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Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario


No. 8: Pull-Behind Farm Drainage Plows

Indiana contractors have asked me for an opinion on the use of pull-behind farm drainage plows for use by farmers who want to install their own drainage pipe. What follows are some comments and observations that may not be immediately considered by purchasers of these machines.

My first concern for a would-be do-it-yourself installer is that he has the knowledge to fully prepare for the job at hand.

Installing a comprehensive and well-planned drainage system involves much more than laying pipe in the ground. Proper consideration must be given to terrain, soil type and condition, permeability, speed of drainage required, available slope, access to a suitable outlet, correct sizing of lateral and main drains, and numerous other factors. These are things that a professional contractor normally takes into account before beginning an installation. They are well qualified by experience and good judgement to do this.

Job layout is another stage in the planning process that may be overlooked. Properly done, a drainage scheme will provide even and consistent drainage for the whole field so that field operations can be done in the most timely manner, thus making the most of one of major benefits of subsurface drainage: earlier planting opportunity. While an experienced contractor may be able to assess a job site and lay out a system quickly, a novice may encounter more difficulty in achieving the same results as quickly.

Not all drainage machines are created equal! The designs available as contractor machines have been developed over many years to inherently maintain grade, while transferring weight evenly and positively to improve traction and reduce compaction. Their hydraulic control systems have been designed to operate with an integral laser reference system and to compensate for errors which are the result of the pitch and roll of the terrain. Experienced operators have been trained in using these control systems and they know how to deal with situations when close monitoring or manual over-ride is required, such as when dead-furrows, fence-rows are crossed or when rocks or soft bottoms are encountered at drain depth.

Proper installation to a specified grade should not be simply ‘left to the laser’: there are too many other contingencies that act upon the system. Skill is required to balance all these and ensure first class results.

After investing in the land itself, a properly planned and installed subsurface drainage system is the most important investment a landowner can make. This it well documented. It is also well known that investment in subsurface drainage pays greater dividends than anything else. If the job is worth doing, surely it is one worth doing well and one which is worth having

done by a trained professional contractor? The peace of mind that the work is backed up by someone with a reputation should be of even greater value when reassured against the frustration of a poorly performing installation.

Some costs of a contractor installed system way on first look appear to be saved by farmers wanting to install their own pipe. However, there are costs which are borne by farmers who install their own pipe which may not be considered, but should be. Not only is there the cost of the drainage plow, and the control system, there are the fuel, and wear and tear on the tractor. Also, connection holes must be dug by a backhoe and this equipment must be rented, purchased or hired in at a cost. Then there is labor cost, which should be applied to the installation. Only when all these are fully accounted for should a direct cost comparison be made.

For the record, I have seen several testimonials from users of pull-behind plows as to their satisfaction. But, I have also heard of farmers who have tried them, have given up and called in their contractor to finish the job - they had not realized that often what looked so easy in the hands of the experienced contractor is, in fact, far more complex.

Peter Darbishire, Editor, Drainage Contractor Magazine



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