INDUSTRY INSIDER | April 11, 2024

Ag Census Reveals Surprising Decline Iin Michigan Tiled Acreage

Original Source:Michigan Farm News


Michigan Farm News
Given the well-known yield benefits from system tiling that minimizes year-to-year yield variability and allows timely field operations, Michigan State University Extension Drainage Specialist Ehsan Ghane questions the accuracy of 2022 census data. | Photo by Hertz Farm Management

The recently released 2022 Ag Census data shows that Iowa continues to have the largest acreage of subsurface tile drainage, followed by Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

The top 10 states with the highest acreage of tile drainage did not change rank in the 2022 census compared to the 2017 census.

What did change, however, was a surprising 2.3 million acres reduction in the total tiled acreage reported, dropping from 50.4 million acres in the 2017 survey to 48.1 million acres in the Midwest, according to the 2022 census data.

According to Michigan State University Extension drainage specialist, Ehsan Ghane, the USDA census data shows that six Midwest states — Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan — had a reduction in acreage of subsurface tile drainage since 2017.

“This is a 4.6% reduction in tile acreage from 2017 to 2022. In contrast, a total of 50.4 million acres were reported as tile drained in the 2017 census compared to 40.1 million acres in 2012, a 14% increase from 2012 to 2017,” Ghane said.

While other Midwest states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, reported increases in tiled acres over the last five years, the increases were considerably smaller compared to figures for the 2012 to 2017 timeframe.

Given the well-known yield benefits from system tiling that minimizes year-to-year yield variability and allows timely field operations, Ghane said he expected an increase in tiled acreage.

He questions the accuracy of 2022 census data.

“The states showing a drop in acreage of tile drained land from 2017 to 2022 Ag Census present an unrealistic outcome because tile drainage has been going into the ground over the five years from 2017 to 2022,” Ghane reported. “These states have some of the world’s most fertile soils that require subsurface drainage for crop production.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Michigan Land Improvement Contractor Association board member Will Word who noted the solid return on investment of field tile and increased frequency of high-intensity, heavy rainfall over the last five years have created additional incentives for growers to invest in subsurface drainage.

“Michigan drainage contractors have installed millions of feet of drainage tile each year, driven by the high demand and favorable results, which has led to a significant increase in tile-drained acres over the past few years in Michigan,” Word said.

A notoriously wet 2019 spring that resulted in record prevent-plant acres also spurred many growers to invest in additional tile drainage systems, including installation of split laterals in existing system tiled farm fields, according to Keegan Kult, executive director of Ag Drainage Management Coalition.

“Farmers in the Midwest are always looking to improve their water management systems to reduce their risks. This means expanding their tile-drained acres and improving their existing drainage systems,” Kult said.

Although Ghane questions the 2022 census data and believes it warrants additional investigation, he also speculates that reductions in total harvested cropland in every Midwest state over the last five years is also impacting the tiled acreage data.

The Midwest reported 303.1 million acres of harvested cropland in the 2012 census, followed by an increase to 306.3 million acres in 2017, and followed by a decrease to 296.7 million acres in 2022.

“That shows that harvested cropland shrunk by about 9.6 million acres from 2017 to 2022,” Ghane said.

Comparison of 2017 and 2022 Ag Census tile data

Percent change in acreage of subsurface tile-drained land from 2012 to 2017 and 2017 to 2022. Negative values show a decrease in acreage of tile drainage.