Increasing Profits in Agriculture; the Advantage of Effective Land Drainage

The Current State of Farming:

Agriculture can be somewhat of a tempestuous industry; having to withstand increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather conditions and while still producing consistent yield. For example, recent flooding has created a range of problems for farmers including loss of sheep and crops. Some banks are now offering loans specifically for helping farms hit by flooding.

Whilst the exact extent of damage from recent flooding is yet to be fully assessed, if excessive flooding from previous years is anything to go by the damage could be very expensive. The floods of 2007 cost the agricultural industry an estimated £50 million in England alone and over 90% of these costs were due to farm output losses and the cost of additional production.

These types of issue only look set to continue with the a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting more intense bursts of rainfall in the UK’s future and government flooding defence plans being criticised by the National Farmers Union for not sufficiently planning defences for farming and rural areas.

Decreasing recovery time:

Whilst land drainage will not stop flooding from occurring, it can help reduce the time it takes farmers to get back on track. Tim Sisson the managing director of land drainage experts William Morfoot explained how land drainage can play an important role in maintaining crop production through extreme wet weather:

"Good land drainage dramatically improves the field recovery time after prolonged or heavy spells of rain and provides optimum and uniform growing conditions for the crop during the wetter periods of the year."

Recovery time after excessive rainfall is key because a number of processes including drilling, fertiliser/spray application and harvest operators have to be completed within very small and specific time periods for crops to reach their full potential and extreme rainfall can significantly throw these events off course.

Furthermore, a large amount of the growing costs of modern day farming are seed, fertiliser and chemical applications and for these to be effective soil and crop cover need to be consistent. This is also disrupted by heavy wet weather. Hence why land drainage is so important for limiting output losses and maximising profits despite adverse weather conditions.

Increased Yield Potential:

The amount of water retained in soil can make a huge difference in terms of yield potential. However, the extent to which it increases yield potential within UK agriculture is yet to be quantified in research. Rob Burtonshaw analysed land drainage techniques and visited farming professionals in Ontario Canada - where yield mapping and monitoring are common practice.

One particular study of yield mapping in Ontario looked at crops over a twenty year period, comparing areas that had land drainage to those that did not. The findings were clear; yield was significantly increased on drained land – for instance corn’s yield increased by 29% and winter wheat by 38%. The results are not directly applicable to the UK because of the difference in soil type – however they demonstrate the potential power of land drainage to increase yields and profits.



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