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USDA Recommends New Practice to Combat Drought

Purdue University

The USDA wants farmers to use a new conservation practice to help control the water levels in their fields.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is recommending using “drainage water management” to deal with drought.

This practice consists of using a device to regulate how much water drains from a field.  Many farms in Illinois are equipped with tile lines to drain excess water after heavy rain. Water management structures attach to the ends of the tiling and act as valves.

When moisture is scarce farmers can use the "valve" to stop it from draining through the tiles.

Jerry Lewis farms around 3,000 acres near Good Hope and had one of these structure installed in 2005.

He said that is actually pretty tricky to know when to close or open the valve. Part of it is that the devices act on timers and are set to open and close at certain times of the year.

"It's pretty hard to slam the gate shut and think that its going to quit raining,  and then you get a big rain and the water can't escape fast enough, that's a pretty hard job to do," Lewis said.

Though Lewis said drainage water management has other benefits.

He said that he sets "the valve” to close after he applies fertilizer to stop runoff from carrying away the nitrogen and phosphorous.

Lewis added that a field needs to be relatively flat to use the one of these devices.

The NRCS also said that drainage water management can hold back enough water after harvest to create ponds for migrating water fowl.

Scott Stuntz is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.