Managing agricultural water in a changing climate

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

More than 30% of agricultural lands in the midwestern U.S. have subsurface drainage systems in place to remove excess water from soils.  This technology allows aeration of the soil, better conditions for plant root development, and trafficable conditions for field operations, all of which have increased the productivity of farms. In any given year, however, this farmland is at risk to both flooding and drought, and projections of future climate change indicate that the Midwest is expected to experience more intense rainfall events along with an increased chance of drought. A research team led by professor Jane Frankenberger (Agricultural and Biological Engineering) is investigating the impact of retrofitting subsurface drainage systems for irrigation in times of water need.

In a changing climate, Midwest farmers are increasingly faced with both too much and too little water in a single growing season. Subsurface drainage systems have the potential benefit of addressing both issues.  Retrofitting subsurface drains supplies water directly to crop root zones while also allowing for more efficient removal of excess water in response to large rainfall events. The research team used computer models to study the effects of this subirrigation practice on corn yields under historic and projected future climate conditions. Overall, their findings show that crop yield increases can be expected with subirrigation practice—on suitable soils—and may help alleviate the impacts of climate change.

Gunna, K. M., W. J. Baule, J. R. Frankenberger, D. L. Gamble, B. J. Allred, J. A. Andresen, L. C. Brown (2018). Modeled climate change impacts on subirrigated maize relative yield in northwest Ohio. Agricultural Water Management, 206, pp.56-66.

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