Ensuring that your drainage system is working efficiently is a key component in maintaining soil health and productivity.

Drainage systems require annual maintenance and investment to ensure they are working effectively and if left to degrade, saturated land will ultimately reduce yields and result in soil erosion, which in turn reduces soil health and quality of the ground.

Heriot-based farmer, Henry Hutchinson, is rediscovering the advantages of effective land drainage and securing the full potential of his land.

He and his family moved to Falahill Farm, in January, 2017, the working acres of which is comprised of around 1470 acres split into 160 acres of woodland, 650 acres of arable rotation and 820 acres of permanent pasture grass, as well as being home to 200 suckler cows and 1250 breeding sheep.

“We grow gluten-free winter and spring oats for human consumption, which is sold to John Hogarth Kelso, for Nairns Oatcakes,” commented Henry.

After discovering that some of his land was unusable due to poor drainage systems, Henry sought the help of some drainage specialists.

“Leslie Dick and Sons Drainage Contractors came recommended from a neighbour. I wanted a business that were competent and knew the job. They’ve never been a problem and always fixed the job at hand, with quality results,” Henry stated.

The contractors carried out some experimental work in the fields in question earlier this year and it soon became apparent that part of it wasn’t drained at all or what drainage system was there, was either not running correctly or completely out-dated.

“The field is south facing and sat in a lot of rushes, which reduced the quality of the grass, so the contractors located the problem and started installing a new system from scratch,” he commented.

The new system installed is comprised of an 80ml lateral drainage system, with 10-yard spacings over 25 acres of mixed loam soil. “The grassland isn’t as intense as the arable ground, so I like to think that as soon as the new drainage system is in the ground, it pays for itself as the drains should work for a 40-year lifespan.”

Henry is working on a 10-year turnaround, with the field being reseeding, limed and squared up to help improve the quality of grass for grazing livestock. “In terms of yield, went from having no land to instant production. We did a lot of soil samples and discovered that we were running on 5.6 pH so the field needed calcium liming desperately and it was pointless to start doing that until the drainage was right,” Henry stated.

“I hope now that the field has been drained, that we will spot treat it in the spring and this time next year, we can outwinter lambs and try finish them on it.”

Henry has had drainage work carried out beforehand, in 2018, on a 50-acre arable field, where 12 acres had never been touched by the previous owner.

“As soon as the contractors installed a new system, we sowed some oats and the ground was instantly productive. We will be coming up to our third harvest on this field, with the new system having paid for itself this coming harvest,” he added.

“The payback on the arable field is realistically working on six-year plan, however, if I didn’t take into consideration the growing of the crop, then that field would’ve generated enough money to pay for the drainage bill by now.”

“We invested in new drainage systems to purely make use of ground that we couldn’t beforehand and after taking Falahill on, we had to make every acre work and get most out of the land,” Henry concluded.