Drain Gain: A Smarter Way To Install Drain Tile

Precision technology is most often discussed in terms of how difficult, inaccurate and messy tasks are made simpler, more accurate and cleaner through the use of cutting-edge equipment and software. Installing drain tile qualifies as one of the messiest and most difficult tasks a farmer can undertake, and historically technology has only been of some help.

The advent of flexible tile certainly was a significant improvement, but the biggest challenge with tile is installation — ensuring that it’s graded properly in the soil so that water can effectively drain. And until recently, laser grade control as a measure of topography was the only way to ensure the tile was properly placed for proper drainage. Laser systems work well over areas featuring small grade changes over a short range, but they become less effective on longer runs and over uneven grades.

The latest tile installation systems are employing RTK guidance — capable of effectively providing sub-inch positional accuracy both left to right and up and down — combined with a specialized plow to provide the accuracy and efficiency necessary to do the job right. And it is a system that many farmers would be capable of running themselves.

Interest in the systems has increased substantially all throughout the Midwest, generated by rainy springs of the past few years, says Mike Strahm of IntelliSlope, an RTK-based drain tile installation system based in Indiana. One of his customers is Clay Mitchell, the Buckingham, IA, farmer and technology super-user that has been featured annually in PrecisionAg Special Reports since 2003.

Mitchell started really emphasizing land improvement last year, when he made a concerted effort to improve field areas with low levels of topsoil. He literally scooped up and moved rich soil from the outer edges of erosion barriers and placed the soil in areas with inadequate top soil. However, it became apparent through looking at yield maps that, after three consecutive wet years, the toll that excessive moisture was taking on yields required more immediate attention.

“A lot of things you do with herbicides and variable rate patterns can be hard to recognize on maps,” he says. “Within five seconds of looking at a yield map, you see wet spots, the effects and the severity of it. Historically you might lose 100 bushels per acre on these parts of the field, and you know exactly what the problem is.

“When you try to value the land,” he continues, “drainage is the number one limitation of yield, and it’s the low hanging fruit for land improvement by a really big margin.”

Out With The Old

If installing tile on his fields were as easy as putting in new tile, Mitchell might well have finished the work this past summer. But the long- and well-serviced farmland features tile of all kinds that has been installed over the years.

“Some people get impressive return numbers with how much tile they put in, but my numbers are not so impressive because we have so much old tile to fix,” says Mitchell. “We’re in an area where tile was hand dug dating back more than 100 years. We have clay tile, as well as concrete and even some wooden tile, which is extremely rare. Concrete will slowly erode away, and the wooden tile we’ve found is almost to the point of completely rotting out.

Mitchell used the old-school tools to dig out the old tile — a backhoe attached to a tractor, and a small excavator. For putting in the new tile, he invested in a tile plow and a quad track tractor to pull it, along with the IntelliSlope in-cab hardware and software to operate the plow. RTK GPS is also required for the system, which Mitchell already has access to on his farm.

“We end up spending most of our time fixing the old tile and finding places where we need to put in a string to connect old pieces of tie where there was not one.” Unfortunately, for this aspect of tiling it means a lot of guesswork and digging. Yield maps and historic wet spots are indicators, but it still takes a lot of muscle to locate and fix issues.

“We really have no idea where tile is — we dig with the backhoe where it looks like there is a problem until we find it,” Mitchell admits.

In With The New

Installing new tile with the IntelliSlope system provides a number of advantages over traditional lasers, says Mitchell. One of the keys is the incorporation of RTK GPS, which provides full, automatic control of the tile during installation no matter how much the topography changes.

“Lasers can give you a grade, but they do not account for changes in grade,” says Mitchell. “So you can have one grade set with the laser, but you cannot know the range of grades you are going through. Conversely, RTK knows exactly where you are in the field both horizontally and vertically, and you know you have a continuous slope.”

The IntelliSlope system in the cab has the ability to record topography information about land that it passes over. The user sets the controller up with the desired grade specification. Then, to set up the tile installation path, the IntelliSlope system is driven over the path where tile is going to be installed. This information is recorded and provides the system with a guide as to how deep to place the tile throughout the recorded section of land to achieve a desired grade. The tile installing rig is driven over the exact same line and tile is installed automatically by the tile plow at the correct depth.

A benefit of this first drive through is that the system will tell you if the topography of the area will be able to accommodate the grade desired. “As you drive over the path it records the elevation changes and tells you if you will be within your specifications,” says Mitchell. “If you are within spec, it uses that path to guide the tile plow at the depth that you need to be. It knows what’s coming up and anticipates the target all the way up the string. The other nice thing about it is that there is no programming or analysis — it is totally automatic.”

Another useful benefit is the IntelliSlope’s ability to record the location of drain tile to add to the electronic field record. “We make RTK maps everyplace we find tile or place tile,” says Mitchell. “We will drive over the tile, make a map of where it is and load into the farm record keeping software.”

