CLARION - One of the downsides to tiling a farm field is that during a dry year, such as 2012, it would have been nice to have some of that drained water in the soil for thirsty row crops.
The ag students at Clarion-Goldfield High School, during November, convinced themselves that there is something that can be done in future dry seasons to keep water in tiled fields.
During a class discussion of drainage water management, conducted by guest speaker Bruce Voights, of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, housed in Clarion, class members said they wanted to build a model system that producers could control for keeping more water in their fields, yet could release the water during heavy rains or other times in the season.
-Messenger photo by Larry Kershner
Gavin Disney, in yellow, discusses with two dozen vistors on Monday how the drainage water management system can be used to retain water in tiled fields during dry seasons. Disney is a junior at Clarion-Goldfield High School.
-Messenger photo by Larry Kershner
DISNEY DEMONSTRATES how blocks are used to dam the flow of tile water in fields for row crops during dry seasons. The water can also be released during heavy rain events, or to dry soils prior to any field work. The water in the clear tubes was dyed blue for the demonstration.
Starting on Nov. 1, several class members set to work on the system. Picking up NRCS funding for materials, and technical assistance from Agri Drain, in Adair, which provided float control devices from its Smart Drainage System, they pieced together a simulated field drainage system, installed the control devices and turned on the water.
There were some leaks and some technical tweaks needed, but by Monday night, they had a working simulation to demonstrate to about two dozen people in the school's ag shop.
CGHS senior Matt Odland said class members' interest in drainage water management was piqued by Voights' talk and a video.
"You can make anything look like it works with a video," Odland said. "But we wanted to see that it works."
Besides, he added, "It's something different than taking notes."
Team member Gavin Disney, junior, said he was skeptical at the outset.
"I didn't think the structure could back up a field's water," Disney said. "But now I'm convinced this is going to work."we've ever been historically," Hain said.
At a recent Iowa farmland auction, the bidders didn't need much encouragement to go after the 169 acres of Bremer County farmland that carried a solid corn suitability rating of 87.
The winning bid of $15,700 per acre for the land Alvin and Maxine Walther's family was selling came from neighboring farmer Ken Eggena just 30 minutes after the auction started.
Duane Walter was one of six children who watched their parents' farmland sell.
"Dad bought the first parcel of land for $100 per acre in 1946," Walther said. "Mom died earlier this year, and we are settling the estate. I just think of Dad up there, and he must be amazed at the price of the land."
The tax worries and the current high prices are likely adding to the land sales, University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural economist Bruce Johnson said, but anyone selling land should realize they may not be able to make as much money by investing the windfall as they were making with the farmland.
"So you do sell and avoid that capital gains tax, what are you going to do with the proceeds of that sale to generate similar returns?" Johnson said.
The brisk pace of sales hasn't seemed to diminish farmland prices, especially for irrigated land in Iowa and Nebraska.
In October, the sale of a Sioux County, Iowa, farm set a new state record of $21,900 per acre.
Johnson said a recent sale in York County, Neb., where farmland drew $16,900 per acre was likely a new record for Nebraska. That sale of 161 acres drew $2.72 million total.
Hain said it appears that the trend of increasing farmland prices will continue, but a market correction could happen suddenly.
Auctioneer Troy Louwagie of the Hertz Farm Management Co. said land prices stayed high this year despite the drought because many farmers ended up with better yields than expected.
"When the drought hit last summer, who would have believed that land prices would stay this high?" Louwagie said.
The demand for Iowa farmland is so strong that even less attractive, sandy land is commanding relatively high prices. One family recently sold a sandy 136-acre parcel near Madrid for $6,200 an acre. That price may not set records, but it's still better than the 2010 Iowa average price of $5,064 per acre.