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What Can Farmers Do About Climate Change? Soil Health and Drainage

By Tom Driscoll
 
Extreme precipitation is a serious concern for farmers as the climate continues to change. In many areas, downpours will be concentrated earlier in the year. Standing water and moist soil will work against farmers trying to get into the fields in time for crop insurance planting requirements and ideal yields.
 
While the installation of surface ditch or subsurface “tile” effectively addresses drainage issues exacerbated by climate change, the practice has serious downsides, both immediate and long-term, for farmers. There is substantial cost associated with purchasing materials and designing and installing drainage systems. Depending on the ultimate conveyance and characteristics of the ground in question, drainage systems may also trigger permitting concerns with legal or administrative costs. Further, the cumulative effect of many farmers choosing to increase drainage can contribute to water quality problems and flooding downstream. Perhaps most importantly to the farmer, drainage might send water downstream that, if instead retained in the soil, could help cope with dry spells later in the season or ongoing droughts, both of which are also expected to increase in frequency and intensity as the climate continues to change.
 
Before turning to drainage, farmers observing increased early season precipitation can consider practices to increase the health of their soils. 
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