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Drainage Water Management Project Underway at Farmamerica

Original article courtesy of: The Land

Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center’s Executive Director Warren Formo values in-field learning. He is involved with a large-scale Discovery Farms Minnesota project aiming to evaluate control drainage systems as a conservation practice as compared to conventional drainage systems. The project is located at Farmamerica, near Waseca, Minn. A field day was held on Aug. 16 to discuss the undertaking and introduce the site to attendees.

The project has been years in the making. Formo recalled things really got started during a conversation with State Conservationist Troy Daniell in December 2019. Formo and Daniell envisioned a demonstration project with control structures to allow the landowner to raise and lower the water table throughout the year. “We talked about how that could be a place where we could gather data, and we could let people come and actually look at how these tile systems perform,” Formo stated.

Tim Radatz with MAWRC and the coordinator for Discovery Farms further explained how controlled drainage is typically implemented. “If we’re thinking throughout the year, usually prior to planting we want to lower that water table, so that we can get in to plant. After planting, we typically raise the boards up to try to hold some water back for that crop. And then when we get into the fall of harvest season, lower those boards again and then after the crop is harvested, raise the boards back up to try to hold some more water over the winter time.”
While Discovery Farms has monitored conventional systems over the past 13 years, this is their first project dealing with controlled drainage. Formo explained the project has involvement from many partners. “Funding for the project includes a grant from NRCS, tile donation from Prinsco, partial tile installation donation from Ellingsons, partial donation of water control equipment from Agridrain, monitoring equipment and expertise provided by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and funds from the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council.”

Work began at the site in the fall of 2022. There are four different zones over the nearly 120 acres. Currently, they are not controlling drainage as they are in the initial process of gathering baseline date. “If we have some baseline data on how they react when they’re managed the same, when we make those changes in the future, we can have a good comparison of what that controlled drainage is doing for water quality, amount of water, and yield, and how that’s affecting the crop in the field,” Radatz stated. Once they are ready for the next step, they will control two of the areas and compare results to the other two that are conventionally drained.

At each zone there is a monitoring station. Scott Matteson with MDA completes the monitoring for Discovery Farms. Equipment is used to measure various conditions and determine water levels and flow rates, as well as to collect flow-proportional water samples to calculate loads of sediment, phosphorous, and nitrogen. Matteston stated Discovery Farms utilizes Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratory located in New Ulm, Minn. for all of their sites.

Another conservation measure which was previously put into place on the Farmamerica property is a water-holding pond. The goal for the pond is to reduce peak flows, and Radatz stated they will also monitor the flow in and out, as well as take samples to determine how the pond also impacts water.

Each year’s set of data runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. At the conclusion of this month, calculations will be compiled. Project members will analyze both economics and water quality. While Formo stated the primary focus is on water data, they will also look at crop yields — especially since this project will compare two different practices.

Current information from the studies can be viewed online. The website is By selecting “Dashboards” and then “FARMAMERICA Discovery Farms Minnesota,” visitors can see current site data including rainfall summaries, nitrate concentration, water levels, subsurface tile water temperatures, and soil temperature and moisture.