Dealing with mud in fields: an introduction to field tile

Continuing with the theme of dealing with mud, I thought I’d share some resources on installing and maintaining field tile. Field tile is one of the main ways to deal with fields that are persistently muddy. Field tile instillation and maintenance can be a big job. I’ve helped dig holes and unclog tile multiple times and for me it was one of the more annoying farm jobs I’ve done. The older terracotta tiles which were common until the 1980’s can crack and collapse over time and any type of tile can get clogged with tree roots and miscellaneous debris. Once we even saw a full grown fish swimming through the tile sideways! Despite the drawbacks, if a field is waterlogged year after year, investing in tile can make a huge difference in being able to reliably get good yields, and often pay for themselves in increased profits within five years. Reducing mud also can improve safety since it makes it prevents equipment from getting stuck or damaged and prevents mud from building up on surfaces. I’ve put together a collection of articles that cover different aspects of installing and maintaining field tile.

Starting with the basics, here is an article that gives a good introduction to what field tile is and how it works:

Generally it is best to have tile installed by a professional. Getting a field tile system that works is much more complicated than digging a hole and sticking some tubing in the ground. A lot of factors must be considered including the soil type and density, the volume of water than needs to be drained, the placement of the outflow drains, the grading of the tile line, and the spacing and layout of the tile to name a few. Depending on what’s in your area, you may also have to consider conservation and get the instillation approved by the county, so check what your local regulations are early on if you’re thinking about installing tile. This link to a presentation by the Wisconsin extension shows an overview of some of the technical considerations involved in designing a tile system. Some of the things they cover in this presentation were covered in the fluid mechanics classes I took as an undergrad for my mechanical engineering degree so it’s pretty technical stuff.

Repairing field tile can reasonably be a DIY project depending on where the issue is and the characteristics of the individual field. Again, in some areas even repairs need to be approved by the county so make sure to check local regulations before you dig. The Indiana extension has a guide on how to fix several common field tile problems.