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Serving: IA
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TILE DRAINAGE: Deciding whether to buy equipment to install tile yourself or hire a custom operator depends on how much land, time and experience you have.

Tile installation: DIY or hire out?

Timely Tips: Find out the pros and cons of each.

Each month in Wallaces Farmer, the Timely Tips panel answers questions sent by readers. Members of the panel are Alejandro Plastina and Wendong Zhang, Extension economists, Iowa State University; Leslie Miller, Iowa State Savings Bank, Knoxville; and Rob Stout, Master Farmer, Washington, Iowa.

The weather last spring convinced my dad to invest in tile drainage for our fields. I want to buy a tile plow and do it ourselves. Dad wants to hire a local contractor with a wheel machine. For me, it’s a matter of doing it when it needs to be done. For my dad, it’s thinking the contractor will do a better job. Can you help us compare the pros and cons?

Stout: The advantage of doing it yourself — if you have several hundred acres to do — is that you might be able to do it cheaper than hiring it done. Also, if you have the time and abilities to do a good job, you don’t have to wait on a contractor who likely has other customers to do work for.

You don’t say if you are going to buy one of the newer tile plows that are a great choice for pattern-tiling, or an older style tile plow you pull behind a tractor. I’m impressed with the newer self-propelled tile plows and the job they do, but they are very pricey. A wheel machine inverts a lot of soil, so depending on your soil, it may leave some clay on top of the black topsoil, which takes a few years to get where you want it.

There is a learning curve for running a tile machine, just like any other piece of equipment, and poorly laid tile isn’t much better than not having tile. I’m a big believer in adding tile drainage, especially with the higher rainfall springs and falls we’ve had recently. You want to get a tile machine equipped with a laser and learn the skills to install tile properly to ensure a good return on investment.

Miller: If you have never had experience laying tile, it may be better for you to spend time finding another custom operator who is not so busy. There are custom operators running tile plows, and they charge a lot less per acre to get the job done. Watching an experienced operator may help you decide if you want to make the investment in your own tile plow.  Granted, you can buy a pull-type tile plow and a stringer, and potentially save yourself some money if you need to cover a lot of acres. However, even if you make the investment, you may still want the custom operator to come lay the main lines and then you can run the laterals. If the main lines aren’t put in correctly, it’ll be difficult and expensive to fix the problems that will occur.

Zhang: If you already have experience installing tile, it might be easier for you to do it yourself according to your own schedule. However, if you haven’t done it before or need to buy a tile plow, you need to consider how costly they are. Depending on the size of your farm, just doing it on your own farm for a couple hundred acres might not be sufficient to recoup your investment. There also might be a learning curve to do it correctly. That said, if you decide to hire a contractor, the number of suitable field days are limited, and it is critical to get on their schedule that also works for you. Getting price and timeline quotes from several contractors can help you figure out how long the wait might be.  

What if tenant can’t pay the rent?

What happens when my tenant is struggling to get financing and he can’t pay me the cash rent by March 1? The lease was not terminated by the Sept. 1 “notification of termination” deadline.

Stout: I assume the renter still wants to rent the ground; if not, you can mutually agree to terminate the lease even after Sept. 1. If the first payment is due March 1, you can’t do anything before that date except file a UCC-1 financing statement with the Iowa secretary of state, which you should do within 20 days either side of March 1. This becomes a perfected lien that gives you some priority over other secondary interests in his crops until the rent is paid. 

If first rent payment is due March 1, and he is unable to get financing to pay you, then technically he is in default in performance of the existing rental agreement, and you can give notice to terminate the lease. You should speak with him at that time to see if he can give you a reasonable timetable for obtaining the financing to pay the rent. If he can’t do that, then you should give him notice of default and look for a new tenant.

Plastina: When a written agreement fixing the time of the termination of a lease is signed by the landlord and tenant, the tenancy shall terminate at the time agreed upon, without notice. If the tenant intends to farm the ground but missed the rental payment, the landlord should first provide the tenant with a notice of default and intent to terminate, offering within the notice a reasonable opportunity to cure. If the tenant is unable to pay and refuses to vacate the premises, the landlord may initiate forcible entry and detainer procedures (preceded by a three-day notice to quit).

If the landlord is unable to find a tenant willing to pay the amount of rent the non-paying tenant was obligated to pay, the landlord may seek breach of contract damages against the evicted tenant for the difference. It is important for landlords to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney to ensure that ouster and breach procedures are properly followed. More legal advice on Iowa farm leases is available from the ISU Center for Ag Law and Taxation

Miller: If you have rented to this tenant for several years, you may be able to have a frank discussion about whether he will get operating money. If he has not yet gotten a commitment, and it is after March 1, he likely needs to do something different. Let the tenant know you will probably have to check with your attorney about sending a notice of contract default. Most notices will give the tenant 30 days to make the payment, but check with your attorney — the actual rental contract may specify a shorter or longer time period. Let the tenant know that if the rent can be paid before the final date specified in the default notice, he is still entitled to rent the ground. Explain that if he cannot pay, you do need to have the contract terminated so you have time to find another renter.


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