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Soil & Water Conservation Week

Posted on April 29, 2013 at 8:30 AM by Iowa Corn

April 28 – May 5 is Soil and Water Conservation week, which encourages our nation to focus on the stewardship of our natural resources.  Farmers are true stewards of the land, and they do not take this responsibility lightly.  One of the lesser known efforts to improve water quality involves the closure of agricultural drainage wells (ADWs).


Underground tile drainage lines empty 
into an agricultural drainage well which 
drains into bedrock.
ADWs are wells that provide drainage outlets for surface runoff and tile water in flat landscapes where few streams are available for these outlets.  Many were constructed in the early 1900s, and since then we have learned that these wells can be potential sources of groundwater contaminants.

Drainage well in Bob's field. 
To protect groundwater quality, the State of Iowa established the Agricultural Drainage Well Water Quality Assistance Fund in 1997.  This fund provides cost share funding to close ADWs and construct alternate outlets for drainage systems.  Almost 300 ADWs have been identified in Iowa and around 50 are yet to be closed.

In areas where ADWs have not been closed, farmers can manage their fertilizers and herbicides to reduce risks to groundwater.  The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa State University have been researching management practices as part of the Iowa Agricultural Drainage Well Research and Demonstration Project.  New herbicides and nitrogen management practices have been assessed to make sure they do not move with tile water.

View from inside the drainage well.  
We are in the process of closing 9 ADWs near Gilmore City with the state cost sharing 2/3 of the project for closing and replacing with new drainage.  The project is projected to cost $2.4 million.
The new tile outlets into a drainage ditch and then will flow to the Des Moines River, about 15 miles from Gilmore City.  This project will close two wells on our farms.

On the AGWs, we had to put new tile around and lockable lids on in the late 90’s.    We also built berms so no surface water could enter through the lid.  At that time, all surface intakes were closed, and if any septic systems drained into them, new leach beds were installed.  We had a 10-year permit to use the well and were not allowed to apply Atrazine within 60 feet of the well.

At that time, we started applying nitrogen fertilizer in the spring as liquid and side dressed more nitrogen as needed.  We also used the late fall nitrogen test to determine if the right amount of fertilizer had been applied adjustments we needed to make the following year.  At this time, we were ridge-tilling and trying to keep the water that fell on the ground to stay where it landed.  Since then we have started to strip-till the ground or no-tilling the soybeans into standing corn stalks, which has helped keep the water where it falls and not run off.

The Department of Natural Resources renewed the permits for another 10-years but there is no guarantee what will happen when the permit expires.  If they close the wells without another outlet for the drainage water, we are going to lose productive land due to wetness and poor drainage.

Robert (Bob) Lynch has been farming for 36 years on land that has been in his family for over 100 years. He grows corn and soybeans using no-till on his soybeans and strip-tills his corn. .  Lynch began strip-tilling three years ago and recently implemented grassed waterways on his land. Bob believes it’s important to implement conservation practices on his farm because he would like to leave the soil in better shape for his three sons Jay, Kevin and Ben.

When Bob isn’t farming he is the Humboldt County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner as well as a regional director for Conservation Districts of Iowa. He is also involved with his local Lions club and church.

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