Waterlogging can have a serious impact on crop and pasture health, as well as being an important indicator of other soil health issues. In cereals, waterlogging can cause a reduction in yield of over 40%. It also increases the risk of damage to soil from travelling on it in wet conditions, makes crop establishment more difficult and increases weed burden, particularly encouraging weeds that like wet growing conditions such as blackgrass.
A good drainage system will reduce the risk of waterlogging. According to the AHDB around 6.4 million hectares of agricultural land in England and Wales have been drained with piped systems. Most of this work was completed after World War II and peaked during the 1960s-1980s thanks to the availability of capital grants. As a result, the maps documenting these systems are usually hand drawn and quite fragile. Not something that you want to use out in the field for fear of damaging them, and not very easy to refer to if you do.
Given the significant cost of installing a new field drainage system, cleaning ditches and clearing outfalls is a simple, cheap and effective method of improving the effectiveness of existing systems. However it is work that often does not get done or takes far longer than it should thanks to difficulty locating drains and outfalls using the plans available.
We have used fieldmargin’s Map Upload feature on my farm to digitise our maps to help with drainage management.
1. Scan and upload maps
Map Uploader allows you to take existing maps that you have of your farm and digitise them so that they can easily be referred to alongside your other farming records and stored safely. Maps are orthocorrected and then added to your farm, similar to other base maps that you can currently choose such as satellite imagery or streetmaps.
You can use it to upload any PDF, image or photo that contains a map of your farm. Get step by step instructions of how to do this here.
2. Map drain outfalls as features to speed up routine maintenance
To make drain cleaning easier we created a feature type called ‘Drain outlets’ and mapped all of the drain outlets shown on the maps that we had uploaded feature points. This means that when we come to clean drains we can see exactly where we need to go using the map on the mobile app.
3. Investigating areas with waterlogging
We recorded areas where there was visual evidence of waterlogging such as surface ponding as well as parts of the field where we were experiencing lower yields or high numbers of weeds that like damp environments such as blackgrass and mare’s tail. To identify areas with low yield we uploaded a pdf of our combine’s yield maps and overlayed it at 50% transparency on our drainage map. We then compared these areas against our drainage maps to identify places where there might be an issue with our drainage systems. These were recorded as notes so that they could easily be referred to when investigating in the field. This allowed us to find blocked outfalls and damaged pipes, improving the field’s drainage.
As a result of this project the farm now has a digital copy of our drainage maps which makes them easier to refer to as well as keeping them safe. It has also helped us to reduce the amount of time required maintaining our drainage system and develop a strategy of where we need to focus our efforts.
Want to try this on your farm? Head to the fieldmargin web app to get started.
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