Getting Our Land in Shape: Land Shaping

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Depending on the grower, the factors that are limiting yields for corn, soybean and wheat can vary, but one that is a common issue among growers in this part of NC is poor drainage. Poor drainage can either be due to internal and/or surface drainage.

Growers in the tidewater region of NC know that too much water is usually more of a problem with growing crops than less water. They also know the importance of adequate ditches/canals to carry water off the land and that they require maintenance to stay effective. But we also have soils that do not drain internally very quickly, which allows them to stay wet longer than coarse textured (sandier) soils. Subsurface drainage that is properly designed is the way to address aforementioned issues for soils with poor internal drainage. The last management tool that can address poor drainage is land shaping. Proper land shaping can help expedite the removal of water off the field. Low spots in fields that have crops drown due to standing water, regardless of the size, reduce a significant amount of average yield.

In the last several years, I am seeing an increasing number of growers doing land shaping. I have asked growers that have conducted land shaping about the benefits and they always tell me that their yield average went up for that field. I have even had a grower tell me that it paid on rented land. However, if I did it on rented land, I would want an understanding or agreement that I had several years to recover the cost.

One of the cost share programs that the NRCS/Soil and Water Office has is for land shaping. This program is for a limited amount of funds for the county. Even if you do not utilize the cost share program, this management practice will go a long way in paying for itself, if properly done.

The main thing is that it is done properly to prevent other issues such as all the topsoil being removed in some parts of the field that exposes more clayey soils that can be more difficult for seedling emergence, more acid soils exposed causing poor crop growth, and compacted soils inhibiting root growth as a result of equipment moving soil.

You need only slight changes in percent slope from the center of the field to the ditches or from one end of the field to the other to provide proper surface drainage. Once land shaping is completed, it would be advisable to take soil samples of those fields and deep tillage (subsoiling) to destroy compacted layers. The NRCS/Soil and Water Office can provide technical assistance in making certain that you do land shaping properly. Also, here is a video you may be interested in called Basics of Agricultural Drainage.