How Tile Drainage Influences Higher Crop Yield

At the very heart of successful farming is the need to boost crop yield, and there are many ways to do it. Recently, Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR) data proved that one of the best ways to enhance yield is to plant crops early on. Another option, particularly for farmers in the Midwest, is tile drainage. Though it can help provide a higher yield in some areas, it is not the best long-term solution in others.

Beck’s PFR Water Management Studies

Back in 2016, Beck’s PFR team in southern Illinois partnered with several other companies, including Water Solutions, Netafim, Nutra Drip, and others to thoroughly study a variety of water management options, including drainage and irrigation methods. Tile spacing and depth studies were part of their research, and their findings may help farmers across the country improve their yields.

During the tile spacing study, they placed tiles at different depths and spaces to measure the results. Depths of 24” and 36” were studied, as were a spacing of 15’, 30’ and 60’ in traditional layouts. They did this for both sub-irrigation and drip irrigation configurations to measure and analyze the differences.

Sub-Irrigation vs. Drip Irrigation

In the sub-irrigation part of the study, the team decided to put tiles on the contour. This would allow the removal of water from the tile lines early on, but also allow water to be pumped back into the soil if it became dry. What’s more, they tested two different sub-irrigation methods, including manual sub-irrigation and sensor-based irrigation with CropX sensors. In the drip irrigation portion, they placed drip lines at 13” below the surface and spaced 30’ apart, both with and without tile.

The Study Findings

Two years later, the data Beck’s PFR team has provided makes it clear that tiled treatments have a significant advantage over non-tiled treatments, regardless of the irrigation method used. The largest yield increase was measured with corn, which averaged a 38.8 bushel per acre increase at the 24” depth. For soybeans, the results were much the same. They measured the largest yield increase at the 36” tile depth with an average increase of 3.9 bushels per acre. Tiles spaced more closely (15’) provided much better yields than those spaced further apart (60’) because closer spacing provided the crops with better drainage.

The Implications for the Future of Farming

Though there is no doubt that tile drainage can certainly boost yields when it comes to the country’s most in-demand crops, it is important to consider the cost involved of narrow tile installation. For many farmers, it simply is not cost-effective to install tiles only 15’ apart. Nonetheless, even when spaced at 60’, yields increased significantly. Beck’s PFR says they need further time and research to understand how these various treatments and spacings will affect moisture throughout the soil, but they do know that drainage and irrigation had a tremendous effect on yields.

The ability to generate higher per-acre yields will ultimately boost farmers’ ability to provide much-needed food and related products in the years to come. Tile drainage may be a good solution for enhancing yields in some of the country’s biggest crops, including corn. Over the next few years, Beck’s PFR will continue to monitor changes to soil profiles based on irrigation techniques and tile spacing.