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Interest in tile drainage grows


Tile drainage interest growing
Ron Wiederholt of the North Dakota State University Extension Service describes this field's drainage Tuesday to a tour group near Embden. The shed contains monitoring and weather equipment for the research. Dave Wallis / The Forum

EMBDEN, N.D. - Brad Thykeson and his family have some low, wet farmland that failed to produce profitable crops in 23 of the past 25 years.

So the Portland farmer will install subsurface tiles to drain excess moisture from the land and improve yields.

"I'm hoping only three of the next 25 years won't be profitable," he said.

Thykeson was among 50 area farmers, agronomists, researchers and soil conservation officials who on Tuesday toured tile drainage sites in eastern North Dakota.

"Farmers are looking for every edge they can, and tile drainage can help," especially in the region's ongoing wet cycle, said Tom Scherer, a North Dakota State University agricultural engineer who was on the tour.


The NDSU Extension Service helped to organize the daylong bus tour, which included stops at Fairmount, N.D., and NDSU.

The first site on the tour was an Embden-area field, about 40 miles southwest of Fargo, on which tile drains are installed.

Special equipment at the field can measure the quantity and quality of discharge water in the tile drainage system.

Collecting data about the potential environmental consequences of tile drainage is vital, said Ron Wiederholt, NDSU nutrient management specialist.

"We need to be able to respond to environmental concerns, while improving farm profitability," he said.

A little background:

Tile draining involves installing underground pipes in fields to regulate subsurface water and help plant roots develop properly, improving yields.

Tile drainage originally used short lengths of clay pipes known as tiles. Plastic tubing with small perforations are used now.


Excess subsurface moisture slowly flows into the tubing and is taken to a ditch or other outlet.

Tile drainage, common in some parts of the country, is still rare in this region, although there is no reliable estimate of how many acres are tiled.

The permitting process for tile drainage varies in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to state and federal officials.

In North Dakota, either a state or local permit may be needed to install tile drainage, depending on the project's scope.

In Minnesota, permits tend to be handled on a county-by-county basis.

In both states, USDA's National Resources Conservation Service investigates whether proposed tile drainage involves wetlands.

Scherer said city residents benefit from tile drainage because houses and apartment buildings typically have tile drains installed around their foundation.

"What farmers are doing is just the same," he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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