Adding technology to farm drainage

POCAHONTAS — Luft and Sons Farm Drainage, Inc. of Pocahontas has a long history behind them in the tiling business and most recently, they have begun pairing that knowledge with cutting edge technology.

There are several benefits to utilizing these new methods, but Jeff and Jake Luft with Luft and Sons Farm Drainage, Inc. both agree it is the accuracy and efficiency of the tile plan that is made in-office as a major one.

“You can see the whole big picture,” said Jake Luft.

“For years, Dad and I would drive around with a truck, look out and give a guess,” said Jeff Luft. “I can give them an estimate now and as long as the outlet or some major thing on the farm has not had its own issue, the price will not change. We can guarantee our pricing, which in my opinion is big, because for years, nobody has done that. We were guessing. Now we can be very accurate.”

Starting with a plan

The Lufts utilize an Iowa LIDAR (light detection and ranging) map that detects elevations. During a consultation, once a landowner decides on which farm they would like to possibly tile, they are able to download that piece of their land and LIDAR shows the farm’s topography and elevation of the farm.

“We mainly use it for designing,” said Jeff Luft. “Once we have a design, we have a price.”

Once the project is sold, Jeff Luft said they will then take a vehicle to the field for a more accurate read of the topography.

“We solidify the design,” said Jeff Luft. “We drive the entire field back and forth and measure the height. We then put that on the program again and make sure our design is going to work.”

Those measurements are put into Trimble Ag Software’s Farm Works program.

“With Farm Works you can design a farm from start to finish,” said Jeff Luft. “Farmers can see it, you can show them where the tile needs to go with a very accurate bid.”

Once the digging starts, what can a farmer expect from that bid?

“There will be very little changes,” said Jake Luft. “The only thing we can’t do from the office is dig up existing outlets and existing tile — that is the only thing that might tweak the design.”

Once the map is made, the plan is plugged into the excavator and the operator can get that machine to the right line and begin working — much more efficient than before.

“We used to mark the lines with flags, then we went to a tractor with a single tooth and marked our lines with that — like drawing in the field,” said Jake Luft. “Now we don’t do any of that, it is all on the screen.”

It is not uncommon for a landowner to come into Luft and Sons Farm Drainage, Inc., with a plan in mind, but once they see their field tile design, will reconsider.

“I talk to customers that wanted to put 20 lines in and they will end up pattern tiling the whole field,” said Jeff Luft. “Getting the whole field done is when you start seeing 30 bushels or more an acre every year.”

There are other benefits to using the new technology as well — including how the tile is installed.

“By using this technology, we can plow in both directions, which very few contractors are doing at this point,” said Jeff Luft.

“We get the information on the screen, the plow syncs to the ground, it plows downhill to the main that we installed, knowing the depth of the main; plows inches over the top of it, changes directions and goes up hill, gets to the other end and comes back the other way.”

This technique allows for them to get the job done faster and is essentially more efficient for the farmer as well.

“We are hooking everything into the top side of that main,” said Jake Luft.

“Before, we used to find our mains, and then dig our connections. When we dug our connections, we used to go to the side of the tile and hook into it,” said Jake Luft. “Now, we are plowing over the top of it, so we are actually hooking into the top of the main which keeps your water going out faster for higher drainage co-efficiency.”

A design for the entire field

Oftentimes, landowners think they just need to fix one problem area, however, what they think was a solution, actually was not.

“That is my biggest pet peeve, when a customer tells me a field really doesn’t need tile right there. That hits me. That doesn’t exist,” said Jeff Luft. “You fertilize your entire farm, if you want to take something that is only getting 80 bushels to the acre and try to fix it, why not take something that is getting 180 bushels to the acre and turn it to 250 bushels. Those 80 bushel spots may still drown out, but look how much better your higher yielding areas are.”

One specific customer, Jeff Luft said came in for a consult. They brought up his farm and he pointed out that he had pattern tiled the four worse spots on his farm — where he thought he needed it.

“But, he didn’t tile on the side hill where he said he already gets 200 bushels there. That is why he hasn’t seen the yields. He took the worse spots of his farm and pattern tiled it. When you take the entire farm and pattern tile, you will see the yield differences that average out to 25 bushels,” said Jeff Luft. “You don’t just apply insecticide where you only see a couple of bugs. You do it all.”

Landowners think they are saving money by only spot tiling — but they may be wrong.

“They saw one problem they wanted to fix. They run four lines in a direction and put in 4,000 feet. They ran lines through the low to fix that problem, not even realizing up the hill more was another problem,” said Jeff Luft. “When I design a farm from start to finish, I do it the most efficient, and cost effective way — we look at the whole project. This is what I sell to these customers.”

“The water table itself is the root of the issue,” said Jake Luft. “You have to lower the entire water table down and you don’t achieve that by just selecting five acres to tile.”

By starting with an entire project design, Jeff Luft said they can then decide if they want to do an entire farm or start their project in a specific area of the field.

“The project is designed and it is done and that way they can say they only want to spend $10,000 or $20,000 this year, but you have the full picture, you can look at one area to start, that way you are not spending more in the long run,” he said.

Yield advantages

The Lufts believe a 20% increase in yields is pretty common after a completed project.

“On average, 25 to 27 inches of rain a year is what Iowa gets and on a year like that, the 20% is very conservative even,” said Jake Luft.

Jeff Luft said the three years leading up to last year brought even higher yields for those producers that had a proper tiling system installed.

“We had multiple customers tell us they had between 50 to 70 bushel increase on the farm compared to one that has not been pattern tiled,” he said. “We had guys that had patterned tiled half of their 160 acres. They called us and said they had a 70 bushel difference in that one field.”

Keeping up with technology

The Lufts pride themselves on remaining educated and open to utilizing the new methods to be able to provide the best job for their customers.

“We are not the only guys doing it, but I would say we are as on top of the technology as you can possibly be,” said Jake Luft.

“We stay up to date and we are as probably as up to date as you get,” said Jeff Luft. “We believe in the product. I talk to other contractors on a regular basis, they want to know how we have these bigger jobs. You have to believe in your product so much your customer does too.”

Jeff Luft believes tile contractors need to stay up on technology just like producers have had to.

“Depending on the contractor, some guys are stuck in their ways, they don’t change, they don’t move up the technology. If farmers didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be as efficient,” he said. “We try to stay up to date with the most efficient technology out there to benefit our customers.”

And with no regrets.

“We have never had anybody say they wished they wouldn’t have tiled,” said Jake Luft.


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