Drainage Management Systems
Few things can make or break a cropping season like flood and drought. These two water-related events are at the core of many drainage and irrigation decisions.
Tile lines in the riverbed of Lake Agassiz may help keep salts in water tables from affecting cropland.
In a recent study, Laura Christianson, assistant professor of water quality in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, and several colleagues looked at whether they could remove phosphorus in woodchip bioreactors by adding a special "P-filter" designed to trap the fertilizer-derived pollutant. The team tested two types of industrial waste products in the P-filters: acid mine drainage treatment residual (MDR) and steel slag. 
We see the impact of phosphorus and nitrogen losses to waterways every summer in bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie. Although other environmental elements and human inputs are factors, the runoff from farmers’ fields has always been viewed as the primary culprit.
A multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Antonio Mallarino, professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, has completed two years of a long-term field study to better understand the impacts of cover crops on nutrient loss with surface runoff.
At last fall’s International Drainage Symposium in Minneapolis, scientists with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) presented a study on soil fertility, water quality and its relationship with tile depth and spacing.
A year after a plan to tackle residual phosphorus loss from farmland into the Thames River was developed, the Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative (TRPRC) is being put into action in Ontario. This is thanks to a grant from the Agricultural Adaptation Council through federal-provincial-territorial Growing Forward 2 funding programs, with matching contributions from participating organizations.
Since 2011, the majority of corn producers in Illinois have followed the recommended maximum return to nitrogen (MRN) application guidelines. More than half of all farmers are either knowledgeable or very knowledgeable about the “4R” strategy (right nutrient source at the right rate, in the right place and at the right time).
As more and more farmers, politicians and laypeople are coming to understand, nutrient run-off from farm fields into waterways is a very big deal.
With snow on the ground, crews late last year finished the first of many water-quality projects expected in the headwaters of Root River’s south branch in eastern Mower County, according to the Mower Soil & Water Conservation District (MSWCD). The MSWCD led construction of a two-basin terrace system to control water and sediment on a Clayton Township farm field as part of the second phase of the Root River Field to Stream Partnership led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Work involved building two berms – each berm at least the length of two football fields – to hold and filter storm water running off about 20 acres of crop land. With the basins, sediment and phosphorus losses are expected to be reduced by more than 50 per cent from the 20-acre field, said Kevin Kuehner, project lead with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). Six other basins could be built in the next two years in the 2,800-acre watershed study area in Mower County along with thousands of feet of grass waterways planned for this year’s planting season. Started in 2009, Field to Stream uses innovative equipment and technology to monitor sediment and nutrient runoff from farm fields and to study streams receiving storm water. Information collected during the project’s initial six-year phase provided farmers with baseline data to better understand the effects of their existing conservation practices. Farmers learned when soil and nutrient losses were happening and how much was leaving their field to enter nearby waterways. Monitoring continues at these sites as the second phase begins. | READ MORE
Green Aero Tech uses high-tech drones with topographical accuracy to find areas that require drainage. A web interface allows users to switch between elevation, drainage and visible maps. While the company can provide a drainage plan, a prescription map must be provided by a qualified drainage contractor. | READ MORE
When Matt Schwarz, an environmental contaminants specialist with the South Dakota Ecological Services Field Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), noticed more and more farms installing drainage systems, he began to wonder what impact this might be having on the area’s wetlands.
The Transforming Drainage project is capitalizing on the network established during our first year with new research to advance our understanding of drainage water storage systems (e.g. controlled drainage, saturated buffers, and drainage water recycling), foundations for innovative tools, and continued outreach to stakeholders across the Midwest.
Patience is wearing thin in some communities because of water quality problems linked to the loss of crop nutrients from agricultural land and other sources. The city of Des Moines, IA, is moving ahead with a lawsuit against three of the state’s highly agricultural counties that manage drainage districts traced to high concentrations of nitrates in the Raccoon River, a major source of drinking water for the city.
In the hallways at Land Improvement Contractors of America (LICA) conventions, outside the classrooms of drainage workshops, and during informal conversations amongst contractors and vendors, the topics of RTK-GPS accuracy and plow capabilities are frequently discussed.
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