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September 2011 - Posts - Mud Hound

Mud Hound

The life of a Land Drainage Contractor

September 2011 - Posts

I was asked to write a brief description of the benefits of land drainage, I thought I would repeat here:  


Increased Yields.  Well drained soils maximise crop growth rates and therefore yields. Wet soils produce anaerobic conditions for the crop roots resulting in weaker, smaller plants which are more susceptible to disease and competition.



Reduce costs and Increased Flexibility. Wet soils are hard work. Not only they are more difficult to cultivate and prepare but they also have a very small window of opportunity when the land is accessible to heavy modern agricultural machinery. Bogged down tractors can’t work and many hours can be wasted rescuing them. Good soil conditions lower fuel costs and reduce the time taken to do the job. Well drained fields dry out quicker after heavy rainfall and are less likely to be sodden after rain. This lengthens the window of opportunity allowing spraying or fertilizers to be applied when the crops require rather than when the weather allows. Being able to react and apply sprays and fertilizer at the right time maximise the potential of the crop.



Investment / insurance. Soil is the most important asset a farmer has. It needs to be looked after and invested in as much as, if not more, than machinery. Money spent on drainage not only improves the soil but it protects the investments, after all if the ground is too wet to work, nothing else can be done.    



Increase Land Values. Land Prices continue to rocket as demand out-strips supply. Well drained land which looks pleasing to the eye is always going to be worth more than sodden fields with rut marks, bare patches, and pools of standing water.



Maximise Costly Inputs. Seed, Fertilizer and chemical applications are expensive and it is likely that these costs will continue to increase.  If such inputs are going to work to their maximum capability a consistent, healthly crop is required. Apply costly fertilizers and herbicides on to uncropped or poorly performing areas is simply throwing money down the drain.



Less susceptible to Drought. Conversely, well drained land enhances crops resistant to drought. Drainage improves soil structure which reduces runoff and allows the ground to ‘hold’ as much water as possible. Drainage only moves excess water.  Spring crops growing in poor draining soils produce shallow roots, leaving them venerable to drought conditions in the summer.  




Like everybody else in business if we think we can take on a job and get it done at the right price, we will. As you already know we’re drainage contractors and the vast majority of our work is trenching, however earth moving and pond/lake/lagoon construction are tasks which we will happily take on.


A couple of years ago a regular customer asked us to construct a system of ditches, pools and reed beds to treat the effluent produced by a micro brewery which was going to start operations from one of his old barns.



Back in 2005 we started by taking a series of levels and working out the quantities of earth which needed to be moved. The picture is of me and my father taking the levels and hammering pegs to the ground to mark out certain positions.






The construction was relatively straight forward, the main obstacle were two over head services, which were negotiated by designing the earthworks around them and by erecting fencing to stop wandering plant forgetting about them. The earthworks were a cut and fill operation were the excavated soil from one side was used to build up the other side. The system involved a deep holding pool, three wide ditches with reeds planted in between, an oxygenating pond and a reed bed.








The years have gone by and I often think about the project, in part because we have visited the farm regularly for other projects and because of the success of the brewery. If you live in the Midlands you have probably seen, heard about, or drunk Purity Beer. It pops up all over the place and personally I think it is a mighty fine drink and whenever I order up a pint of it, I’m reminded of the project. We have just finish a drainage contract nearby so I thought I would drive past and see how the reed beds were getting on.  Very well would appear to be the answer, the photos below show the beds just after construct and them now.

















It possible to see the process working, from the grey foam produced straight out of the back of the brewery to clear water after the final reed bed. It was also possible to smell the improvement! The effluent in the first pond was not pleasant smell at all, but by the end of the process the smell had disappeared. The project has a number of benefits, not only is a waste product taken care of in an environmentally friendly manner but the process has very few costs once construction is over as the water passes through the beds under the power of gravity. Certainly the Moorhens which I disturbed seemed to like it.






We have been working on a site where the topsoil had been stripped - it’s a civil engineering site - and I had to go out and measure up the job. The rain was falling as I drove to the site but my luck was in and the rain held off whilst I worked. The ground conditions were unusual, it had been very hard and dry with a thick layer of dust, of course the heavy sharp bust of rainfall turned this dust layer into thick muddy slop. My trusty Land Rover had no problems but the mud flew all over the place.




If Jackson Pollock had been a drainage contractor.....     





















I could not agree more with Professor Dick Godwin’s argument in the talking point section of last week’s Farmers Weekly.  His argument was that other than the farmer who works the land, soil is our most important asset. However this has not stopped it from being one which receives less investment than it deserves, especially over recent years. He was especially concerned by the loss of knowledge, research and the decline in the number dedicated Soil and Water Management Course at Universities over the last thirty years.



I can understand why many prefer to spent they hard earned cash elsewhere, after all improvements to soils are difficult to see on the ground and it is probably fair to call them un-sexy. Given the choice between a shiny new tractor with all the mod-cons or something which is buried, hidden from view the moment it is installed, it is easy to opt for the former.  Of course it follows, if investment in soils declines then so will research and the number of university courses.  However the value of investing in soils is well proven, and from my own experience I know that time and time again a new client asks us for a quotation to drain a poor performing field, often they ‘um and ah’ for a while and finally take the plunge, next year they’re back asking for more drainage having seen the results first hand.








The blog is a year old. I wrote the first entry on the 10th of September last year and over the year seventy posts and many pictures have been shared.  As is the custom on such occasion I guess a moment of reflection is required. Well the first thing leaps up and demands a comment, is the lack of posts recently. Please do not take this to be a loss of enthusiasm. There is an easy lesson to learn, at this time of the year - like many who read the blog - there is so much going on that finding the time to write is very difficult. The answer is just as easy, write a couple of generic blog entries in winter and they can be posted quickly in August and September. I’m on the case.



I continue to be surprised about the number of people who read the blog. The first couple of posts attracted thirty odd views, which at the time I was pleased with, but over the year the numbers have steadily increased with the more popular blogs amassing a couple hundred views. Whether I should or not I take this as a good sign. I try to ‘mix it up’ with posts about drainage theory, machinery and day to day stuff, some posts with pictures some without. Hopefully this means I’m not repeating myself all the time.



I did wonder at first if I would have enough to say.  Perhaps some people reading this have will say that I don’t! I expected to write more about the weather and working in a family business but less about our kit and how drainage is installed. Perhaps this is an indication of how dry it has been, I just have not had to stand outside, soaked to the bone much this year.



I’m convinced that I have to do more to promote drainage, frequently I talk to farmers who are quick to mention the drainage schemes which they had installed years ago, but who have not invested in drainage since. I know that in the old days grants made the decision to drain or not easier, but the benefits are still the same and continue to offer fantastic value. I wonder if some people seem to have forgotten the difference well drained land makes to yields. It’s my job (perhaps mission is the right word??) to sing the praises of land drainage and I hope this blog will help.  







Still busy.



The trenchers are in the ground, and the schemes are being completed. We have finished the last job that had to be done before the OSR was planted so the first target is met. The dry weather has been to our advantage, and now we are just hoping that is stays with us for a little longer. Unfortunately yesterday and today both seem very Autumnal, although the ground is very dry and it will probably take a couple very heavy showers before it stops us working.



One thing I forgot to mention was that we have employed some new members of staff. With the heavy work load over harvest and a couple of retirements due in the not too distant future, we had some gaps to fill.



Anyway must get on I’m behind on the measuring up so I need to be in Oxfordshire within an hour and Staffordshire this afternoon - and I have a meeting in Warwick at three!