Many of the farm practices used in modern farming are as old as, pardon the pun, the dirt itself. Other procedures feature technology that improves efficiency for the grower or is otherwise beneficial.
Such is the case with equipment that is increasingly installed to improve drainage water management. According to Jim Carter, who is both the district administrator and district technician for the Wood Soil and Water Conservation District, the edge of field water management devices are ideal for keeping water and the nutrients contained within that water in the ground where the next season's crop can hopefully use those nutrients. Carter, himself has eight of the structures on his farmland.
"I paid good money for those nutrients, I don't want them just going down the ditches," he said. "If we can hold the nutrients back on the ground, hopefully it will benefit the crops once they are planted."
The bonus is it is environmentally friendly to minimize the runoff of fertilizers -- both natural as in manure or chemical.
The WSWCD office can also assist growers in obtaining the devices through grants or similar programs such as EQIP. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program helps agricultural producers confront various challenges -- all while conserving natural resources like soil, water and air. It is managed through the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Services.
Each box is placed at the end of a drainage tile on the field. The box alone costs $800 according to Carter. Installation is more based on the location, the drainage tile. Carter notes there were some grants that covered 50 percent or more of the costs, but those funds are drying up.
He encourages growers to still call him at his office at 419-354-5517 to see what is currently available in the watershed where the fields are located. Any one box is designed to serve roughly 15 acres or more of farmland, so it is not inexpensive, but ideally will pay for itself.
Carter has noticed some increase in yields on fields where the equipment is installed.
"You may see some of that at harvest, but that is not the primary reason for these boxes nor do we promote that aspect of its benefits," Carter said. "I am not counting on that every year."
Though historical data is still early, Carter said the structures are expected to be functional for at least 8-10 years.
He said he believes the boxes are especially beneficial for those with livestock operations that provide manure for the fields as a fertilizer. Currently there are more than 200 of these structures in place in Wood County.
In its simplest terms the box contains paddles inside that regulate the level of water in the fields. Each grower regulates if and when to raise or lower the water table in the field. The paddles or doors to the drainage tiles can be opened or closed as needed.
In most cases the water is allowed to rise during the non-growing season to retain water to hopefully enrich the soil
According to an OSU Fact Sheet on these devices, management involves simply raising or lowering the outlet elevation using the boards. The outlet depth, as determined by the control structure, is in general:
• Raised after harvest to limit drainage outflow and reduce the delivery of nitrate to ditches and streams during the off-season.
• Lowered in early spring and again in the fall so the drain can flow freely before field operations such as planting or harvest.
• Raised again after planting and spring field operations to create a potential to store water for the crop to use in midsummer.
Carter said as is the case with most any policy or procedure on the farm, if you manage it properly it should be a benefit; however he said, "If you mismanage you can shoot yourself in the foot. The idea is to retain and make the nutrients available for the crops as needed by holding back the water to allow the land to reabsorb as needed."
Carter says he uses the AgriDrain systems.