One of the top priorities every fall is to make sure that existing drains or ditches are clean. That means we remove any silt that might have settled in the drain over the summer or over multiple years. Where possible, we use our scraper to clean drains. That is a tool that is pulled behind a tractor and scoops the silt from the drain and then we dump the good black dirt on hilltops to try to improve productivity there. When it's not possible for us to get our scraper into the drain, then we call in the professionals - the excavators.
We were able to do a fair amount of ditch maintenance this fall because of the mild weather for most of October and November. Our scraper ran daily. But due to wet conditions or steep banks on ditches we weren't able to get the scraper everywhere. We hired two different excavators to clean ditches that will help alleviate water problems for years to come. Below is a video of Brent cleaning a ditch that hadn't been maintained for years. You can see as he clears the silt the water begins to flow more freely. It's fun to see immediate results like that.
Farmers aren't allowed to dig drains wherever they please. In order to participate in the US Farm Program, farmers must only maintain drains that were existing prior to the Swampbuster provisions of the 1985 Farm Bill. The purpose of those provisions was to remove certain incentives to raise crops on converted wetlands. If a farmer doesn't comply with those provisions, they could be removed from the farm program and become ineligible to receive a subsidy for crop insurance. There are some farmers who have left the farm program in order to have free reign when it comes to drainage.
We work very closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), county water boards, and our neighbors whenever we begin any significant drain maintenance projects. In our experience, collaboration on such projects is much more likely to result in a beneficial outcome for the long-term.