Monitoring the effect of land drainage
It is possible that part of the reason behind land drainage being less widely invested in the UK is that the benefits of land drainage are not being scientifically recorded in the UK. There is a general awareness of the benefits of land drainage – that it can increase yields etc.
The head of William Morfoot, land drainage experts in Norfolk, discusses the importance of return on investment (ROI) and the latest technology for farmers saying; “With demand on today’s farmers and growers to optimise their returns, the requirement for land to be productive and farmable with high capacity machinery is greater now than ever before”.
However the extent to which land drainage increases yields and offers ROI is not well documented and therefore probably leads to a lower enthusiasm for investment.
In Burtonshaw’s research he found that field mapping and monitoring is a more common practice in Canada, he looked specifically at Ontario. A study of yield mapping over 20 years in this area demonstrated power of land drainage. Fields that had proper land drainage had significantly higher yields compared to those that did not, for instance land drainage resulted in a 29% increase in corn yield and a 38% increase in wheat. Whilst it cannot be assumed that these results are directly transferable to the UK (due to the soil type differences) it does provide evidence that proper land drainage really does offer return on investment.
With such demand on farmers to offer ROI, Rob Burtonshaw looked into how new technologies in land drainage could help to save farmers money:
Trenchless Drainage Installation
In the UK, the general practice when installing land drainage systems is to use a chain trencher which creates an open trench. However, the dominant method within the USA is trenchless installation – the piping is ploughed into the land. The advantage of a trenchless machine is it makes installation a lot faster increasing production and decreasing costs. The problem is that the upfront cost of a trenchless machine is large and there is a lack of current demand for their type of use (they are larger and less versatile compared to chain trenching machines). So, in theory if a land drainage company was given the right type of work (large agricultural fields), using a trenchless installation machine could be beneficial and save money.
An easy place for land drainage costs to be cut is permeable fill. Permeable fill is necessary in UK land drainage systems because the soil lacks sufficient permeability and therefore permeable fill is used to help the water reach the pipe through the soil. If recycled permeable fill (crushed concrete and stone) was utilised it could cut permeable fill costs by 15%.
GPS Grade Control
Since the 1980s the principal method for ensuring drainage is installed at the most suitable level has been laser grade control. This is a very accurate method but involves a little bit of hassle of adjusting the laser tripod occasionally.
In the United States of America, GPS grade control is now the norm, although it hasn’t yet been fully embraced in Europe. GPS grade control offers advantages in comparison to laser grade control systems; GPS grade control machinery needs little to no alteration once it is set up and it automatically calculates the grade adjustment needed for every metre of land. With the laser grade control these adjustments had to be calculated by hand and were generally less accurate because it was quicker to make as few adjustments as possible so it was often laid deeper than necessary – leading to elevated costs.
GPS grade control allows for the optimum grade to be instantly calculated on a smaller and thus more accurate scale - this increased accuracy could end up saving money in the long run.
Overall there have been several interesting developments in land drainage technology; hopefully areas in the UK will start to take advantage of them and thus save money and help our farming industry grow.
For more details please see http://williammorfoot.co.uk/what-we-do/land-drainage/