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Jonathan Knutson, Published September 17 2013

More area farmers interested in 'water management'

WEST FARGO – Common sense may suggest that tile drainage and irrigation won’t both be popular at the same time in the same region. Weather conditions that favor one would seem to work against the other.

But farmers in the Red River Valley have strong interest in both tile drainage and irrigation, viewing the two as valuable “water management” tools, officials say.

“I don’t see interest slowing down, on either side,” said Tom Scherer, a North Dakota State University Extension Service official whose work includes tile drainage and irrigation.

Scherer attended the annual Big Iron Farm Show this past week in West Fargo. A number of irrigation and tile drainage companies exhibited their products at the show.

Prinsco, a Big Iron exhibitor and tile drainage manufacturer, refers to itself as a “water management solutions” company.

“Our goal is helping to manage water,” said Mike O’Neill, a Fargo-based regional sales representative for the Wilmar, Minn.-based company.

Until recently, tile drainage was relatively rare in the Upper Midwest. But the region’s wet cycle that began in 1993 – which regularly left some fields waterlogged – caused farmers to check into tile drainage.

Some farmers, especially ones who want to increase the size of their operations, are deciding that tiling wet, hard-to-farm land makes more economic sense than buying land, Scherer said.

North Dakota has an estimated 4.4 million prevented planting acres this year, second to only the 5.6 million acres that couldn’t be planted in 2011.

O’Neill noted that there’s often a wide divide between how farmers view tile drainage and how much of the general public sees it.

As farmers know, tile drainage involves installing underground pipes in fields to regulate subsurface moisture and to help plant roots develop properly, improving yields.

Some non-farmers inaccurately believe that tile drainage contributes to spring flooding when in reality the practice reduces it, O’Neill and others say.

Interest in irrigation in the Upper Midwest grew, albeit slowly, even during the region’s wet cycle that began in 1993.

Now, after drought in much of the Upper Midwest in 2012 and widespread dry conditions again this year, there’s stronger interest in irrigation, officials say.

Ever-improving irrigation technology contributes to the growing interest, said Mike Faught, who works in sales for West Fargo’s K&T Irrigation, a Big Iron exhibitor.

New research on irrigation, geared specifically to the Upper Midwest, also makes the practice more useful to farmers here, Scherer said.