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Why You Need to Build a Farm Reservoir

Why You Need to Build a Farm Reservoir

By Andrew Joseph,

Why would anyone want to build a reservoir on their farm? How about farm sustainability and profitability for this and the next generation with better crop yields. 

Jason Webster, a certified crop advisor and precision planting commercial agronomist and director at the PTI (Precision Technology Institute) 400-acre research farm, addressed the audience at the 2021 Great Ontario Yield Tour,’s sixth such annual event. 

Asking the question: Why build a reservoir on your farm? Webster explained the answer lies in how drainage and water recycling is key to producing higher yields on a farm with access to irrigation.

Discussing the PTI reservoir study he helped formulate, Webster said that “We are trying to increase yield, net profit per acre, and remove the huge problems in agriculture: drought and major flooding.”

He explained that originally PTI’s test farm had next-to-zero farm tile for drainage and soil oxygenation, and that the goals of the study were:

  1. to develop an outlet for farm drainage to allow for farm tile installation;
  2. and to create an opportunity for irrigation during the hot/dry summer months. 

The PTI test farm in Illinois, he noted, was blocked by a highway and impacted by city limits, so they were unable to pump excess water away to lay field tile installation. 

So why add a reservoir? Because, as Webster explained, if you have areas on your field where water congregates due to elevation (dips), it washes away seed, fertilizers, herbicides, et al—meaning crops either won’t grow or won’t grow to the potential needed to run a profitable farm. 

“Why ignore the land? Use it to build your own water reservoir to make the farm better,” Webster pointed out.    

PTI cut out a 2.5-acre reservoir foundation inside the so-called “prairie pothole”, digging down to the 25-foot (7.62-metre) level. The dirt pulled out was separated, so the valuable nutrient-rich topsoil could be utilized elsewhere on the test farm.

As part of the study, PTI created test fields with 30-, 60- and 120-foot (9.144-, 18.288-, and 36.576-metre, respectively) wide tiles, but after seeing a lack of water movement shelved the 120-foot tile experiment in favour of an additional 30-foot tile. 

With the reservoir completed, it was topped up just falling rainwater by June 1, thus fulfilling one of the study’s goals: creating irrigation. 

Webster said they were able to control the amount of water to the fields via a drip tape line from the water pumped up from the reservoir to provide a “super-soaker type of effect. It was a tremendous way to get water to our crops.”

The added lift station utilized a 10HP electric motor to move the water up from the reservoir at a rate up to 225 gallons (851.718 litres) per minute, which Webster said only cost US$400 (~CDN$506) a month. 

PTI also added three sand filters to clean dirty water returning from the field into the reservoir—to be reused again for continued irrigation purposes. 

“It’s not quick, but it (irrigation) is effective throughout the day,” he said but admitted that he has to keep on top of things when a heat wave might require the running of the irrigation system 24-hours/day. 

Using software, the PTI can determine if a crop needs fertilization, and if required, can inject fertilizers directly into the irrigation system. 

So… will a farm reservoir system create higher crop yields? 

Webster pointed to the study’s results, and its 2020 ROI winner: strip till high yield irrigated corn. This corn had a US$202.68 (CDN$257) ROI/acre, and a 24-percent moisture content when harvested. He said they achieved a 368.2 bushel of corn grown per acre, calling it a “tremendous yield.”

He added that in his 34 years of farming, “This was the highest yield I was ever able to grow.” Webster noted, however, that it wasn’t solely due to the addition of the reservoir—that there was the addition of the tile, the irrigation and fertigation, but also planter treatments. “It is nutrition plus the water to get the crops healthy and to keep it healthy.” 

As for the cost of adding a new reservoir pond et al, Webster says that PTI should realize a return on investment within 10 years. “Environmentally, it’s a green program.”

Watch the video below to watch how PTI and Jason Webster installed the reservoir and irrigation system—plus the full recipes used—to achieve a high yield corn and soybean harvest.

Contact Jason Webster at: 
Twitter: @JWebsterAG
T: 815-584-6511
Website for Precision Planting LLC:

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