Back to Basics with the Hefty Brothers: Tips for Drainage in Soybean Fields


Your soy checkoff works to help you increase the profit potential of your farm, and that begins with farm-management basics. Here are some simple tips from Brian and Darren Hefty, of the “Ag PhD” TV show, on the importance of drainage to improve soybean yields.

Brian Hefty

Brian Hefty

Drainage is critical because if your crop sits in water for too long, it will not receive oxygen and the roots will die. Soybeans have about one-fifth the root mass of corn, and our experience with millions of acres of land in the United States has taught us that soybeans need good drainage even more than corn does.

Here are four drainage practices that could help improve your yield:

  1. Look closely at the cation exchange capacity (CEC) on your soil-test results. If your CEC is above 20, that means you might have heavier soil and better organic-matter levels. You likely have some great soil, but the problem is the best soil often drains the slowest. To alleviate this problem, you need more tile. We recommend keeping your tile lines shallow (3 feet) and closer together (25-50 feet, depending on the CEC).
  2.  You cannot fix drainage by only addressing the standing water. In fact, the faster your surface water leaves the field, the more soil
    Darren Hefty

    Darren Hefty

    that will leave with it. By tiling, you can lower the water table so your field can hold more moisture during heavy rains. Most studies show that tiling reduces erosion by 40 to 60 percent.

  3.  Do not use inlets or intakes for your tile lines. Avoiding this technique forces the water to seep through the soil to reach your tile lines. This promotes cleaner water and reduces erosion and flooding.
  4.  Start planning your drainage strategies now. You can install tile easily and accurately with a tile plow and GPS guidance. An important part of the process is working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to check your ground and talking with your neighbors about where to direct the water. Planning ahead helps your neighbors and community avoid issues that are caused by poor drainage, such as road damage and blockage.