Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Sub Surface Drain Tile Installation as an Integrated Planting Practice to Improve Soil Conditions, Tree Establishment, and Productivity of Fruit Trees on Sloping Claypan Soils with Poor Internal Drainage

2011 Annual Report for FNC10-841

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Barry Shortt
Wind Ridge Farm

Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Sub Surface Drain Tile Installation as an Integrated Planting Practice to Improve Soil Conditions, Tree Establishment, and Productivity of Fruit Trees on Sloping Claypan Soils with Poor Internal Drainage


All physical work except for the final data collection has been completed. The fields were plowed, limed, and fertilized in fall 2010 prior to the grant period. In May 2011 the planting area was disked and the planting rows were surveyed for elevation and marked for trenching. A riding trencher was rented to prepare a 2-foot deep trench for the mainline and laterals, and after laying in the perforated drain lines it was also used to push soil back into the trenches. A small walk-behind trencher was used to make short (4-foot long) perpendicular trenches across the lateral lines at 14-foot intervals which served as the planting holes. In early June peach trees were hand planted into these X shaped “holes” so that all trees were planted directly over a drain line 14 feet apart within the rows, with rows (and drains) 19 feet apart.

Trees were immediately topped and scaffold training began in late-June. It was necessary to pull more soil into the trenches as it continued to settle after a couple of heavy rains. Also in late June drip irrigation lines were laid down each row and a single emitter was installed for each tree (this was expanded to 2 emitters per tree in August). Triple 12 fertilizer was applied to each tree, and due to the lack of rainfall we also applied soluble fertilizer through the drip lines. In July selective post-emergent grass herbicide was used around the base of each tree, and insecticide was applied to the lower trunk to control peach tree borers. Small hotel-size soaps were hung in each tree to deter deer feeding, tree scaffold training continued, and the trees were irrigated frequently due to very hot, dry weather. In August and September the tree-row alley weeds were mowed as needed, and in late September the alleys were disked twice in preparation for seeding bluegrass. In early November the alleys were harrowed and bluegrass was planted using a cultipacker seeder.

All funds ($6000) have been spent as indicated in the budget for trencher rental, gasoline for the trenchers, drain tile purchase, drip line and emitter purchase, partial cost of trees, labor to help with trenching, planting, and drip installation, fertilizer, grass, and fuel/labor for tree maintenance.

To demonstrate the benefits of this planting system we also planted 5 trees without drain tile using a conventional round hole dug by shovel. These 5 non-drained trees were located adjacent to 2 rows of drained trees and directly across the main line from another row of drained trees, allowing for multiple comparisons.

Trees were observed for survival throughout the summer. Planting trees over drain lines has significantly improved tree survival when compared to prior years plantings. In 1993, 1994, and 2001 we typically had about 20-30 percent tree mortality in the first summer. With the planting system used here we only had about 3 percent tree mortality, and some of that was due to trunk canker disease rather than root rot or wet soil. The non-drained trees also had good survival (probably due to dry weather after planting) but were clearly less vigorous.

In mid-September data was collected for trunk circumference and scaffold length for four groups of five trees each. This timing and type of data was selected as it best represents tree health and vigor after the first growing season. Trees planted over drain tile had significantly greater trunk diameter and scaffold length when compared to non-drained trees. This and any additional data will be submitted in detail with the final report.

I submitted this grant as a one-year proposal and I see little reason to extend it beyond that. All of the establishment work and costs occurred in the first six months and a single growing season should be long enough to demonstrate the benefits to tree vigor and survival. It is not feasible to collect yield data because that would require 3 seasons and is outside the financial and time scope of these grants. In early spring 2012 I will remove the non-drained so that I can continue draining and planting that block of trees. Prior to removal I will collect some final plant health data on those trees as well as the adjacent drained trees. I will then submit a final report which will include all data and analysis, as well as extrapolations of the financial benefit of this system compared to historical data.

We did not host field days because the summer sales season is far too busy on a fruit farm, and once the trees are planted the site looks like any other peach planting. The physical process description and cost/benefit analysis are the most important to convey and this is being done primarily by presentation and by sharing with grower consultants. I presented a detailed description of the project at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference this past November in Columbia, MO. The audience included Dr. Patrick Byers, the MU Regional Horticultural Specialist, who received a copy of the presentation. I also shared the presentation with Dr. Kelly Nelson of the University of Missouri who stated he would use parts of it at crop conferences where his discusses his research on soil drainage and quality. Chris Doll, a retired SW Illinois Horticultural Specialist and now a private consultant, has also received the presentation.

This past summer I estimate that I showed and discussed the new trees and drainage with about 10 interested customers who were local farmers and had at least a mild interest in soil drainage.

I have no plans for next year, but likely will continue to show-and-tell to some extent.


Barry Shortt
PO Box 186, 3511 Hwy F
New Melle, MO 63365
Office Phone: 3144521016