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Drainage design goes online

Web site offers new tools to help you calculate returns from tiling.

Prinsco has taken the hip-pocket slide rules and calculators out of the design of drainage systems and replaced them with quick, easy-to-access computer calculations.

The Minnesota plastic tile manufacturer's drainage calculator, available at, allows growers to figure drainage flow rates in their fields and analyze profitability from a drainage system.

"We're finding more farmers are getting involved in the design of their water management systems, and even installing their own tile," says Larry Groen, general manager of Prinsco. "When we introduced this program at the recent Farmfest, there were six different tile plows on display."

Groen encourages farmers to use a design professional but adds that "this tool can cut down on the time it takes to look at different options and reduce the cost of the design itself."

Two tools. The online drainage calculator offers an assessment of pipe size by acreage and a profitability analysis. For the first calculation, users are asked to enter the number of acres to be drained and the percent of grade. The calculator then returns the pipe size needed for various drainage coefficients. A producer should talk to his local Natural Resources Conservation Service representative to determine the drainage coefficient and the recommended spacings for his soil type.

The profitability analysis asks for seven pieces of data: projected job cost, acres to be drained, projected corn and soybean yield improvements, current corn and soybean prices and the current interest rate. The program then figures the before-tax rate of return, the payback period in years and the break-even yield improvements for both corn and soybeans.

Gary Sands, a University of Minnesota Extension agricultural engineer who helped design the Web site, admits that drainage calculators are not new but says that "this Web-based version is easier to use than the old charts and slide rules. This is quick and provides excellent feedback."

21st century farmers. The Web site concept was ripe for the picking. Sands and the university had found a significant increase in the number of farmers interested in designing their own drainage systems and had developed a workshop for them on how to do that. Groen says, "Together we also found that today's farmers are sophisticated businessmen who are very comfortable with using the Internet and with computer technology. It was a good marriage.

"Farmers are driven by technology," Groen continues. "For example, a local farmer who uses a yield monitor noticed about a 20 bu./acre jump in certain areas of his fields and couldn't understand why. As he was studying his mapping data, he realized that those jumps were in direct relation to his tile lines. We know that there is a direct correlation between yield and proper water table management."

Continuous updates. Groen explains that having the calculator online allows the programmers to revise it quickly. Users don't have to return CDs or diskettes for updates. "Our goal was to start with a simple program and then to build on it using feedback from our users," he states.

Drainage changes. "When you consider the trends in drainage, you can see the applications of this program," Groen says. "An incredible number of acres are being drained with antiquated systems. We are also moving away from the philosophy of draining only the low spots in the field to the more sophisticated pattern tiling, where smaller tile is used in a tight grid design. Our drainage calculator fits right into the current needs of our farmers. And we're hoping those farmers will be in dialogue with us so we can adjust the Web site to fit their needs."

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