Field-level research funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is responding to the need to better understand how tile drainage influences nutrient efficiency, water quality, crop production, farm economics, and environmental stewardship.
Results from the most recent data collection from tiles installed at the Lake Alice Wildlife Management Area in Chazy, and on a working farm in Clinton County are adding to a database designed to quantify surface and underground movement of nutrients beyond field boundaries.
The work has also begun identifying opportunities to develop best practices for nutrient conservation to support both crop production and environmental stewardship.
For some farms, the use of tile drainage significantly benefits crop yield, yield consistency, and crop quality; allows farmers to access fields sooner for spring planting and later in the fall for harvesting and cover crop planting; and can reduce soil erosion.
In the on-farm study, corn yields were 30 percent greater from the tile-drained field than an adjacent undrained field.
Overall, phosphorus losses across all trial plots were below thresholds for freshwater eutrophication, when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae (a regular problem in the Lake Champlain basin).
Separate projects funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program are assisting farmers with whole farm nutrient balancing and refining precision manure and fertilizer application guidelines to help reduce the amount of phosphorus available for runoff while supporting successful crop development and potential cost savings.
The complexities of weather interaction with different crops, cropping systems, field management, soil types, soil fertility, and topography are in the wings for next-step research and evaluation.
The results of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program-funded tile drainage projects are posted online, and have been presented at regional Crop Congresses; at watershed events in New York State; to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Tile Drainage Advisory Group; and to the House Agriculture and Forestry Commission, Montpelier, VT.
Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Legislature and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Photo: Monitoring station where surface runoff is sampled and gauged from an undrained cornfield in Clinton County, courtesy Leanna Thalmann, Miner Institute.