Wetland violations and the determination process of those violations, were some of the issues discussed at the Central New York Cornell Cooperative Extension Tile Drainage School, which took place in Ballston Spa on Nov. 12.
“We use historical information,” said NRCS Conservation Program Manager, Scott Fitscher. Photos which are available in the Washington County office go back to 1942.
Historical files of previous drainage projects and documentation of the land is also used to make determinations, as is soil type. State maps are not used.
AD-1026 applications required to begin drainage projects need to be completed before any modifications are done.
“We want everyone to come in way in advance of when they want to do their projects,” Fitscher stated.
“This should be done before, before, before any modification is begun,” stressed USDA County Executive Director, David Holck.
Following this advice will help to avoid confusion — and violations!
Fitscher said the1985 Farm Bill is used as the baseline date to assist in making judgements.
Holck explained local soil and water agencies are not able to make these determinations, nor are CCE, DEC or any other agencies. These determinations are only made by the NRCS. There is no minimum acreage size to consider. All drainage projects, regardless of size, are included.
A package provided to attendees at the tile school included a Conservation Fact Sheet, which states that individuals and affiliates of programs administered by the FSA are required to comply with these regulations. Holck explained what was meant by that statement.
“By affiliates they mean members of a partnership, LLC, joint venture, estate, etc. For example, if Holck Farms LLC is made up of David Holck with a 34 percent share, Dan Holck with a 33 percent share, and Kevin Holck with a 33 percent share, David, Dan, and Kevin would be considered affiliated persons and would have to comply with the regulations on any land that they may farm separately from the LLC.”
Anyone applying for a USDA loan or program would be subject to the same requirements.
Fitscher advised attendees that violations will affect any future application for NRCS, FSA or RMA programs, including crop insurance. “Likewise in the past, if there was a violation 20 years ago, that is still on the books.”
Response time for applications may not be as prompt as farmers desire or as what the projected time line was. One farmer who filled out the application early in 2014, was told that his application was held up due to vacationing staff. He was later told that his application had never been filed at all. This has put his drainage project at least a year behind.
0002000007E200000A897DC,“Right now we’re pretty much caught up,” Fitscher said. “So, if you came in in the next month or two, I’m fairly confident that we’ll have it back to you in 30 days.” This may vary from county to county.
“Be proactive. If you’re going to do any drainage work, come and see us. We want to be as farmer friendly as we can, but, we’ve got to go through the protocol.”
Other speakers at the Tile Drainage School included George Allen, owner of Allenwaite Farm in Washington County. Allen spoke to attendees about extensive tiling that had been completed on his 2,500 acre, sixth-generation dairy.
“Of all of the things that are curable,” said Allen, “extra moisture is one of them! I actually consider poor drainage to be a crop disease.”
Allen informed attendees about the economic advantage he has achieved through drainage because of healthier crops, healthier root systems, combined fields and earlier access to fields for crop planting. However, he cautioned that a suitable outlet is needed to stay within conservation guidelines.
Riverbend Farm Agricultural and Environmental Services owner/manager, Steve Mahoney of Clinton County, presented an in-depth power point presentation describing what he has learned over his 34 years of engineering and installing drainage systems.
“I encourage you all to tile drain your farms,” Mahoney advised. He reported on farms that were unable to access their fields for for planting or haying. “You’re wasting time, you’re wasting space. There are solutions for all of this.”
Mahoney explained the process of tiling the right way and the wrong way. He discussed the equipment required to do the job correctly and the costs involved. “Machinery costs are tremendous. It’s a big job. You need to get a contractor that is confident about what they are doing. I recommend that you find one that specializes in tile drainage. This is very fussy work. And it’s not cheap, you figure about 1,000 to 1,500 bucks per acre.” Mahoney said he figures there is about a 3-year payback.
And while it’s feasible to do the job yourself, it is extremely time consuming and takes a lot of study to be successful. And you’re looking at over a half million dollars in equipment.
When you’re working four feet in the ground, agricultural equipment doesn’t stand up to the conditions. Tractors are definitely unable to handle the work. Walls cave in and a multitude of problems crop up. Depth and grade need to be calculated exactly. “Deeper is not better!”
There are also a variety of materials to consider depending on your soil type and many other conditions. Some of these include internal and external connectors, end caps, animal guards and outlets. Root zones need to be figured in as well.
Outlets are extremely important as Cornell University Biological and Environmental Engineering Dept. Sr. Extension Associate, Larry Geohring pointed out. One problem is that landowners do not monitor the outlets and sometime do not even remember where their existing outlets are.
Although Mahoney advises checking outlets at least once a year, Geohring said drain outlets need to be identified and monitored more frequently.
Geohring spoke about minimizing environmental risks of the drainage water and reported on experimental treatment components installed near outlets to filter drainage water. He asked if any of the attendees had received citations for water quality violations coming out of tile outlets. “More and more issues seem to be coming up,” Geohring stated. “There are people looking over people’s shoulders.”
“In the last couple of years drainage activity has increased considerably,” said Aaron Gabriel, CCE Sr. Extension Resource Educator in Agronomy, coordinator of the tile drainage school. “I think there are a couple of reasons. It definitely improves crop yields. It is a great form of risk management — improving crops in dry and excessively wet years. Also there is no new, good land to cultivate, so we have to improve what we already have. As was mentioned in one of the talks, farmers are traveling 10-15 miles to get to their fields. So why not improve acreage closer to home to reduce all that travel?” Gabriel said tile drainage field days are in the planning.
For more information contact him at 518-746-2560.