Chris Jones

Drain Baby Drain

Jul 05, 2019

thanks for reading

The Soil Conservation Service and later NRCS of USDA both promoted tile drainage as a conservation practice for many years, probably at least until the 1960s, and in fact Sayre talks about USDA promoting it in his essay. Many farmers do believe tile is a conservation practice. At this point in time, however, my feeling is that mindset is a rationalization for doing something that clearly has negative environmental consequences. The soil erosion benefits are likely confined to sloped areas where the need for tile is less anyway.

Make no mistake about it–tile pays for the farmer and the banks will readily loan money for new tiling. The effect probably does diminish with time.

As far as soil health, the natural condition of these soils is hydric–meaning they were formed in a saturated condition. If by “soil health” we mean suitable for corn and soybean production, then yes, tile promotes soil health. Dry soils compact less easily than wet ones when large equipment is driven across a field, this is also a component to the soil health argument.

Saturated soils result in nitrogen fertilizer being transformed to gaseous forms of nitrogen which then escape to the atmosphere, a process known as denitrification. Farmers lose some of their inputs as a result of this process. When the soils are dried out with tile, this process is reduced.

Tile also aerates the soil which can cause a mineralization of organic matter. This can be good for crops but bad for the soil in some situations.

Long and short, if we are going to insist on farming wet areas for c/sb, then they are going to need to tile. The industry benefits, but the public is left with tolerating or mitigating the negative environmental consequences. In a nutshell, this is the theme of the Sayre essay.

Iowa’s real population

May 03, 2019

Thanks

Thanks for reading the essay. Your point on treatment (or lack thereof) is well-taken. It is true that human waste is more of a risk to us than animal waste. Nonetheless that magnitude of the animal waste being applied is something for us to consider.

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