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Drain Tile Actually Increases Crop Performance during Summer Droughts, Dry Spells

It’s been hot here in Mad Dog’s Ohio home, and as is often the case with hot Summers, there has been less rain than usual. Times like these hardly seem like the moment to be thinking about drain tile. Why worry about drainage at a time when there’s literally nothing to drain?

You might be surprised. Research has shown that drain tile is a major factor in keeping crops healthy during drought periods.

Say what? Logic, it seems, would suggest that better drainage would lead water off of your property…which should be bad for crops, right?

Not exactly.

Field agronomists from Iowa State University ran experiments on the east side of their state to check the impact of effective drain tile during drought periods, if there was any effect at all.

Their research indicated that—indeed—fields with drain tile had the highest yields.

Consider the example of Curt Zingula, a soy farmer in Marion, IA. He saw the difference when his wettest field gave a disappointing return during a period of drought. It seems to contradict the obvious: Shouldn’t the wettest field have the most water left over for plants to use during a dry time?

The researchers from Iowa State suggest that the opposite is actually true. Everyone knows that too much water is actually harmful for a plant. This applies even when the plant isn’t outright “drowned” by too much water. In Zingula’s case, his soybeans had plenty of water during a normal period. Easy access to water essentially made them “lazy”; they developed shorter roots because water was easily accessible. Plants that grow on properly-drained soil have to work harder to get water, which means they develop more expansive, healthier root systems. Making the plants “work” for water sounds rough, but it’s actually normal and healthy. It’s “survival of the fittest” in motion.

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These root systems come in handy when rain is scarce. The plants can tap into water stored in the deeper, damper layers of soil (corn can reach as deep as five feet down). Plants with short roots can’t reach this supply, and wither.

In short, drain tile does more than just prevent plants from becoming waterlogged. It also encourages them to be survivors.

Zingula, for one, agrees.

“I saw that right away in the first field I harvested this fall,” he told The Gazette (out of Cedar Rapids, IA). “My conclusion is that you have a better soil structure yielding better root growth in well-drained fields.”

Of course, by the Summer, it’s too late to plan for drought. And that’s why you should be thinking about drain tile year-round.

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