If your fields are plagued by waterlogged soil, no investment will pay off faster than tiling. Most of the return will result from higher yields—in both the wet and dry spots because you can cross the field in the optimal planting and harvesting windows.
If you have waterlogged cropland, no investment will pay off faster than improved drainage, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. Today’s high land and com-modity prices make the payoff even higher than it was a few years ago. Not surprisingly, many farmers are considering adding tile to their fields.
Here are six tips to help you make tiling decisions.
1. Now is the time. If you hurry, you might still be able to capture federal tax breaks for drainage work completed in 2011. If you miss the boat, keep your fingers crossed that the benefits are extended for 2012.
The 2011 federal tax rules included accelerated depreciation on drainage work and a higher expense election limit under Section 179 of the tax code, explains Steve Baker of Springfield Plastics Inc., an Auburn, Ill., manufacturer of drainage tubing.
"Historically, drainage systems have been written off over a 15-year period. That hasn’t changed," he says. "For 2011, the bonus depreciation deduction was increased from 50% to 100%, and the expensing election was increased to $500,000."
Baker is optimistic that the tax incentives will be renewed for 2012. "If they are, they might be adopted by some states, providing additional savings on your state tax return," he says.
"Don’t expect the tax incentives to purchase assets to last forever, though," Baker adds. "If you can complete drainage work in 2011, do so. Then check with your tax person to see if the new rules are extended through 2012."
2. Will drainage pay? First, you should confirm you have a drainage problem. Thanks to NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) photos and yield maps from your combine monitor, it’s easier than ever to determine whether waterlogged soils are curbing yields, and by how much.
"The first step is to examine several years of NDVI photos, along with yield maps from a calibrated monitor," Ferrie says. "If the same low-yielding areas show up for several years, it’s likely a drainage problem.
"If the problem is drainage, circle the area on your map and calculate how big an area is being affected. The area of poor drainage is likely to be larger than the area where water actually stood," Ferrie says. "Is it a one-acre pocket and a three-acre halo, or a five-acre pocket and a three-acre halo?"
"To quantify the benefits of drainage, compare the field to one of similar soil type, managed in a similar fashion, which has been systematically tiled, not just in the wet areas," says Dave Williamson of Williamson Farm Drainage Inc., in Bloomington, Ill. "The farmers of such fields can give you a good idea what to expect."
Not surprisingly, the payoff varies with soil type. "The economics aredifferent for more-productive and less-productive soils," Williamson says. "With a few exceptions, the most
productive soils tend to have the worst natural drainage." So they are likely to provide the greatest return from improved drainage.
3. Multiple benefits. Most of the return from your tiling investment will result from increasing yield in the wet area to match the rest of the field. But there are additional ways tiling might pay off.
You might be able to plant the entire field in a more timely fashion, since you probably don’t plant any of it until the whole field dries out, Ferrie says. Even then, the wet portion might still be damp enough to provide a poor seedbed, which lowers yield.
- Mid-November 2011