Poor surface drainage is costing you money – but optimizing field drainage is the solution

Here’s a recent story published in T&C south…


Poor surface drainage is costing you money – but optimizing field drainage is the solution

THE recent spate of wet growing seasons has highlighted the impact poor field drainage can have on crop production. Water-logging due to water ponding on the ground surface is common on the flat, heavy soils commonly farmed in Queensland.

Research shows that most crops that are inundated for longer than 24 hours, typically decrease yield on average by 8% for every extra 24 hours that they are inundated. For example 7 days of continuous inundation typically reduces yield by 48%. This loss is surprisingly consistent across crop types and growth stage. In addition, poorly drained ground compacts easier, bogs machinery, delays planting and harvesting and loses fertilizer due to leaching and volatilization. All these factors combine to greatly impact farm profit.

Historically there weren’t options available to the dry-land farmer. Cutting ditches through a field often created more problems than it solved and laser grading required too much still to be shifted and was therefore too expensive for dry-land cropping.

However the latest application of precision agriculture uses GPS instead of lasers to control earthmoving machinery. This allows 3 dimensional design surfaces to be used which follow the natural topography more closely and therefore greatly reduce the necessary earthworks, while still removing any depressions in the field that pond water. This makes landforming cost effective for many farmers who previously dismissed the concept.

A Queensland farming organization, DAVCO Farming has been at the forefront of this new wave. As David Cox, principal of DAVCO Farming explains, “We farm and fully understand the benefits of precision surface drainage of agricultural fields. We were one of the first growers in the world to use laser leveling in sugarcane production starting back in the 1970’s. It was a tremendous leap in the technology enabling the transformation of basic land into highly efficient and very productive farming operations.

However, the problem with laser leveling and its corresponding multiple plane designs is that we often see more than 4 times the earthworks compared to the new technology. Apart from the much larger earthmoving cost that this involves, it also scalps a lot more topsoil which can have significant impacts on crop yields for decades. We continue to develop land for sugarcane farming and saw the opportunity that GPS machine control offered in solving the limitations of laser leveling. So over ten years ago, we set about coming up with a system that took full advantage of this new technology. That is what we call Optimum Surface Land-forming or OptiSurface for short.”

OptiSurface Designer is the software package which automatically calculates the optimum 3D field topography that satisfies drainage goals whilst minimizing earthworks. Used in conjunction with Trimble’s: Field Level II GPS Leveling system. OptiSurface Designer delivers a total cost effective solution for poor surface drainage.

– by Graeme Cox, PhD, Agricultural Engineer

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