Why is land drainage so important to UK farmers?

Why is land drainage so important to UK farmers?

The importance of land drainage to the UK farming sector has never been so high. With commodity prices remaining low and the added uncertainty around what Brexit could bring, the focus now needs to be on controlling input costs and maximising yield and quality.

Good land drainage facilitates all three:

  • Reducing input costs
  • Maximising yields
  • Maximising quality

It all starts from the soil up

If you have land to farm, the first and most important consideration over and above everything else is the drainage. You cannot farm efficiently without good drainage.

In fact, even if you spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on the latest technology, such as variable rate fertiliser applicators, GPS systems and blackgrass chemicals, it is completely wasted if the land itself isn’t well drained and the soil structure isn’t right.

Having well drained soils is vital to the health of your crops and the yields you produce. We’re reminded time and time again by our customers what a difference it makes. Here’s just some of the benefits:

  • Ensures good soil structure for root development and oxygen for organic material
  • Extends the growing or grazing season
  • Facilitates better access to land with machinery and reduced soil compaction
  • Promotes more efficient use of tractors though improved traction, resulting in huge fuel savings
  • Eliminates wet areas so there is less chance of machinery getting stuck and bare patches
  • Improves timeliness for critical field operations, such as seed drilling, fertiliser/chemical application and harvesting
  • Promotes fewer cultivation passes
  • Reduces draft forces

What difference does it make to your bottom line?

This is a difficult one to calculate but we think we can give you an indicative figure. We’ve pulled together a worst case scenario of poorly drained land and compared it to a best case to show you just what a difference land drainage can make.

  • Worse case scenario of poorly drained land
    • Yields: 2.5 tonnes per acre of feed wheat at £100/tonne
    • Gross revenue: £250/acre without CAP support.
  • Best case scenario of well drained and structured land
    • Yields: 5 tonnes of milling quality wheat at £120/tonne (£20 premium for quality)
    • Gross revenue: £600/acre without CAP support.

This is an extreme example showing a difference of £350/acre. If we multiply this up to a 1000 acre farm over 30 years, it equates to a gross revenue difference of £10,500,000. That’s a lot of money!

Admittedly though, the 2.5 ton yield at £100/tonne scenario would not sustain the 30 year life span of the comparison before going out of business but it gives you an idea.

So if we also consider an input cost increase for the high yielding milling wheat, we think a more realistic and conservative figure would be a £100/acre profit difference, equating to £3,000,000 over the same time frame.

Other savings to consider

If you then add to the equation savings in inputs such as machinery wear and tear, fuel, better fertiliser uptake and greater efficiencies the benefits look even better.

In more extreme cases, land drainage will mean the difference between having a crop to harvest and not.

Another way of looking at this, the exponential increase in land values over the last 15 years has widened the relationship between drainage capital cost and land value to almost 1:10. If you have land that has become unfarmable due to poor drainage the cost of draining it properly will be a tenth of the cost of replacing it with more.


Where to get good quality drainage products?

We are one of the UK’s leading suppliers of drainage products. These include drainage pipe in coils, large diameter pipe, twinwall pipe and galvanised pipe. Our drainage products come with the UK’s longest guarantee.

Author: Andy Cotterill