle, Michael

Submitted to: Hoard's Dairyman
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 25, 2003
Publication Date: May 25, 2003
Citation: Russelle, M.P. 2003. Tile drainage doesn't have to hurt the environment. Hoard's Dairyman. p. 370.

Technical Abstract: Since the Swamp Lands Act was passed nearly 150 years ago, drainage of land has made farming both possible and profitable on at least 110 million acres in the U.S. This drainage allows timely tillage and reduces crop stress from high water tables. By design, tile drains remove excess water from soil and transport it to surface water bodies. The downside is that nutrients dissolved in the drainage are transported to surface water, making tile-drained soils more 'leaky' than they were before. Nitrate losses can be reduced by limiting fertilizer and manure N additions, delaying N application until spring or early summer, installing shallower or more closely spaced tiles, constructing wetlands for nitrate removal, or managing water table depths. Cover crops may work well, provided they are successfully established and survive over winter. The best option of dairy farmers is to include perennial forages in the crop rotation on tile-drained fields. Perennial forages utilize nitrate and water at times of the year when corn and soybean are not growing, and are highly effective in protecting the environment.

Last Modified: 12/27/2014
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