Farm Potholes or Not – Alternative Strategy For Potholes

CSD 2016-03 Page 4

Corn+Soybean Digest
by Liz Morrison


Alternative Strategy for Potholes

Use next-generation technology to improve water drainage

New water modeling tools are helping some growers boost profits in farmed potholes.

Instead of taking several perennially wet depressions out of production, Jonesboro, Ill., farmer Collin Cain used 3D GPS land-shaping technology to eliminate the potholes and correct gully erosion.

Cain optimized surface drainage in a 50-acre corn-and-soybean field using landforming software from OptiSurface Design, one of a new generation of precision drainage design products. The Australian company uses highly-accurate GPS data to produce multi-slope, multi-grade drainage designs, says drainage contractor Nick Schaefer, owner of Schaefer Excavating, Anna, Ill., who designed Cain’s pothole fix.

The 3D technology moves water off the field in multiple directions, instead of “forcing water in one direction, like traditional laser setups do in a plane design,” Schaefer says. Pothole elevations are raised and slopes reduced, but the field’s basic contours are retained. “By fixing these areas, farmers are gaining acreage, better crop yields, and ease of farming without ditches or potholes,” Schaefer says.

The new technology looks like a good soil conservation tool, too, says Keith Livesay, a resource conservationist for Union County, Ill., SWCD. “It appears to slow water movement off a field and let it infiltrate into the soil. When water moves slower, it drops sediment in the field rather than carrying it away.”

Cain eliminated about 12 acres of farmed potholes that regularly drowned out crops, spending $336/acre for drainage design and earth moving expenses, averaged over the 50-acre field. Cain also gained an extra five acres of productive cropland within the field, which had not been farmable before, turning a 50-acre field into a 55-acre field. He spent $4,200/acre for those additional five acres.

The benefits were clear the next season, 2015, which was “our wettest year on record,” Cain says. “But we didn’t lose one square foot” in that field due to ponding. “It was very impressive.” Cain estimates a payback of five or six years from increased yields, but adds that the drainage improvements “appreciate the land value immediately. It’s good ground.”

Justin Fleck, a precision agriculture consultant from Rochester, Ill., who uses OptiSurface software, agrees. “There are lots of acres in the Midwest with drown-out spots in the middle of fields. Think of it: If you can get, say, five more acres of farmland worth $7,000/acre or more, why not fix the land you have to make it all productive?”

Originally published in http://m.cornandsoybeandigest.com/conservation/stop-farming-potholes-save-money

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