Agronomy. Answers. Yield. Aug/Sept 2020 Mobile Article Header Image Reclaiming His Roots

If you follow Darren and me on TV, radio, workshops, field days, or anything we write, you are probably getting tired of hearing us talk about tiling, but that’s okay. There is still a shocking amount of acreage in the U.S. that is not tiled that should be, likely more than 100 million acres! We speak passionately on a regular basis about tiling because it has helped transform our farm, and it can do the same for you.

Here are my top reasons you will benefit from tiling. By the way, the best time to tile is always right now.
The sooner you get it done, the sooner you start reaping the rewards.


While we typically see yield gains of 15% to 25%, we have also worked with many farmers who have doubled their yields in short order after tiling. Long-term, tile will absolutely pay for itself in almost every single case. In our operation, more than half the tile we have installed over the years has had a one-year payback.


Air warms up faster than water. If you have more air in your soil thanks to tile, your ground will warm up more quickly so you can farm it earlier in the season. When you can start planting earlier each spring, that means you can – if you want to – raise later-maturing crops which typically yield more. Plus, if you farm many acres, it’s nice being able to go to a field and farm it, rather than constantly having to find the perfect day based on whether or not the soil finally dried out.


Excess magnesium (over 20% in the base saturation test) means more compaction, less efficient plant use of nitrogen and potassium, and higher pH levels. If you have good drainage, you can eventually lower magnesium levels in soils.


My favorite thing about tiling is it makes farming fun again. Instead of going around wet holes, getting stuck, replanting, running back to a field three times to finish spraying because you had to wait for areas to dry out, etc., you can go to a field, complete a task on the entire field, and go home.


Getting stuck is no fun. Plus, it’s very dangerous when you start pulling on equipment to get it out. My dad was always super big on safety, and if there was anything he could do to reduce our safety risk on the farm, he spent the money and did it. It only takes one time with things going wrong to change your life. It’s not worth it. Fix the drainage issue.


This one is pretty obvious, but if you have better sub-surface drainage, that means there will be more air in the soil and less chance for that soil to compact whenever you cross the field.


Excess moisture means more disease issues. When plants do not have the proper balance of air and water, they endure stress. More stress means lower disease tolerance for all plants.


When you can properly time your applications of fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, and fungicide, you gain more yield.


Ponding in fields can be a real nuisance – and no, we’re not talking about draining wetlands or duck ponds here. We are simply talking about tiling true farm ground. Standing water leads to crop injury and occasionally death, not to mention more weed issues and compaction down the road.


High soil pH is commonly caused by one of three things that tile can help you with: excesses of salt, sodium, and magnesium. Since salts are leachable, if you have good drainage they will naturally flush out of your soil with normal rainfall. With sodium and magnesium, in order to get them to leach out once drainage is fixed with tile, you simply need to turn them into salts. This is done most commonly with sulfur. Both sodium sulfate and magnesium sulfate are salts, so they will eventually wash away, as well. Yes, it will take years to get your soil excesses out, but the longer you wait to begin fixing these issues, the worse they will become.


There are many people who mistakenly believe that tiling is bad for the environment. The opposite is true. Read “Environmental Benefits of Tile Drainage” by Heather Fraser and Ron Fleming sometime. It’s free online, and it’s a summary of 86 tile drainage studies proving conclusively that tiling actually HELPS the environment. Tiled fields have less erosion and fewer contaminants going downstream. Tiled fields help reduce flooding and often improve neighboring roads. Most importantly, crop growth is greatly improved where tile is installed. More crop production means more beneficial soil microbes, healthier soils, and more organic matter. If you are a true environmentalist, you are a huge proponent of tile.


We had just wrapped up an Ag PhD Soils Clinic in January of 2020. A younger woman came up by the stage to talk to me afterwards, and right before she started talking she began to cry. Now, our fertility talks don’t usually bring people to tears, so this had never happened to me before, but here was her story.

As a young farm couple, she and her husband were really struggling with some family land where she said, “We can’t even get a piece of tillage equipment to go in the ground.” She showed me her soil tests, and her sodium levels were off the charts. Sodic soils don’t happen overnight. My assumption in her case is this problem had been building for probably 50 years. Had her grandpa simply spent a little money and installed tile on this part of their farm, that soil would likely be super productive and profitable today. Instead, the soil is dead, and raising a good crop on that soil will likely be unachievable in the next 10 years or more. I know you have to watch expenses on your farm, but tiling is not an expense at all. It’s an investment that will pay off in higher yield, more net income, and healthier soil. Plus, if your goal is to not have your kids or grandkids literally crying over how bad your land has become, it’s time to start fixing things today. You can either build your soil up or let it get run down over time. That choice is up to you.