The cost for the IntelliSlope system with the plow and controllers is between $25,000 and $30,000, but the assurance of accuracy is worth the investment, says Mitchell. “A key point I would make about this work versus other field operations is permanence — once you lay tile correctly, it will work for decades. So, if you make even a slight mistake in grade control, you could invest $50,000 in a tile installation that does not work.” Investing in a system that works is worth every penny.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Equipment Stories
BusinessSentera Joins Forces With Another Drone Distributor
September 13, 2016
Sentera has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Dynamic UAV Solutions North America, LLC, a new distributor in the commercial Read More
eBee SQ Drone
EquipmentsenseFly Launches High Precision, Large Coverage eBee SQ Drone
August 31, 2016
Swiss professional drone manufacturer, senseFly, expanded its portfolio today with the launch of the new eBee SQ fixed-wing agricultural drone. Read More
Automonous Tractor
EquipmentAutonomous Solutions, CNH Industrial Unveil Concept Autonomous Tractors
August 30, 2016
Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) and CNH Industrial have announced the unveiling of concept autonomous tractors. ASI is CNH Industrial’s technology Read More
John Deere ExactApply
EquipmentJohn Deere Introduces ExactApply Nozzle Control For Sprayers
August 30, 2016
Producers and ag service providers can gain greater accuracy over their spray applications with John Deere ExactApply intelligent nozzle control Read More
Trending Articles
Mitchell Technical Institute students with drone
IntegratorsMTI Precision Ag Students Use Drone Technology
September 19, 2016
After weeks of sitting in the classroom, several Mitchell Technical Institute students were able to spend a few hours outside Read More
Robotics AGCO Fendt Guide Connect
Market ImpactReport: Ag Robots And Drones May Be A $10 Billion Market By 2022
September 7, 2016
Robots and drones have begun to quietly transform many aspects of agriculture. In fact, the IDTechEx Research report on Agricultural Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
BusinessMZB Technologies, Climate FieldView Announce Data Integration for 2017 Season
September 6, 2016
MZB Technologies announces a data connectivity agreement with The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., providing increased precision agriculture Read More
Deere R4023 cab
BusinessReport: Smart Agriculture Market Worth $19 Billion By 2021
September 6, 2016
Research and Markets has announced the addition of the “Smart Agriculture Market – With Forecast (2016-2021)” report to their offering. Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
IntegratorsThe Top 10 People In Precision Agriculture
August 15, 2016
Precision agriculture — with all its wacky technologies and advanced algorithms and such — remains a people business. So, without Read More
Ag Drone
Technology10 Bold Predictions For Precision Agriculture
August 11, 2016
The future of technology in agriculture has never looked brighter, or more confusing than it does in 2016. We at Read More
Latest News
BusinessADAPT Conversion Toolkit Making In Roads With Equipment…
September 22, 2016
A leading group of equipment manufacturers will soon release products that greatly enhance a grower’s ability to manage data across Read More
Business2016 Farm Science Review: Talkin’ New Products, Educati…
September 21, 2016
The Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review has become an annual rite of fall for Buckeye State growers, retailers and Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge Awarded $6.1M Investment From Sustainable …
September 21, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has announced that it will receive $6,107,563 Read More
BusinessGMO Aphids to Battle Weeds? It’s Not as Far Fetch…
September 21, 2016
No, I am not talking about optimizing aphids for a global agricultural armageddon. That would be silly. I’m talking about Read More
Young Corn Field
Best PracticesNitrogen: The Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
September 20, 2016
Precision ag can play a key role in reducing agriculture’s impact on greenhouse gases by limiting the nitrogen rate. Read More
W. Wade Robey, Raven
Industry NewsRaven Adds New Director Of Engineering
September 19, 2016
W. Wade Robey, Ph.D., joined Raven Applied Technology in August 2016 as Director of Engineering. In this role, he leads Read More
Mitchell Technical Institute students with drone
IntegratorsMTI Precision Ag Students Use Drone Technology
September 19, 2016
After weeks of sitting in the classroom, several Mitchell Technical Institute students were able to spend a few hours outside Read More
BusinessOPINION: Climate Corp. is the Jewel in Bayer’s Monsanto…
September 15, 2016
PERSPECTIVE: Over the next few days and weeks in the ag media space the major players will examine this latest Read More
Sugarcane India
Market ImpactPlantations International Brings Precision Farming Tech…
September 14, 2016
Hong Kong-based plantation and farm management company Plantations International has announced it is moving its contact centre from the Indian Read More
Corn close up
Start-UpsLewis & Clark Ventures Raises $20 Million For Agric…
September 13, 2016
Lewis & Clark Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on Series A and B stage investments, has announced $20 million Read More
BusinessSentera Joins Forces With Another Drone Distributor
September 13, 2016
Sentera has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Dynamic UAV Solutions North America, LLC, a new distributor in the commercial Read More
New Zealand agriculture
Market ImpactPrecision Ag Technology Helping New Zealand Agriculture…
September 12, 2016
New Zealand has an enormous opportunity to use technology as a means to support the economic growth of its agri Read More
Robotics AGCO Fendt Guide Connect
Market ImpactReport: Ag Robots And Drones May Be A $10 Billion Marke…
September 7, 2016
Robots and drones have begun to quietly transform many aspects of agriculture. In fact, the IDTechEx Research report on Agricultural Read More
EventsPrecisionAg Vision Conference: Find Your Future in Phoe…
September 7, 2016
As the summer winds down and harvest begins in earnest, the time for immersing ourselves in future planning is getting Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
BusinessMZB Technologies, Climate FieldView Announce Data Integ…
September 6, 2016
MZB Technologies announces a data connectivity agreement with The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., providing increased precision agriculture Read More
DigiFarm
Start-UpsDigiFarm Puts The Precision In Precision Agriculture
September 6, 2016
While the general public adjusts to the idea of self-driving cars, in the agricultural world it’s old hat, writes Joe Read More
Craige Mackenzie
GrowersAgribusiness: Efficiency Through Precision Farming
September 6, 2016
Craige MacKenzie travelled recently to St Louis, MO, to receive the award of Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year from Read More
RainWise AgroMET IP-100 Internet Package
DataRainWise Spotlights Importance Of Agricultural Weather …
September 6, 2016
RainWise, Inc. believes monitoring weather data can assist farmers in making smarter decisions on the farm, especially with planting, harvesting, Read More