North Dakota State University: Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Dept.

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Our project titled the "Effect of Optimal Water Management for Sustainable and Profitable Crop Production and Improvement of Water Quality in Red River Valley" is funded through the Sustainable Agricultural Research & Education (SARE) grant.

Monday, February 24, 2014

NDSU Extension Subsurface Drainage Design & Water Management Workshop (Wahpeton, ND)

On February 11th and 12th the annual NDSU Extension Subsurface Drainage Design & Water Management Workshop was held in Wahpeton, ND.  Attending and presenting at this workshop were personnel from NDSU including Dr. Xinhua Jia, Dr. Tom Scherer, Dr. Hans Kandel, and John Nowatzki, along with the collaborating farmer for the SARE project (Gerry Zimmerman).   

This workshop help bring light to the recent increase in subsurface drainage (tile drainage) installation along with stressing the potential gain from designing a subsurface drainage system that can be retrofitted for subirrigation.  By doing this a landowner can not only better manage their crop during wet periods (typical in the Red River Valley), but also better manage their crop during dry periods (i.e. 2012 growing season in the Red River Valley).  One of the key things about subirrigating, however, is the importance of keeping up with crop water demands because once a person falls behind (i.e. soil moisture deficit becomes too large) it is very hard to deliver enough water that will keep up with crop water needs and replenish the soil water content.   As Gerry Zimmerman noted in an article published by the Grand Forks Herald, “We need to start pumping water into it earlier and storing it, and trying to keep that water table up instead of trying to play catch-up with it…”.

The following is the link to an article published by the Grand Forks Herald and written by Mikkel Pates on February 18th, 2014.

Friday, January 17, 2014

MN Drainage Conference (Dec. 5th in Alexandria, MN)

On Thursday December 5th  Dr. Xinhua Jia presented her research results from previous and current projects related to subsurface drainage/irrigation.  Dr. Jia presented these results at the 2013 Annual Meeting and Tradeshow held by the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts (MAWD) in Alexandria, MN. 

In addition to presenting results/findings from her projects, Dr. Xinhua Jia, along with two of her graduate students (Kelsey Kolars and Kyle Horntvedt), helped to set up, explain, and demonstrate subsurface drainage/irrigation through the use of a couple 3D models which allowed the team and observers to physically change the state of the system to simulate field conditions (i.e. high water tables which induce drainage, low water tables which allow for irrigation, controlled drainage which helps to manage the water table at a specific depth).   The props were aimed to help landowners/farmers  better understand the principles behind subsurface drainage/irrigation and the specific properties of water which make subsurface drainage/irrigation such a success (i.e. the ability to manage the groundwater/water table).

Dr. Xinhua Jia demonstrating how the model works

Dr. Xinhua Jia describing how the water tanks (clear blue containers) represent a sump located in the field
Front view of two models used to describe/demonstrate subsurface drainage/irrigation
All smiles around the subsurface drainage/irrigation models


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Harvest [2013]

The farmers are harvesting their crops, which means that our team has been spending a lot of time out in the field moving and re-positioning sensors and observation wells as well as collecting yield data.

Below is a picture of a few of our team members, Dr. Xinhua Jia, Dr. Dongqing Lin, and Debjit Roy (doctoral student), walking in the soon to be harvested soybean field.  On this day the task was to lower our water table observation wells about a foot below ground so that they were not damaged during harvest.

Left to right Dr. Lin, Dr. Jia, Debjit Roy in the soybean field before harvest.

Burying of water table observation wells.

In addition to moving and re-positioning our equipment/sensors our team has also been collecting yield information by looking at the yield from various 10 ft. x two row wide sections at each plot.

Currently, we are waiting for the corn fields to be harvested, but in the meantime we are processing and analyzing this years data!

Monday, September 23, 2013

SARE Field Tour 9/13/2013

The SARE field tour consisted of about 40 attendees, some of which included Larry Luick (ND state senator), local farmers, representatives from local agencies (State Water Commission, NRCS, etc.), and representatives from nearby companies (Houston Engineering, Ellingson Companies, etc.).

The start of the day consisted of a brief overview of the project on North Dakota State University (NDSU) campus and then turned toward visiting the research site out in Moorhead, MN.
Dr. Tom Scherer talking about the SARE project
At the research site attendees where brought to both the drainage outlet and subirrigaiton sites (shown below).
Drainage outlet - consists of three controlled drainage structures which help  monitor three individual sections of the farm plot.
Gerry Zimmerman (the farmer) describes his setup of the three controlled drainage structures.
Dr. Xinhua Jia describing the subirrigation system located on the opposite side of the county drainage ditch.
After visiting the research site attendees were brought back to NDSU for some organized group discussion which consisted of three groups, each with a different question (i.e. each group talked about a different issue associated with tile drainage and water management).

Blue group - Kelsey (M.S. student) took notes

Red group - Debjit (Doctorate student) took notes

Green group - Kyle (M.S. student) took notes
After the group discussions summaries were made by each group and shared with the entire room.
Red group summaries

Blue group summaries

Green group summaries
After the group summaries additional discussion occurred, questions were taken, and the day came to an end!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Drained vs. Undrained fields

Thus far we have talked quite a bit about our subirrigated corn fields, but we also have two soybean fields (one that is subsurface drained and one that is undrained) which have provided some interesting comparisons between drained and undrained fields.

Some key points to note about the two soybean fields are:
  • Similar soil series amongst two fields
  • Same preceding crop (corn)
  • Same variety of soybean is grown in both fields
  • Relatively same location (two fields are about 1/2 mile apart)
Even though we are still in the process of collecting/analyzing data we can still visually see differences between the subsurface drained and undrained fields.  Below are pictures of the undrained and subsurface drained fields.

Undrained soybean field.  Water logged soils at the beginning of the growing season may have been a contributor to the stunted growth/development of the crop
Subsurface drained soybean field.
A person can easily see, from the photos, that the subsurface drained crop (bottom photo) is much taller/fuller than the undrained crop (top photo).  Hence, supporting the use of subsurface drainage in the Red River Valley.

Monday, August 12, 2013


The subirrigation system has been running for almost two weeks and our team is busy attaching various sensors to help estimate irrigation amounts/efficiencies.  The subirrigation system uses the pressure head created in the tank to push the subirrigation water uphill, in the main, and then uses the downhill gradient of the laterals to move the water by gravity.  Below are a couple pictures of the subirrigation system.

Subirrigation system.  Far right- control box, center-tank, left- manifold.

Subirrigation manifold.   The two white PVC lines supply water to two individual sections at the research site.

Thus far, a variable rate current sensor, time-logged cameras, and flow meters (attached to the manifold and individual PVC) have allowed us to better determine when the irrigation system is running, the amount of water being delivered to the system, and the amount of water being delivered to each section of the field.

Below is a picture of a graduate student, Kyle H., preparing a section of PVC, with a pre-attached flow meter, so that we can better estimate the amount of water delivered to a specific section of the field.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ASABE 2013 Annual International Meeting

The 2013 ASABE Annual International Meeting was held July 22-24th.  Here Kelsey presented her poster titled:
Using Eddy Covariance, Soil Water Balance, and Photosynthetically Active Radiation Methods for Corn Evapotranspiration Measurements in the Red River Valley
And Kyle presented his poster titled:
Methods, Techniques, and Considerations for Subirrigation Practices in the Red River Valley of the North

In addition to presenting at the ASABE Soil & Water poster session, Kelsey and Kyle each wrote a paper (available online to ASABE members) which covers, in depth, the keypoints of their poster.