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Management practices can increase the longevity of field drainage tile 
2019 had many farmers planting cover crops through preventative plant programs and investing in drainage tile. These investments, however, may turn sour if cover crops and dispersive sediments begin clogging drain tile. In 2016, experts from Purdue University sounded the alarm that cover crops and warm wet spring conditions may result in roots invading and clogging expensive drainage tile. 

Drainage tile acts as a super highway for erodible sediments. As soils begin to lose structural stability, they become dispersive. Dispersive soils follow the path of the least resistance and erode easily with water.  Drainage tile, while sought to remove moisture from waterlogged soils, can also rapidly remove dispersive soil sediments from the field. Along with the sediment leaching, fertility is also lost. Dispersive soils conditions establish a negative feedback of soil degradation. 

Soil regeneration experts recommend cover crops for reversing the damage from dispersive soil conditions. But, farmers must be cautious when implementing these management tools. Warm wet spring conditions are favorable for deep rooting cover crops. As deep rooting crops penetrate the soil profile they are looking for nutrients. They find nutrients flowing through drainage tiles. The heavy sediment load, high fertility, and ample moisture in the drainage tile micro-environment provides the optimum conditions for rapid root growth, ultimately clogging the tile.
Farmers can do more than just wait and see. Terminating the cover crop early in the spring can help reduce clogging. Organic farmers, however, must be especially cautious. Wet warm spring temps may prevent them from accessing the fields and terminating early may not be an option. Conventional farmers can terminate early with herbicidal cocktails, which do more harm than good, but that fight is for another day.
 
Proper management of soil structure is the optimum investment to extend the life of drainage tile. Soil structural stability is ideal, because it not only will improve drainage reducing a fields need to be tiled, but also it can reduce sediment erosion, nutrient leaching, and water logging soil conditions. In terms of eco-system benefits, soil stability pays for itself quickly. 
 
Dispersive soils are characterized by excess magnesium, potassium, and sodium. These mineral imbalances create erodible soil sediments which remove not only cations but also anions such as nitrates, sulfates, and phosphates.

On a very large scale, we see the accumulation of these highly erodible sediments collecting in our lakes, rivers, and oceans creating dead zones and toxic conditions. On a local scale, dispersive soil conditions result in sediment filled drainage tile, loss of soil drainage, higher input costs, and lower profitability.

 
Pathways to soil structural stability. 

Correcting the cause of drainage clogging is as simple as balancing the solid and liquid phases of the soil. High magnesium, potassium, and sodium soil solids (report on most soil tests) can be balanced and flocculated with high available calcium liquid solutions. Soil structural stability can be rapidly improved when we balance these two phases of the soil environment, the soil and liquid. Generally, most agronomist are concerned with the solid phase, however as we are learning the dynamics of soil health the liquid phase of the soil must be also receive attention.

Being proactive in your soil management builds resiliency, not only to wet conditions, but also dry. Each year is bringing us new challenges, a wait and see attitude gives you no control in your operation. Investing in your soil's structure, is the first step in getting off the hamster wheel of reactionary agriculture.

Farming, weather, markets, etc. are changing. Do you want to control your operation or do you want to react to the symptoms? When you begin looking at the benefits of flocculating your soil, it becomes a no brainer. Improving your soils structure protects every other investment you make on your farm. From seed to inputs to machinery, every part of your business that touches the soil benefits from healthy soil structure.
 
Reduce your risk, protect your investments, and preserve your future. That's the future of farming.
"I used to walk a tightrope with my management. I was afraid to try anything new because the risk was so high. Now I am walking on a sidewalk... My goal is to be on the freeway. "
- Frank Olagaray
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Soil Works LLC · 4200 W 8th St · Yankton, SD 57078-6883 · USA

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