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Innovative drainage project receives federal-provincial funding to move ahead

Clinton, ON – Funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership) will support an innovative project to demonstrate and monitor contoured drainage on a field at the Huron County demonstration farm near Clinton. 

Technology is opening new opportunities for farm drainage that could improve both yields and water quality. Control gates manage water levels in field tiles, effectively ‘shutting off’ drainage systems when they aren’t needed and sub-irrigating a crop. While they’ve been tried on flat fields in Ontario, this Huron County field will be first in the province to try controlling drainage on a slope. The trick is to run tile laterals on precise contours with a 0.1% grade to allow the control gates to work. 

“Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership we are investing in on-farm solutions for soil and environmental sustainability,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “This collaborative, in-field, innovative approach will enhance water management and environmental practices for farmers and help keep the sector on the cutting edge of sustainable growth.”

“We’re working with farmers and others in our agricultural sector to keep improving nutrient and water management and other practices to benefit both productivity and the environment,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Not only will this project help agriculture become more competitive and sustainable, but it also supports our made-in-Ontario environmental plan.” 

Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association (HSCIA), in partnership with Huron County, Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), and two landowners are installing a side-by-side comparison of two contoured systems in June 2019. The contoured and controlled drainage system will be compared with a conventional pattern-tiled field with a contoured terrace to control surface erosion, and a third field area which will remain untiled. ABCA will be monitoring the surface and sub-surface flow and water quality, while Huron Soil and Crop will compare yields across the various systems. 

“Traditionally, only gently sloped fields benefited from controlled drainage and sub-irrigation,” said Jeremy Meiners of AGREM, the Illinois-based drainage design company that made the plans for the site behind Huronview. “But our designs reduce erosion while improving yield on sloping ground, and that should work well in Huron County.”  

“The Huron Soil and Crop Improvement Association would like to thank the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for supporting this innovative research and recognizing the yield and water quality benefits that are possible by studying and sharing methods of in-field water management,” said Doug Walker, President of the Huron Soil and Crop Improvement Association. “Huron Soil and Crop is pleased to work with industry partners to introduce innovative approaches to managing water including controlled drainage on a slope.”

The combined resources and expertise of this group of partners will help to create new possibilities for new approaches, according to Walker. “The study of contoured drainage at the Huron County Demonstration Farm can help to demonstrate how contoured drainage strategies could work to better manage water on fields in this part of Ontario,” he said. This study can help producers know how to better manage water on the field to store water at the right times and the right places, Walker said. “We have the potential to learn a great deal about in-field water management and yields and water quality by comparing contoured and controlled systems with conventional pattern-tiled systems,” he said.

The field is located behind Huronview and the Huron County Health Unit and has long been owned by the County of Huron. It is currently being rented to Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, a volunteer board of directors whose mandate is to develop and communicate innovative and environmental farming practices. 

“The Huron County Demonstration Farm field at Huronview builds on Huron County’s efforts to support our vital agricultural industry while protecting water quality, wetlands and woodlands,” said Jim Ginn, Mayor of Central Huron and Huron County Warden. “Huron County Council is proud to partner with HSCIA, ABCA, the drainage industry and others to host this innovative project.”

The project is being funded by the Huron County Clean Water Project, Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario and the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority. This project is also funded in part through the Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario. The project will receive up to $181,593 in funding through the Partnership. 

Farmers, drainage contractors and the public are welcome to attend a demonstration day, which will be held during installation in June 2019. 

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