Agricultural Drainage Licensing

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 752
Publication Date: 09/2001
Order#: 01-063
Last Reviewed: January 2019
Written by: Sid Vander Veen - Drainage Coordinator/OMAFRA

PDF Version - 153 KB

As part of providing accessible customer service, please email the Agricultural Information Contact Centre ( if you require communication supports or alternate formats of this publication.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of the Legislation
  2. Administration of the Legislation
  3. Exceptions
  4. Inspections and Penalties
  5. For More Information

The installation of tile drainage is a very common land improvement practice among farmers in Ontario. Corrugated plastic tubing, clay and concrete drain tile are installed beneath the surface of agricultural land to drain excess water from the crop root zone. The benefits of tile drainage for crop productivity, farm efficiency, and even for reducing environmental impacts, have been studied and are generally well known to farmers.

In Ontario, the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act regulates the installation of agricultural tile drainage.

Overview of the Legislation

For a tile drainage system to work effectively, it must be carefully and accurately designed and installed. For this purpose, the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act was passed to regulate all businesses, machines and machine operators involved in installing a "drainage works." The official definition of a "drainage works" is "a drainage system constructed of tile, pipe or tubing of any material beneath the surface of agricultural land, including integral inlets and outlets, for the purpose of improving the productivity of the land." If you are a contractor who installs tile drainage on someone else's agricultural land using a tile drainage machine, you must obtain licences.

Administration of the Legislation

The Resources Management Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is responsible for administering the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act. The Branch Director is responsible for issuing, suspending or revoking all licenses under the Act. The Drainage Co-ordinator is responsible for the overall management of the Act. The Drainage Inspector investigates and inspects tile drainage activities in Ontario on an as-needed basis.

OMAFRA produces Publication 29, The Drainage Guide for Ontario, that sets out minimum guidelines on the design and installation of tile drainage systems for all who install tile drainage, including tile drainage contractors.

The Primary and Advanced Drainage Courses, offered annually by OMAFRA, teach course participants to survey fields, design and lay out tile drainage systems and understand the principles necessary to successfully install tile. These courses are a requirement for obtaining some classes of operator's licences.

There are 3 types of licences issued under the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act:

1. The Machine Licence

Each machine used to install tile drainage on agricultural land must be licensed. The licence is usually issued to the business that owns the machine. Different makes and models of agricultural tile drainage machines are tested by OMAFRA to ensure they are capable of installing tile to the grades and depths set out in Publication 29. After a particular model of machine has been tested and approved, any new machines of the approved model may be licensed without further testing.

Sometimes a tile drainage contractor will buy a used machine that has never before been licensed to install tile drainage. Before issuing a license for this machine, it must be inspected, even if it is of an approved make or model.

2. The Operator Licence

Anyone operating a tile drainage machine must have a machine operator licence. There are 3 classes of operator's licences:

  • Class "C" operators are apprentices. They may only operate a tile drainage machine under the constant supervision of a Class "A" operator. To obtain this licence, the applicant must have at least 60 days experience working with a tile drainage business.
  • Class "B" operators are mid-level operators. They may operate tiling machines on their own, provided a Class "A" operator is present and in actual contact at least once every 3-hour period. To upgrade to a Class "B" licence, an individual must have passed the Primary Drainage Course and must have at least 250 hours' experience operating machines as a Class "C" operator.
  • Class "A" operators are experienced operators who can perform all the work necessary to plan and install a tile drainage system. Before an individual can upgrade their Class "B" licence to a Class "A,", they must have passed the Advanced Drainage Course and have at least 500 hours' total experience as a Class "B" or "C" operator, operating a tile drainage machine. They must also pass a field test conducted by the Drainage Inspector.

3. The Business Licence

Every contractor who installs tile drainage systems on agricultural land must have a Business Licence. Before this licence can be issued, the applicant must:

  • employ a Class "A" machine operator
  • own or rent a licensed tile drainage machine

The Drainage Inspector must inspect all applicants applying for a business licence for the first time. This is to ensure that the business has the skills and equipment necessary to install tile drainage systems properly.

Existing tile drainage businesses in Ontario must renew their business licence annually. To renew this licence, they must submit a licence renewal form and record of each tile drainage project installed in the previous year. An inspection is not needed to renew a business licence.


The Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act does not apply in the following situations:

  • the installation of tile drainage systems on non-agricultural land such as golf courses or sports fields
  • the installation of tile drainage systems by an individual on their own property using their own drainage machine
  • the installation of municipal drains constructed under the Drainage Act, since this work is supervised by qualified individuals
  • tile installed by means of a backhoe or other type of machine not specifically intended to install tile drains

Inspections and Penalties

OMAFRA's Drainage Inspector will occasionally inspect the operation of tile drainage businesses and their machines and machine operators. If you have a complaint about the installation of a tile drainage system, discuss it first with the contractor who installed the tile. Direct any unresolved complaints about the workmanship of a licensed tile drainage contractor to the Drainage Co-ordinator. After an inspection and a hearing, if it is determined that a licensed business, machine or operator has committed an offence under the Act, licences may be suspended or revoked.

The Drainage Inspector investigates the installation of tile drainage by unlicensed individuals. When individuals install tile without the needed licences, they may be prosecuted in the courts for offences under the Act. If found guilty, the fine may be up to $2,000 for a first offence. A fine for a second conviction may be as much as $5,000.

For More Information

Publication 29, The Drainage Guide for Ontario, the Handbook of Drainage Principles and the following Factsheets provide more information about tile drainage.

A copy of the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act is available from e-laws. More information on tile drainage is available through the website of the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300