FARGO, N.D. - Corn producers attending the recent 'Cornvention' had some of their questions answered in regards to wetland and tile drainage during a panel discussion held in the afternoon session. Those taking part in the panel included a drain tile installer, a financial officer, an NRCS conservationist who deals with wetlands, and a farmer who has tiled some of his fields. A growing number of producers are looking at tiling their fields as a way of improving the efficiency of their cropping systems. However, Max Fuxa with Ellingson Companies, said there are potential problems associated with tiling, such as planning the tile system.
Fuxa displayed pages from a United States Department of Agriculture publication printed in 1904 that discussed the benefits and methods of 'underdrainage,' the term used for tiling at that time.
"One hundred years ago we had the Department of Agriculture saying if you tile, the tile is going to get rid of your salts. We knew that 100 years ago," Fuxa said.
In talking with producers, they have indicated to him that their biggest challenge in crop production is too much water and too much water at the wrong time.
"Once you control the 'too much water' (problem) by tiling, then something else becomes the most limiting factor in crop production," Fuxa said. He quoted 19th century German agronomist Justus von Liebig's Law of the Minimum, which says "that which is the most significant is the greatest limiter of yield. Therefore spend the first dollar on the factor that is the most important for the best return on your investment."
Financial aspects of tiling Jordan Pederson, a loan officer with AgCountry Farm Credit Services, said most of the tiling projects he has been involved with are costing around $800 an acre to complete. The appraised value added to the land due to a tile drainage system will depend on many factors, he noted. These include things such as the existing soil productivity; the degree of drainage before the tile system was installed; and whether the system was professionally installed or put in place by the farmer. When a system is financed, the lender will request a copy of the tiling plans, which will help in determining the new appraised value of the land once it's tiled. Payback times are said to range from 3 to 10 years, depending on many things like weather and type of land.
Today, for those borrowing money to complete a project based on an average cost of $800 per acre, a 5-year note would have an interest rate of 3.5 to 4 percent on average and would require a payment of $155 to $175 per acre each year. A 10-year term at 4.5 to 5 percent would require a $90 to $100 payment per acre per year, and a 15-year loan at 5.25 to 5.75 percent interest would have annual payments of $70 to $80, according to Pederson.
Farmers also need to be aware about how a tiling project will impact them in regards to taxes. Last year, through bonus depreciation, a farmer was able to write off 100 percent of the cost of tiling. But, as things stand this year, that figure is now 50 percent. He encouraged growers to consult with their tax advisor as well as their financial provider when making tiling decisions.
Conservation decisions NRCS State Conservationist Mary Podoll told the growers they must be in compliance with wetland regulations when they plan a tiling system, and also admitted that farmers haven't been getting timely service in trying to determine compliance issues. Growers are also finding that there are a lot more wetlands listed on their maps than there were in 1992. Podoll has been in dialog with the regional and national NRCS officials in an effort to resolve this increase in designated wetland acres. She announced that on Feb. 21 the NRCS added North Dakota to a list of nine other states that were receiving extra training in wetlands compliance issues.
"That will certainly go a long way in the next few months to get conservation planners up to speed on some of the things that go wrong in working with a whole conservation system approach," she said. Podoll also praised NRCS chief David White who is committed to getting more conservation practices on the ground and making sure the internal organization of the NRCS is effective and efficient as it possibly can.
"He really understands the purpose of NRCS," she said. "We can point to success after success where voluntary conservation and stewardship is very successful because we know you are the land stewards."
It was evident that wetlands compliance issues are the biggest concerns of landowners, since all of the questions raised during the question and answer period following the panel presentation were directed at Podoll and focused on the various aspects of compliance in regards to wetlands.
Tiling from a farmer's perspective The final presenter of the day was Brad Thykeson, a farmer from Portland, N.D. Thykeson started installing tile on his farm in 2009 and has now completed three separate projects.
"From what we have experienced with tiling, every case and every day is going to be different," he said. "It takes a lot of hard work."
But that work is a good investment, he noted, since he has not only seen an increase in yields on the land that has been tiled, but it also allows them to be more efficient with their time.
"It allows you to get that crop on time and helps with harvest ease," he said. "The security blanket of just knowing that you have it (a tiling system) in the ground is very rewarding."