According to USDA, net farm income in 2011 is forecast to be the highest recorded (adjusted for inflation) since 1974. Fueled by several years of higher grain prices, farmers have been reinvesting some of this increased income into their farming operations.
As seen in fields this fall, many farmers are choosing to spend this money on installing tile drainage systems. Higher land prices have also caused many landowners to squeeze more production out of the acres they currently farm by removing fencerows, filling low areas and clearing trees.
Conservationists with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service warn farmers to be cautious about wetland provisions when installing tile, clearing trees or completing other land altering measures. "Farmers and land managers need to protect their farm program benefits by first checking with their local NRCS office for a wetland determination prior to working in wet portions of their farms," says Richard Sims, state conservationist for NRCS in Iowa.
Be cautious about wetland provisions--installing tile, clearing trees, etc.
To maintain eligibility, USDA participants must certify that they have not produced crops on wetlands converted after Dec. 23, 1985, and that they did not convert a wetland to make agricultural production possible after Nov. 28, 1990.
Any activity that alters natural wetlands, making production of an ag commodity or forage crop more possible is prohibited. These conversion activities may include: filling, draining (surface ditching or subsurface tiling), land leveling, clearing woody vegetation where stumps are removed, diverting runoff water from a wetland, such as building a diversion.
If found in violation, farmers would lose eligibility for USDA programs, Sims notes. For more information or to request a wetland determination from NRCS, you should visit your local USDA Service Center.
A lot of tiling work is going on in Iowa fields this fall, with good weather
Sims notes there's a lot tiling work going on in Iowa fields this fall. "We have had a fantastic fall for weather. It's just unbelievable the amount of tiling machines that are out there," he says.
Any activity that alters natural wetlands could cause a loss of eligibility for USDA programs. "It's the pothole areas to be especially careful of. It's the area of a field where you have a draw or swale that has not had tile in there before," says Sims. "Or you may have an area that has partially been tiled and there are still some remnants of a wetland in there. Those areas should be taken into consideration."
Also, be careful about applying anhydrous ammonia too early
There's another farming practice that concerns Sims. That is, the early application of anhydrous ammonia in the fall. "Anytime you put anhydrous in the ground when the soil temperature at four inches is above 50 degrees, you're taking a huge risk of having that nitrogen leaving the farm and not being there for the crops next year," he points out.Historically, according to Iowa State University Extension, soil temperatures at a 4-inch depth cool below 50 degrees in the northern third of Iowa during the first week of November. In central and southern Iowa, soil temperatures cool below 50 degrees during the second week and third weeks of November.