Water logged soils have cost producers millions in Western Canada over the last five years. Even temporary water logging can cause up to 100% yield loss depending on the crop and length of time under water. There has been a trend towards more site-specific tile drainage and even land leveling to fix drainage problems. While in Toowoomba, Queensland at the CTF conference I was introduced to a unique, world-class drainage software called OptiSurface that has the ability to reduce land leveling soil disturbance by up to 85%.
OptiSurface calculates the optimized field topography while satisfying water management goals and minimizing earthworks. It uses a patented system that incorporates Infinitely Variable Grades™ with 3D GPS machine control technology. The data produced by OptiSurface is then inserted into Trimble’s Field Level II to generate the cut and fill prescription map.
The cost of poor drainage often goes unmeasured, even though we know where the areas are; we rarely calculate how much money is lost. To give you an example, we had a 1M resolution, NDVI image taken of one of our fields in 2011 shown above. The image clearly indicated (in red) we were losing crop yield from poor drainage inside the blue line but had no idea it added up to 65 acres on a 160 acre field! Even at a modest 10% yield loss, poor drainage cost us roughly $2,600 in 2011. My guess would be more like $5,000 in 2011 from excessive moisture in May-June.
I had Tim Neale run this 160-acre field under the OptiSurface program and it calculated that I could gain 6 more acres by cutting and filling and correct the issues I had on the 65 acres that pond temporarily. The cost of the OptiSurface is $1.00 per acre for the surface analysis, which tells you exact field area, cut volume M3, fill volume M3, cut per area M3/ha and minimum slope. I’ve been through this process and it’s fairy simple. The next step is the cut and fill data file that is uploaded into a Trimble FMX with Field Level II software. The Rx map would cost $3.00 per acre plus an approximate cost of $1.50-$2.00 per M3 for a custom contractor with cut and fill capabilities.
Steve’s quick math
6 acres reclaimed × $400/acre gross margin = $2,400
Drainage analysis and cut and fill Rx map: $4.00 ×160 acre field = $640
Cut and fill cost: Cut volume is 790/M3 + 670/M3 fill volume × $2.00/M3 = $2,920
Total cost: $640 + $2,920 = $3,560
ROI: 1.5 years
In this example, I could generate an ROI within 1.5 years at a cost that is reasonable enough to do on a few fields per year. The beauty of the OptiSurface software is that it aims to reduce soil disturbance by calculating the least amount of topsoil moved while still achieving the desired drainage improvements. If you wanted to do your own cutting and filling, the cost of Field Level II by Trimble which controls the blade through an RTK guided FMX controller costs between $6,000 and $8,000 CDN depending on what equipment you’re starting with. Talk to a Trimble dealer for more on costs and set ups.
In the end, I believe the next technology to drive yield higher and add efficiency is proper field drainage. There are millions of acres waiting for small improvements to generate big returns from proper drainage. The OptiSurface software is very unique and the only one on the market that claims up to 85% less soil disturbance, which is massive. SL