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Tiling has been the way of life in the south central Minnesota region for as long as Pat Duncanson can remember. Many county outles were put in about 100 years ago and has been a tradition that has had a direct impact on the value of farmland.
“It is the culture we grew up with,” Duncanson says. “Drainage and tiling are important parts of crop production.”
Duncanson farms in Mapleton, Minnesota, with his brother, Karl. The duo kept up with their father’s plan of tiling when they took over. “We think it is the biggest benefit,” Duncanson says. “It increases the timeliness of the spring fieldwork. It pushes planting dates earlier, and the soils warm up quicker, as well.”
They have worked with more consistent fields and has seen better soil workability. “We can get the crop planted on time and in better soil conditions,” says Duncanson. “The extra tile helps with root growth and development. The ground doesn’t stay saturated as long.”
One of the benefits the Duncansons have seen is the consistency in the ability to get crops planted early in the spring. Although it may not seem critical, Duncanson says getting into the field sooner keeps him in the window to plant.
“The farm dries out four to five days sooner with the tile. In four to five days, we could miss a rainstorm that delays planting two to three weeks,” he says. With the tiling, Duncanson says they have the machinery and the ability to plant in the seven-day window needed to finish his corn crop.
Duncanson says there is a direct relationship between nitrogen use and drainage. Tiling has allowed Duncanson to manage nitrogen more precisely.
“If we go into a farm that isn’t well drained, we have experienced higher nitrogen losses some years. Any mobile nitrogen is lost through denitrification,” he says. “If a farm is tiled, we can fine-tune the nitrogen rates.” Duncanson says they use a lower rate of nitrogen applied to tiled farms.
History Of Tiling
Most of the Duncansons’ fields are tiled. He says the majority of the operation is tiled with a complete pattern system on 50-, 40-, 30-, or even 20-foot spaces. Major changes were made to Duncanson’s land in the early 1990s after 10 years off from tiling.
With many wet springs, Duncanson saw the difference tiling made to the soils. Working with landlords, he and Karl installed several drainage systems throughout their operation.
The Duncansons grew up around the trenching machine their dad bought in the 1970s, but sold in the 1980s. In the 1990s they purchased another trencher.
“It opened my eyes to the ease of working with laser controls for plastic tubing,” he says and notes that a high percentage of tiling is done with plastic tubing today.
Duncanson does small projects around the land that he farms with his trenching machine. “We don’t use it as much as we used to. We use it to explore old tile and use it to lay new,” he says.
They have seen significant savings when doing the projects on their own. Although the tubing costs around the same, Duncanson says he saves about half of contractor costs. The brothers target the wettest spots through yield maps and add drainage to improve those spots first.
A plow attachment to the farm tractor that was bought serves to increase the speed and efficacy when Duncanson lays the tile. “We are making plans for this next year to lay tile again,” he says.