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Iowa Farmer Using Drain Tile To Irrigate
An Iowa farmer and drainage contractor has come up with a new way to irrigate corn that uses less water and costs 80% less than conventional overhead center pivot irrigation.
Mike Pieper, Weaver, Iowa, uses "reverse drainage," a method of feeding water back into drainage tile to maintain ground water levels just below crop roots.
"It's a simple idea but it works like a charm," Pieper told FARM SHOW. He's one of the first farmers to use "reverse drainage" to irrigate crops. "I know a farmer in Illinois who's doing it and there's a 3-county area in Michigan where they've been experimenting with the idea for years."
Pieper is also a drainage tile contractor and he's started setting up "reverse drainage" underground irrigation systems for farmers.
"Any farmer who already has drainage tile can use this idea, or you can set up a system from scratch. We recently set up one farmer in Arkansas by laying tile on land that didn't need drainage. He just uses it for underground irrigation," Pieper says.
To run water back into drainage tile, he simply attaches a flange and elbow to the main tile line at the point of drainage and runs a water line into it. No pressure is required since the water level will equalize, due to gravity. He can irrigate 80 acres from one spot this way, as water runs from the main line to the lateral lines. The ground water level is raised up to within 1 ft. of the surface, or just below the root level of the crop. He monitors ground water level by burying short pieces of PVC pipe, with holes in it, vertically in the ground. One end sticks above ground so that, as water seeps into the pipe through the holes, he can easily watch it raise and lower with the ground water level.
"The water level evens out over the entire field and is only a couple inches higher over the drain tile itself. Every inch of water put into the ground raises the water level more than 10 in. Once we reach the desired level, the roots of the crop simply dip down and take what they need. You have to be careful not to raise the water level too high because it will kill the roots," says Pieper.
His corn yields were 198 bu. per acre last year on his "reverse drainage" land, while his unirrigated land yielded 75 bu. per acre. "Subsurface irrigation works better than above-ground irrigation because it wastes less water and doesn't leach away chemicals. Fuel costs are also much lower, at a rate of about $5 per acre, versus $25 to $30 per acre for center pivot," Pieper notes.
Existing drainage tile can easily be retrofitted to "reverse drainage". All that's needed is a pump and a supply of water. Although every situation's different, Pieper says that, to be most effective, extra tile should be added to most fields. In heavy soils, tile lines should be spaced about 12 ft. apart and, in light soils, maximum spacing should be no more than about 40 ft. Any size or type of drain tile will work. The high ground water level is maintained until the kernals mature. Then, the ground is drainedand the corn allowed to dry.
For more information contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Mike Pieper, Box 195A., Weaver, Iowa 52658 (ph 319 372-2276).
Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc., Iowa City, Iowa, is promoting sub-surface irrigation and has published a booklet explaining the process. For a free copy, write: FARM SHOW Followup, ADS, Inc., P.O. Box 2478, Iowa City, Iowa 52244 (ph 319 338-9448).

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1984 - Volume #8, Issue #5