Long-term Subsurface Drainage Effects on Soil Physical and Hydraulic Properties

2020-06-15T16:59:55Z (GMT) by Daniel T Welage
Subsurface tile drainage is a common management practice implemented by farmers throughout the Midwest in fields that have poorly drained soils. Tile drainage has several benefits including increased productivity, reduced erosion, and increased trafficability. However, relatively little is known about the long-term change of soil properties that may occur as a result of subsurface drainage. Careful monitoring of tile drains at the long-term experimental site at the Southeast Purdue Agricultural Center led to the observation of faster drain flow than in the past, with hydrographs of the flow showing flashier peaks, suggesting that more preferential flow paths have developed over time. The overall goal of this study was to characterize possible evolution of physical and hydraulic properties of this silt loam soil after 35 years of subsurface drainage. Bulk density and water retention were measured in May of 2018 at 0-5 cm, 5-15 cm, and 15-30 cm in all plots and again in July of 2019 in the 5 m and 40 m spacings at four different horizons down to depths of approximately 100 cm, rather than set depth increments. Bulk density results from both sets of sampling show the 5 m spacing to have a significantly lower bulk density than the 40 m spacing in the top 30 cm of soil, although the difference was small. Differences in water retention among treatments were too small to be physically meaningful. Saturated hydraulic conductivity results measured by three different methods were highly variable and no differences were detected. In soils with naturally weak structure, low organic matter, and low clay content, like the soil in this study, the processes responsible for soil aggregation, structure stabilization, and lowering bulk density are inherently slow and may require longer than 35 years of subsurface drainage to produce significant changes in the physical properties measured.