Turning Untillable Pasture to Productive Land: One Dairy Farmer’s Success

Don’t assume complexities are blockages for drainage designs

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Pinion land advisors have the pleasure of designing tile drainage systems for great contractors all over the country. In the spring of 2022, Cody Gass, Pinion land expert, received an email with a unique topographic map and a request for a drainage tile design for land that had been considered “untillable”.

The “untillable” land

The 120-acre plot of land belonged to a Michigan dairy farmer who bought it in hopes of growing a corn crop for silage. However, it was considered unproductive by most folks in the area.

The hilly land was broken into valleys, knobs, and wetlands, with five times the grade of a typical field and a 40’ elevation change.

Partnering with the drainage contractor

In the spring of 2022, the dairy farmer hired Brent Welke, owner and operator of Welke Ag Tile & Drainage Services, to tile his property. Brent provides drainage services for farmers and landowners across Central Michigan and is known for his ability to execute complex designs.

At the time, Brent was right in the thick of peak season – working to get tile in the ground for his farmers so they could get crops in the ground. As the sole owner operator, he was pushing almost 20-hour days.

“In peak season I would install all day then come home to design more work,” explained Brent. “On an average day I would design until 1 or 2 in the morning and then head back to the field by 5:30 to do it all over again. I realized something had to change.” 

Wanting to alleviate some of the back-office load, increase his capacity and expand his value to clients, he reached out to the Pinion land advisory team including land advisors, Cody Gass and Quint Shambaugh about their design services.

The solution

Before joining Pinion, Cody and Quint both worked as drainage contractors for several years. They’ve trenched in mains, made connections, moved dirt, operated heavy equipment, and plowed in laterals. They now utilize their in-the-field experience to help contractors streamline the planning and estimating part of their jobs, achieve successful projects and do the things that make them a profit.

Proprietary nationwide data layer

To start the design process, Cody used Pinion’s proprietary nationwide data layer to pull in sub-inch accurate topographic data on the land. Using laser on the hilly plot would take hours, but with GPS, Cody could examine the dramatic elevation changes, use predictive analytics and historical imagery to locate existing tile – within minutes.

Expert, tailored design

Cody then created a tailored design, specific to Brent’s requirements. He dug in to learn what machinery Brent was running, what size pipe he needed, how he liked things in the field, etc. While the project was complex – Cody came to a tile design that Brent was able to expertly install.

Results for the landowner

Despite the land’s original state, the Michigan dairy farmer is now able to plant corn this spring and come fall he’ll have silage to feed his cattle.

On top of growing corn, the pattern tile system will also:

  • Limit erosion on this topographically variable farm
  • Allow the opportunity for no-till with more consistent field conditions
  • Improve soil health through adequate oxygen availability
  • Allow for longer growing seasons, and
  • Enable timely and efficient field work

They came to a farm that originally could not be fixed – it was simply unproductive pastureland,” says Quint. “They took an unproductive parcel and made it a tillable, useful farm – adding 120 acres to the national corn crop.

Connect with Pinion’s Land Advisory team with questions and guidance on land improvement projects.

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