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University of Minnesota Extension

How agricultural drainage works

A metal pipe drains water into a stream in a gully on open farmland.

The growing use of artificial subsurface or tile drainage in Minnesota has sparked much debate about its impact on local hydrology and water quantity and quality. On this webpage, we:

  • Explain how subsurface drainage affects soil water and the water balance.

  • Describe how water balance relates to the crop-soil system and drainage.

  • Address several commonly asked questions about drainage, soil water and hydrology.

Understanding drainage

Agricultural drainage is using surface ditches, subsurface permeable pipes or both to remove standing or excess water from poorly drained lands. 


Key concepts: How drainage influences the soil’s water balance


Author: Gary R. Sands, Extension engineer

Reviewed in 2018

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