Search underway for Extension drainage specialist

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

A search is currently underway to identify the perfect candidate to be a drainage specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service. The position will be supported partly by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA).

The University hopes to fill the position before long, according to Greg Cuomo, Associate Dean for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Cuomo takes part in the work of a search team led by Professor John Moncrief. Among those actively involved include Riley Maanum, MCGA research and project manager and the MCGA production stewardship team.

The idea to create this drainage specialist position supported by public-private partnership arose in discussions of the Corn Growers’ production stewardship team. The team is overseeing a number of research projects that determine how nutrients flow through drainage tile systems.

According to Cuomo, this new specialist would join a team of University professors who are working together to maximize knowledge about farm drainage systems and develop best management practices. Prof. Jeff Gonsolus heads the team, which also includes Prof. Dan Kaiser and Prof. Gary Sands.

This new Extension Educator would provide technical assistance regarding drainage to producers, but another aspect of the job will be communicating with the general public about the value of agricultural drainage.

Not only is drainage an important part of our farm economy and our success, but there’s also a need to let the general public know why drainage is necessary,” said Steve Sodeman, an MCGA director, a member of the production stewardship team and a crop consultant by trade. “The need for drainage is something this Extension Educator will be able to talk about with our city cousins. The score is 98-2–with only about two percent of Minnesotans involved in agriculture. The two percent is the people who need access to the latest information about drainage systems. But it’s so important to also explain it to the 98 percent, because there is so much misinformation, and drainage is so often talked about in negative terms by people who don’t know.”

Farmers have worked for decades to enhance soil conservation, and appropriate drainage actually enhances the ability of farm acres to retain their rich soils. “Tile systems keep more soil in place,” said Sodeman. “Well-designed drainage creates a sponge effect that allows a farm acre to hold more water. If you have a natural waterway in the valley of field, put tile in that –that is a strategy that has proven very effective for reducing erosion.”

Maintaining adequate drainage on existing farm lands keeps them more productive. The higher yield allowed through drainage is part of the equation that helps farmers meet growing demand for their crops, while keeping marginal lands in conservation programs and not bringing new acreage into production unnecessarily.

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