How close is too close when it comes to tile drainage?

Projects look at 12.5-foot tile spacing and potential yield benefits

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A tile company is working with growers across southwestern Ontario to complete narrow spacing tile plots.

Why it matters: Few projects have looked at the value of narrow tile spacing in Ontario. Opportunities like this help growers understand how different tile spacing can improve their crop.

During a Middlesex Soil and Crop meeting, Tony Kime, president of BlueWater Pipe in Huron Park says he noticed that numerous young farmers were pushing limits on fertilizer and seed but never mentioned anything about the tiling system underneath.

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“I volunteered, I said ‘if any of you guys are doing any drainage next year, I’d like to push the limits on some drainage.’ That resulted in a couple of young farmers, who were part of a bigger farm families, contacting me later,” says Kime.

Eric Dietrich, of Dietrich Farms in Lucan, Ont. is one of 10 participants in the project.

Dietrich says there is not enough research like this.

“It will also allow us to do other water (projects) down the road,” says Dietrich.

Kime donated tile to Dietrich Farms to complete a plot with 12.5-foot tile spacing on a 10-acre piece of a larger farm that was being tiled in 2019.

Dietrich says the 2019 corn crop harvested off the plot showed a $25 per acre profit increase on the part of the field tiled at 12.5 feet versus 25 feet, approximately a four to five-bushel increase.

“We’re hoping to measure it over the next 10 years and see what kind of return we can get,” says Dietrich.

He says he’s confident the additional tiling will help in certain areas of the field.

“I don’t think it’ll pay to do the whole farm, but there are certain areas like headlands, or where you are always going in and out, that’ll pay to have certain areas split,” says Dietrich.

“It’s going to be super interesting to see that data from the field this year, especially given with a bit of a drier early part of the season – June and July,” says Kime.

Narrow tile spacing has been found to increase yields due to better drought management.

“It gives a deeper root zone through the whole field because the water table becomes more level to the field tiles,” says Kime.

He suspects the narrower spaced tile will work better in clay soils compared to loam because lateral water flow is lower in lighter soil conditions.

“Water moves laterally to the tiles, and comes in from underneath. Once the water is no longer above the drainage pipe you end up with a hyperbola effect to your water table. You’ll get this sine wave profile through the plane of the field. The higher resistance to flow, the higher the water table will be between the tiles. If you’re looking for that dirt for the roots to grow, you can’t have saturated soils,” says Kime.

In the past Purdue University has released studies on various tile spacing, showing that growers have better yield with narrower spacing, but the studies aren’t related to Ontario conditions, says Kime.

“We have a colder winter. As we come into the freeze of January, late December you really want to have dry dirt. Dry dirt when it freezes isn’t an ice block. Therefore, the calories that it takes to heat up the soil when it comes time to thaw are way fewer than if you have frozen saturated dirt,” says Kime. “How close is too close?”

Kime says he wants to have enough data to create some subsets based on soil, crop and rain differences.

He hopes to “have enough data to see if we can actually set a trend of improvement,” says Kime.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer is a farm reporter who lives in Cayuga, Ontario.

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