Tongue End farmer talks field drainage

Julian Davis.

Julian Davis.

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As we move into the spring the scars of a warm, wet “winter” remain visible, writes Julian Davis.

Areas of land that suffer from inadequate drainage are still boggy, and in places surface water is still evident.

Although the “tide” appears to be going out, it may be time now before the new season starts in earnest to assess the past performance and management of field drainage systems.

There was a stark contrast between soil water conditions in February 2012 and February 2014, one very dry and one very wet, illustrating the difficulty in planning and managing field drainage.

At what level do you set your targets? Under what weather and management conditions will water logging occur? What yield and performance are you losing without any visible symptoms?

Crops such as winter oilseed rape and winter barley are very sensitive to excess soil water, and it only takes a few days of adverse soil conditions to seriously erode yield. On the other hand a good drainage scheme will cost in the region of £1,000 per acre.

The local drainage boards do an excellent job of maintaining their network of drains and dykes. But many farmers don’t do enough to maintain their own, the array of environmental schemes often used as an excuse for very little maintenance. Let us not forget that the primary purpose of the drains and dykes of the Fens is the controlled flow of excess water from the land.