Subsurface Drainage Instead of CRP?

September 21, 2012

By Jamie Duininck, Vice President of Sales, Prinsco

In the 1985 Farm Bill, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the modern day Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a national effort to ensure water quality and protect habitats for native wildlife. It worked well. From 1986 to1990, CRP acres in America grew from 5 million to 40 million acres. The CRP program started with a focus on highly erodible land, but over time, has broadened its qualifying land types in several categories.

Over the last few years, participation in the CRP program has been waning due to high commodity prices and the growing demands placed on our food supply. Those trends have outpaced the benefits of CRP and caused many farmers to place their CRP land back into agricultural production.

Does that mean we should be worried about water quality? I would argue – no, not necessarily. While we certainly need to monitor the possible impacts of changes in CRP acres, we also have the opportunity to implement agriculture production technologies that can improve water quality. As agriculture professionals, we CAN ensure that the water leaving our land is clean.

The CRP program works to improve water quality because untilled land effectively stores water in the soil profile and helps prevent runoff. But a properly pattern tiled field will store water and prevent unnecessary runoff in much the same way.

Here’s why: When it rains, the soil will absorb as much of the water as it can. Runoff – which takes with it topsoil, chemicals, and valuable soil nutrients –only occurs once the soil profile is fully saturated and cannot absorb any more water. A properly drained field acts like a sponge and can absorb much more water than a field that is not drained. In fact, a tiled field is actually storing the water in the soil and releasing it over time into the watershed. A well-designed controlled drainage system can not only prevent the losses caused by runoff, but can greatly reduce the flashing effect that occurs when water runs over the surface at great speeds causing erosion.

The CRP program has been good for America and will continue to have a positive impact in the future. However, with soaring commodity prices and the global demand for food expected to double over the next 40 years, we need to look at all of our options. Proper subsurface drainage, and in some cases controlled drainage offers great benefits to BOTH water quality and increased crop production, which is a win for everyone – the farmer, the environment and the consumer.

At Prinsco, we know farmers are America’s original environmentalists and play a critical role in our world’s future. We support their efforts by telling their story.

Categories: Agriculture