Drain tile coming to a farm near you

The Galls of southeastern Morrison County say tile pays 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Drain tile is not new.  It has been a practice since before the time of Christ. But it wasn’t until about 1840 that it was introduced to the United States from Scotland. While southern Minnesota has done drain tiling for years, it’s just becoming popular in Morrison County.

The pros of adding drain tile to one’s farming acreage are huge, the cons mostly lie in the cost. According to Don Gall and his son, O.P., banks encourage tiling property even before purchasing new equipment. The bank official told them a farmer will be able to afford the new equipment after they tile.

The use of drain tiles moves excess water from soil surfaces and subsurfaces. It lowers the water for optimal crop growth. Too much water on the surface of cropland can prevent root development and slow the growth of crops. Too much water also limits access to the land, especially when using heavy farm machinery.

Drain tile is becoming more prevalent in Morrison County. Don Gall and his son O.P. have embraced the practice, saying drain tiles have increased profitability. Pictured in front of a field of corn that, before the tiles were installed, could not grow anything due to too much water, are (from left): O.P. Gall, Don Gall and Dan Hutton representing Hutton Inc.

Drain tile is becoming more prevalent in Morrison County. Don Gall and his son O.P. have embraced the practice, saying drain tiles have increased profitability. Pictured in front of a field of corn that, before the tiles were installed, could not grow anything due to too much water, are (from left): O.P. Gall, Don Gall and Dan Hutton representing Hutton Inc.

During an auction, Don and O.P. purchased a piece of property in southeast Morrison County several years ago. Don bid lower than what the owner was willing to take, thinking he wouldn’t get it. But his bid was the only one, so the land was theirs. The acreage was so low, it was practically unsuitable for crops and Don said he put a “For Sale” sign out the next day.

The Galls, who had tiled other pieces of their property, didn’t think they could drain this property. It looked too flat. So they called a professional, Dan Hutton, of Hutton Inc., from West Concord, a company that sells and installs drain tile.

The land was surveyed and the elevations were mapped out, determining the flow of water. The mapping is done by Hutton who created a topographical map of the area in question by riding the property and using a GPS.

With drain tile added, the Galls are able to get into the field in the spring to plant. The soil stayed drained during the growing season and the yield’s return over several years helped pay for the cost of the tile.

“This operation can turn a farm around by moving the water off the field. It’s helping Mother Nature,” said Hutton.

Hutton said drain tile helps maximize the product which increases profit. It makes farming easier by being able to get into the field sooner and it saves runoff by allowing the water to soak into the ground and not wash away the top soil.

People have concerns with drain tile reducing wetlands, but each county’s Soil and Water conservation District determines what is a wetland and ensures no drain tile is placed in its vicinity. Depending on each situation, drain tile must keep a certain number of feet away from any wetland.

On an adjoining piece of the Gall’s new property, a stream was located to move the offending water to. After permission was granted from the neighbor, and an easement obtained, tile was laid at different grade elevations, depending on the lay of the land.

The tile is not what one thinks of as tile, but different sizes of tubing made of corrugated plastic. The 4-inch to 15-inch diameter tile has many slits along its length to allow the water to enter.

The grade and tilt of the land determines the size of the pipe and its grade. The more slope there is to the land, the smaller the size of the pipe.

“It is standard to place the tile 30- to 60-feet apart,” said Hutton. “The tile creates acres of black-sponge soil. Rain water is able to be absorbed more quickly. Before the tile was installed, the water drained to the creek, taking manure and topsoil with it. Now the  water enters the Galls’ soil and all the nutrients are used by the plants.”

Before the tile was laid and the water moved from the fields, the plants grew in the standing water, creating shallow root systems. With drain tile, the plants are stronger, even during a drought, because their root systems are deeper. The plants are not living on the surface.

There are 147 miles of drain tile on the Galls’ properties.

“I wouldn’t sell one foot of tiled property now,” said Don. “Tile doesn’t cost, it pays.”

O.P. said he was against installing drain tile at first. The biggest reason, he said, was the cost.

“The initial cost is high, but the payback is immediate,” he said. “Not only is greater profit realized, but the property value increases well above the cost of the tile.”

This past spring, O.P. purchased another 20 acres and tiled it immediately. He  is now a believer.

If the 100 acres had not been previously tiled, they would have had to wait to get into their new field and then would have had to plant soybeans which have a shorter growing season than the corn they now plant.

The history of drain tile started with 1-foot clay tile, laid by hand, with water entering through the seams. Then cement tile was introduced, with water still entering through the seams. In the 1970s, plastic tile was manufactured, which lasts forever. At that point, tile plows were created which installed the long pieces of drain tile.

It takes, on average, four days to tile 100 acres, with the tile plow.

“It’s a very precise science, keeping the drain tile on grade,” said Hutton. “The plows are equipped with GPS systems to ensure the tile is laid correctly. A small error can be costly.”

Don said, “There is an immediate return of one’s money. There are farmers who rent property and they are willing to tile the land with a 5- to 10-year lease because of the quick payback with the increased yield.

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