Land Drainage - A farmer’s practical guide to draining grassland in Ireland
Soil test pit
Drainage system maintenance
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CitationTuohy, Patrick et al. Land Drainage – a farmer’s practical guide to draining grassland in Ireland: Moorepark Dairy Levy Research Update Series 20. Teagasc – Agricultural & Food Development Authority, July 2013
AbstractNo drainage work should be carried out before the drainage characteristics of the soil are established by a site and soil test pit investigation. • Two types of drainage system exist: a groundwater drainage system and a shallow drainage system. The design of the system depends entirely on the drainage characteristics of the soil. • Distinguishing between the two types of drainage systems essentially comes down to whether or not a permeable layer is present (at a workable depth) that will allow the flow of water with relative ease. If such a layer is evident, a piped drain system at that depth is likely to be effective. If no such layer is found during soil test pit investigations, it will be necessary to improve the drainage capacity of the soil. This involves a disruption technique such as moling, gravel moling or subsoiling in tandem with collector drains. • Drains are not effective unless they are placed in a free draining soil layer or complimentary measures (mole drainage, subsoiling) are used to improve soil drainage capacity. If water is not moving through the soil in one or other of these two ways, the water table will not be lowered. • Outfall level must not dictate the drainage system depth. If a free draining layer is present, it must be utilised. • Drain pipes should always be used for drains longer than 30 m. If these get blocked it is a drainage stone and not a drainage pipe issue. • Drainage stone should not be filled to the top of the field trench except for very limited conditions (the bottom of an obvious hollow). Otherwise it is an extremely expensive way of collecting little water. • Most of the stone being used for land drainage today is too big. Clean aggregate in the 10–40 mm (0.4 to 1.5 inch approx) grading band should be used. Generally you get what you pay for. • Subsoiling is not effective unless a shallow impermeable layer is being broken or field drains have been installed prior to the operation. Otherwise it will not have any long-term effect and may do more harm than good. • Most land drainage systems are poorly maintained. Open drains should be clean and as deep as possible and field drains feeding into them should be regularly rodded or jetted.
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Visual drainage assessment: A standardised visual soil assessment method for use in land drainage design in IrelandTuohy, Patrick; Humphreys, James; Holden, Nicholas M.; O'Loughlin, James; Reidy, Brian; Fenton, Owen (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 20/08/2016)The implementation of site-specific land drainage system designs is usually disregarded by landowners in favour of locally established ‘standard practice’ land drainage designs. This is due to a number of factors such as a limited understanding of soil–water interactions, lack of facilities for the measurement of soil’s physical or hydrological parameters and perceived time wastage and high costs. Hence there is a need for a site-specific drainage system design methodology that does not rely on inaccessible, time-consuming and/or expensive measurements of soil physical or hydrological properties. This requires a standardised process for deciphering the drainage characteristics of a given soil in the field. As an initial step, a new visual soil assessment method, referred to as visual drainage assessment (VDA), is presented whereby an approximation of the permeability of specific soil horizons is made using seven indicators (water seepage, pan layers, texture, porosity, consistence, stone content and root development) to provide a basis for the design of a site-specific drainage system. Across six poorly drained sites (1.3 ha to 2.6 ha in size) in south-west Ireland a VDA-based design was compared with (i) an ideal design (utilising soil physical measurements to elucidate soil hydraulic parameters) and (ii) a standard design (0.8 m deep drains at a 15 m spacing) by model estimate of water table control and rainfall recharge/drain discharge capacity. The VDA method, unlike standard design equivalents, provided a good approximation of an ideal (from measured hydrological properties) design and prescribed an equivalent land drainage system in the field. Mean modelled rainfall recharge/drain discharge capacity for the VDA (13.3 mm/day) and ideal (12.0 mm/day) designs were significantly higher (P < 0.001, s.e. 1.42 mm/day) than for the standard designs (0.5 mm/day), when assuming a design minimum water table depth of 0.45 m.
Monitoring of nitrogen leaching on a dairy farm during four drainage seasonsRyan, Michael; Brophy, C.; Connolly, John; McNamara, Kevin; Carton, Owen T. (Teagasc, Oak Park, Carlow, Ireland, 2006)The effect of four commonly used dairy farm management systems (treatments), on nitrogen leaching to 1 m was studied over a 4-year period from October 2001 to April 2005. The treatments were (i) grazed plots receiving dirty water, (ii) 2-cut silage plots receiving slurry, (iii) grazed plots and (iv) 1-cut silage plots receiving slurry. All plots had fertiliser N applied; the soil was free-draining overlying fissured limestone. Mean 4-year N input (kg/ha) was 319 and mean annual stocking density was ~2.38 LU/ha. The annual average and weekly NO3-N and NH4-N concentrations in drainage water were analysed for all years, using a repeated measures analysis. For the annual NO3-N data, there was an interaction between treatment and year (P < 0.001). There were significant differences (P < 0.05) in NO3-N concentrations between the treatments in all years except the third. For the NH4-N data there was no interaction between treatment and year or main effect of treatment but there were differences between years (P < 0.01). Mean weekly concentrations were analysed separately for each year. For NO3-N, in all years but the third, there was an interaction between treatment and week (P < 0.001); this occurred with NH4-N, in all 4 years. Dirty water was significantly higher than grazed-fertiliser only and 1-cut silage in NO3-N concentrations in 2001–02; in 2002–03, dirty water and 2-cut silage were significantly higher than the other treatments; while in 2004–05, dirty water and grazed-fertiliser only were significantly higher than the other two treatments. The overall 4-year mean NO3-N and NH4-N concentrations were 8.2 and 0.297 mg/L, respectively.
Phosphorus and nitrogen losses from temperate permanent grassland on clay-loam soil after the installation of artificial mole and gravel mole drainageValbuena-Parralejo, N.; Fenton, Owen; Tuohy, Patrick; Williams, M.; Lanigan, Gary; Humphreys, James; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme; Department of Agriculture, Food and the MArine; RSF11152 (Elsevier, 2018-12-14)Mole (M) and gravel-mole (GM) drainage systems improve the permeability of soils with high clay contents. They collect and carry away infiltrating water during episodic rainfall events. Characterisation of nutrient fluxes (concentration and flows) in overland flow (OF) and in mole drain flow (MF) across sequential rainfall events is important for environmental assessment of such drainage systems. The objective of this study is to assess the impact of drainage systems on soil nutrient losses. Three treatments were imposed on grazed permanent grassland on a clay loam soil in Ireland (52°30′N, 08°12′W) slope 1.48%: undrained control (C), mole drainage (M) and gravel mole drainage (GM). Plots (100 m × 15 m) were arranged in a randomized complete block design with four replicated blocks. Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations in OF, MF and groundwater (GW) were measured from each plot over 15 consecutive rainfall events. The results showed that M and GM (P < 0.05) deepened the watertable depth and decreased OF. M and GM increased losses of nitrate-N (22%) and ammonium-N (14%) in GW. Nitrate-N concentrations from all the flow pathways (mean and standard error (s.e.): 0.99 s.e. 0.10 mg L−1) were well below the 11.3 mg L−1 threshold for drinking water. Ammonium-N concentrations from all the flow pathways (mean: 0.64 s.e. 0.14 mg L−1) exceeded drinking water quality standards. On the other hand M and GM lowered total P losses (mean annual losses from C, M and GM: 918, 755 and 853 s.e. 14.1 g ha−1 year−1) by enhancing soil P sorption. Hence M and GM can be implemented on farms under similar management to that described in the present study with a minor impact on N (increased concentration on averaged 18% to GW) and P (reduced by on avenged 114 g ha−1 year−1).