Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Old tricks and new materials make drainage easier

The first step in the process of tacking the 50ac block at Ballydugan was to clean out the drains that surrounded the paddocks.

The first step in the process of tacking the 50ac block at Ballydugan was to clean out the drains that surrounded the paddocks.

"This is peaty land here which will grow loads of grass when it is well drained but all the infrastructure needs to be in place to get that to happen," explained local contractor Seamus Doyle.

Along with his digger driver, Ciaran Dolan, Mr Doyle almost doubled the depth of the drains. "We just left the digger working away on its own for a week or so and Ciaran stock-piled the silt and stone in heaps in the paddocks along the drains.

"That saved having a tractor and trailer tied up waiting for the digger to do its work," said Mr Doyle. "It's impossible to say exactly what this was costing per metre. Some stretches you'd be flying, but others required us to strip back trees and bushes that were over-hanging the drains. You have to remember that it could have been 30 years since some of these were last tackled.

"I charged Seamus €40/hr plus VAT, but the VAT is reclaimable on this type of work, even for a farmer that is not VAT registered," said Mr Doyle.

"Over the 50ac, we did about €4,000 of work with the digger over the space of about three or four weeks. That includes the digging we also did for laying new drains."

Mr Quigley decided to try a new type of pipe from local merchant, Connacht Agri.

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"It's basically a plastic mesh covered in a kind of fleece sleeve that doesn't require stone around it when you are laying it. It costs €2.95/m, which is a hell of a lot more expensive than standard pipe at something closer to €0.80/m.

"You think you're going to save a lot of money on labour because there's no requirement to have an additional tractor in the field with a hopper offloading stone into the drain around the pipe.

"But I actually found the laying of these new pipes quite labour intensive because they only come in 3m lengths and joining them all up takes time.


"The real advantage for me of the Connacht Agri pipe is that it meant that there was less tramping of the land when the work was going on.

"To be honest, we mightn't have been able to get it done when conditions got soft again, so I am happy that we went with it," said Mr Quigley.

While he laid 1,200m of the Connacht Agri pipe, Mr Quigley also ended up laying 600m of the conventional type because the supplier ran out of stock. The conventional pipe was laid with 20mm broken stone.

"The stone was costing about €9/t coming from a local quarry and we used about 60t on the 600m – so about 100kg of stone per metre or about €0.90/m. And that was without laying any stone under the pipe as I felt there was enough gravel at the 0.3-1m depth that we were working at," he said.

During the course of clearing the ditch drains, the outlets of existing shore drains were exposed. These ran horizontally across the paddocks, but many were blocked at various points across the field.

To solve this, Mr Quigley laid the new drains at a 30-degree angle to the existing drains. In this way, the new drains were able to channel water away from existing blocked drains where it cut across them.

"The effect was immediate, with huge flows of water emerging into the ditches for days after the work was completed.

"We only targeted the wet areas in the fields with these drains, so it's not as if we've covered 50ac uniformly with new drains," said Mr Quigley. On the rest of the land, Mr Quigley used a combination of much cheaper, albeit more temporary, measures.

The first of these was a single-leg mole plough with a large 100mm bore that was used in the areas where there was ponding due to severe poaching over the last few years.

"It wasn't the ideal time of the year to do something like that because the ground probably wasn't dry enough to get a shattering effect. But it did the job nicely for me because it cut a deep slot that allowed the water that had been lying there for the last 12 months to get away," said Mr Quigley.

Mr Quigley also decided to try a machine that his brothers had previously been using on their farms in Tipperary.

"It's an aerator built here in Galway called an Alstrong. While my brothers were using it to get air into the rooting systems of their grass, I thought it would allow water to get away a bit easier from the surface of the ground.

"It just makes slots about three or four inches deep about a foot or two apart. I hired it out for a day and got 90ac covered, so I think it is faster than a Tanco machine and it does a bit of rolling too.

"To be honest, I'm delighted with how it worked because I can really see the difference in wetness between the paddocks that were done and those that weren't.

"I think it's a whole area that we need more independent research on to quantify the benefits of using these types of machines."


Mr Quigley opted for a much deeper till than normal for his reseed because he wanted to be able to level out humps and hollows throughout the fields.

"These were fields that we couldn't really go in with a topper because they were so rough.

"There was also an underlying issue of poaching, so I felt a deeper till than just tickling the top of the ground was required," he explained.

Contractor Seamus Doyle outlined the difference that different tilling options have on the final cost of reseeding.

"If you just stitch in seed with a Guttler-type machine, it'll cost about €35/ac.

"But with the newer high sugar grasses, a machine like the Vredo might be more suitable since it places the seed a little deeper and the bands of seed are closer together," he said.

"If you want to use a one-pass with a harrow, you're talking about €70/ac but the disc plough is the job if you need to correct poaching or level the land a bit.

"That adds another €30/ac onto the job."

Irish Independent