AUBURN — Partners For Healthy Watersheds, a collection of regional and local agricultural groups, hosted a soil science expert Thursday evening at Cayuga Community College for a public session on the impacts of tile drainage on watersheds.
Dr. Eric Young, an agronomist with the Miner Institute of Chazy, a research group that conducts a variety of farming-related field research, gave an overview on tile drainage, which uses underground pipes, or “tiles,” named for their original clay tile design, to lower the water levels in crop fields.
“Drainage to us is really important as a society,” Young said. “Taking care of excess water is something we all need to be aware of.”
Young's research projects examine the impact of drainage tile use in the Lake Champlain region. Specifically, Young focuses on how runoff of nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, varies on farms with tile drainage compared with those without.
Steve Ammerman, manager of public affairs and associate director of public policy for the New York Farm Bureau, one of the groups that makes up the watersheds group, said part of the reason for hosting the event came from recent focus on nutrient runoff and its potential role in contributing to harmful algal blooms on lakes throughout the state.
In addition to the Farm Bureau, the Partners For Healthy Watersheds is made up of representatives from the American Dairy Association North East, the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association Inc.
Ammerman said the group wanted to encourage a dialogue on the topic for the public to better understand the variety of factors that contribute to algal blooms.
“It's all about education,” Ammerman said, adding that it's up to the public in general as well as farmers to be good stewards of the environment. “It's understanding what our farmers are doing on this land but also why they do it.”
Young's research at the Miner Institute largely revolves around the use of two research fields, which Young described as typical dairy farm corn silage fields, that are used to test for levels of nutrient runoff.
Since the research is still ongoing (and even when completed it will be difficult to say anything conclusively), Young said the current results served to put nutrient loss in perspective. At present, the results show that tile drainage can help prevent phosphorous runoff but might increase nitrogen output when compared to surface runoff from non-tiled fields.
“All this is to say: there's some tradeoff,” Young said.
An important part of his research as well as the field in general, is the development of best practices for nutrient management, like controlled tiling that allows the water level to be manually modified or end-of-line nutrient absorption materials.
Young ended the presentation by saying that, for some time now, nutrient runoff research had fallen by the academic wayside, and more research is still needed in order to further understanding.
Beth Meyer, director of consumer confidence with the American Dairy Association North East, said she hoped events like this put on Partners of Health Watersheds would help connect the public, which is much more disconnected from farming that previous generations, with farmers.
“We think it's really important to facilitate that dialogue,” Meyer said.