Minnesota farmers: Tile drainage does good, not harm

  • Article by: KURT KRUEGER
  • Updated: May 26, 2011 - 9:55 PM

Soybeans in the shape of Minnesota

Photo: Courtesy, Minnesota Soybean Festival

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There is no question that everyone who uses the land -- farmers, homeowners, industries, and cities and towns -- has a responsibility to protect our land and water for future generations.

Even though sediment in water comes from many sources, I believe that farmers are doing the most of any segment of land users to minimize soil erosion.

Most Minnesota farmers are responsible environmentalists who practice sustainable farming.

But we are continually trying to do more, as we work with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and with local soil and water districts to make sure we are using all the best practices available to minimize the amount of soil that runs off farm fields and potentially into surface waters.

It is ironic that agricultural drainage seems to have become such a lightning rod for critics of farmers ("Strangling our rivers," April 17, and "Ag industry has role in river restoration," editorial, May 8).

Drainage is actually a proven practice for environmental protection. Critics of farmers couldn't be more wrong about it.

Research from the University of Minnesota and from many other experts proves that tile drainage not only allows us to raise more food on less land but also improves water quality, prevents soil erosion and reduces flooding.

Tile drainage allows water to infiltrate the soil and to benefit from the soil's natural filtering power before it is discharged. Water that is drained through tile is proven to reduce the impact of methyl mercury, a severe water quality impairment.

Tile drainage also reduces soil erosion, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. Farm fields that do not have drainage can become saturated, causing excess rainwater to run off, carrying soil and nutrients with it.

Drainage enables the soil to absorb more water. When the crops take up the water they need, the excess is disposed efficiently through the tile, rather than running over the top of the field.

When you drive across Minnesota today, you see very few fields that are plowed with the soil completely bare. We are using minimum tillage today, which keeps residue from the previous crop on the surface, preventing erosion and providing a better habitat for wildlife.

If we didn't use drainage, we wouldn't be able to use this conservation tillage, because the soil would not dry out fast enough in the spring.

Tile drainage also reduces flooding, because it reduces the water table. This allows the soil to hold much more water when it rains.

Researchers have learned that water flows can be reduced as much as 30 percent through tile drainage.

Those are some of the reasons Minnesota farmers use tile drainage and why the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association supports it so strongly.

I encourage all Minnesotans to do their part in protecting our valuable land and water resources. It starts with getting our facts right.

Kurt Krueger is president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

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