Helping Farmers Increase Yields
by Dee Fisher
Scientists say the northern part of what is now Ohio was once covered by a glacier around a mile deep. As it migrated southward, it scraped off most hills and ridges and filled in valleys, leaving the ground relatively flat.
When the glacier receded about 11,000 years ago, there remained a very large lake. It covered present-day Lake Erie, much of northwestern Ohio and some of northeastern Indiana. Eventually, the massive lake receded, too, leaving the Lake Erie in its current boundaries with the Great Black Swamp to the southwest of the lakeshore.
The soil in the swamp was very rich and good for growing nearly anything. Little by little, as the settlers arrived in the early 1800s, the swamp was drained, and farms, villages, roads, towns, and large cities were built on its now-dry ground.
However, nature tends to revert to its original state. The area once covered by the Great Black Swamp is continually plagued with flash floods and standing water from heavy rains or melting snow. Farmers learned quickly that they had to design drainage systems to keep their crops from drowning.
Over the past century or so, drainage companies sprang up all over the midwest, especially in areas prone to flooding, like northwestern Ohio. In the 21st century, drainage companies are usually contracted by farmers to drain new fields or repair the drainage systems of existing fields.
“Farmers know that keeping their fields from flooding greatly increases their yields,” says Dave Jones, owner of Jones Drainage in Van Wert County. “Getting surface water off their fields faster also allows for earlier planting, giving them a leg up on the growing season.”
Dave has been in the business of draining land for his entire adult life. Born in Wren, Ohio, he was able to get a job with a local drainage contractor just after graduating high school. When his boss retired in 1990, Dave bought the business.
“We work mainly in Van Wert County and northern Mercer County,” Dave reports. “Ninety percent of our business is farm-related.”
And business is pretty good right now. With commodity prices dropping, farmers are willing to pay to make sure their fields are draining properly for increased yields. Better crop yields mean more income, which goes to pay other farming costs, especially equipment.
Creating a drainage system for an area of ground is quite a complicated affair. “My brothers told me that I shouldn’t worry about taking algebra and science in school,” Dave laughs. “As it turns out, those are the subjects that I use all the time!”
The area to be drained must first be surveyed. Two things are considered: first, how the water travels across the field, and second, how the farmer plans to plant and farm the field. “This area is not terribly hard to drain. Everything up here drains northeast toward the Maumee River,” Dave explains. “Everything to the south drains to the St. Marys River.”
In this bright new age of technology, Dave uses Google Earth to help with surveys. “We use the historical tab to look at fields that need their drainage systems updated or fixed. The bare ground will look striped. Dark stripes are more wet than lighter stripes–the lighter stripes are where the tile is.”
Once a site is surveyed, Dave usually uses a computer program to lay out the most efficient drainage system. “Once the system is laid out, we know how much tile and other materials to order. Once all the materials get here, we start the digging!”
In general, Dave uses two types of digging machines, a wheel trencher and a tile plow. The wheel trencher is a large wheel with bucket-like attachments that gouge the earth and create a trench 24 to 36 inches wide.
The tile plow, Dave explains, is more efficient to use. It digs and lays tile at the same time, placing a fine layer of dirt under the tile itself. “This helps keep the tile more round rather than letting it get egg-shaped, which will cause more breakage and leaking. The tile plow allows us to get twice as much done in much less time.”
Government regulations concerning what is allowed in field drainage change every so often. “The two things that I have to keep up with are the government regulations about field drainage and the new technology that is coming out,” Dave says.
“We used to do a lot of measuring and plotting by hand in the field. Now, we use GPS coordinates to plot the paths of the tile. The computer in the machines just follows the path from coordinate to coordinate.”
Jones Drainage is located north of State Route 30 in Van Wert County. At the moment, the company boasts three employees besides Dave and his wife, Rose. “Rose is our office manager,” Dave says. “She takes care of the money for us.”
Springtime is when farmers start to plant, so they don’t like to do tiling then. “Summer is really the beginning of our busy time,” explains Dave. “We can work right straight through the holidays if the weather holds.
“When the weather is right, we can work in the winter, too. If it gets too wet, we have some down time, so we work on the equipment – cleaning and updating it.”
Dave anticipates business will continue to increase. “As long as farmers farm, rain falls, and ground gets saturated, we will have calls to come drain fields,” says Dave. Since Mother Nature shows no signs of slowing down, Dave and his crew will be needed to control her excesses for the foreseeable future.
Jones Farm Drainage
5259 Liberty Union Road
Van Wert, OH 45891