Controlled drainage showcased on Ontario demo farm

Farm near Thorndale has numerous drainage and soil health practices to see

Brad Glasman, left, and Craig Merkley, both of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, have been working for years to establish a demonstration farm.

Glacier FarmMedia – Drainage contractors were hard at work at a farm just west of Thorndale in early June, creating a showcase tile drainage project.

Numerous drainage systems and cropping best practices will be demonstrated at the farm, owned by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA).

Why it matters: Drainage is important to profitability on much of the farmland in Ontario and technology related to drainage is evolving quickly.

Craig Merkley, conservation services specialist at UTRCA, says a demonstration farm has been discussed at the conservation authority for 40 years. He and Brad Glasman, manager of conservation services at UTRCA, are promoters of soil and water best practices on farms.

“We had the opportunity to implement all these features on one farm and so that’s the intent of this demonstration farm, to implement as many of these BMPs (Best Management Practices) on the property that we can and showcase them to farmers,” says Merkley.

Controlled drainage, which involves the ability to shut off tile runs to keep moisture in the soil, is the centrepiece of the farm, covering about half of its land. The south half of the farm is drained conventionally with tile at 30-inch centres.

Ten boxes with gates dot the one field on the property. In a droughty year, the idea is that the tiles can be turned off, giving plants more access to needed water. In the winter, it might be wide open, says Merkley, but when the ground is drier, the tiles can be closed and the water held.

This is one of the drainage control boxes along one end of the controlled drainage section at the Thorndale Demonstration Farm. photo: John Greig

Controlled drainage means the tiles must be run along land contours, so the less slope the better for controlled drainage.

“Hopefully it’s a sub-irrigation situation where the roots will absorb it if the roots need it,” says Merkley.

There is also a benefit in water control, with less moving off the property and into watercourses.

The downside is more time spent managing the field and the fact that the control boxes are in the way of free movement of equipment.

There’s been a larger trend toward controlled drainage in the United States, and increased interest in Canada as land prices escalate and crops are managed more intensively.

“We’re always looking for niche things we can do to help producers,” says Ken McCutcheon of McCutcheon Farm Drainage, one of the partners on the site. Van Gorp Drainage was also doing work there.

Tile was supplied by Bluewater Pipe, Armtec and ADS. Agri Drain Corporation and Hickenbottom Inlets also were partners on the project.

There are about 10 other water and soil management practices on the property, says Merkley, including different kinds of berms that provide structural erosion control. There are different kinds of inlets, including blind inlets to take water away in a French-type drain versus a standpipe drain.

Pollinator species of plants are being grown along the property edges.

The Thorndale Demonstration farm is the second such project to crop up in Ontario in the past few years. The Huronview Demonstration Farm at Clinton has similar practices demonstrated, including controlled drainage.

John Greig is the editor of Farmtario. His article appeared in the June 28, 2021 issue.

For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.

About the author

Field editor

John Greig

John Greig is a field editor for Glacier FarmMedia.



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