"You can't tile Clermont soils, they're gray flats and too poorly drained to put tile in. And you can't no-till into them either." For decades, that was conventional wisdom in southeast Indiana, where these soils dominate the flat parts of the landscape. Today, it's been proven wrong on both counts. This was truly a case where Purdue University demonstrations led he way. Now farmers have followed suit.
The Indiana Land Contractors Association held a two-day working field day recently, where they installed tile in patterns in a field owned and operated by the Purdue University Southeast Purdue Ag Center near Butlerville. The long-time, and in fact only, superintendent of SEPAC is Don Biehle, an avid no-tiller.
"We've proved that no-till works best on these soils," he says. Much of that work happened at SEPAC. When Don Griffith, formerly of the Purdue Agronomy Department, now retired, demonstrated that no-till, drilled soybeans could produce significantly higher yields on those soils some 20 years ago, it led to a quick change over to drills. Now many of those drills have been traded for 15-inch row planters, but most of the land there is still no-tilled. Biehle is also a firm believer in no-till corn.
Drainage makes no-till work even better, he says. That's why he was happy that the Indiana Land Contractors Association wanted to hold a field day and actually install tile and build water control structures on a field at SEPAC which is flat, nearly totally Clermont soils, and which had not been tiled in the past since SEPAC took control. It is part of the land SEPAC acquired from the state of Indiana a few years ago. Steve Hawkins, assistant director of Purdue's outlying farms, says Purdue paid for the installation. The project went out to bid as required by law.
"What you need to make tile work are outlets, and there are plenty of outlets for water to get away in this field," Biehle says. "We're constructing a wetland in a wooded area at the edge of the field. It would be one outlet for water, but there are other outlets as well."
The drainage control structures allow the operator to adjust water levels in the field during the year. The goal is not irrigation, although some have experimented with letting water build up in the early summer to provide moisture for later in the season. The goal, says Jane Frankenburger, Purdue University drainage specialist, is to control water quality and keep nitrates in the field, not running out the tile lines into streams and creeks, and eventually winding up in bigger bodies of water.