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, October 6, 2014

Dr. Xinhua Jia and her ABEN 484/684 class, Drainage and Wetland Engineering, visited the SARE project site on Saturday, October 4, 2014.

Gerry Zimmerman, far right, explained his subdrainage control structures to the students.

Measuring subirrigation efficiency and uniformity on two subirrigated fields in the Red River Valley

Although subirrigation has proven to be effective in supplying water to crops in Red River Valley, no research has been done to establish the water use efficiency (WUE) and/or uniformity coefficient (UC) for this practice. This project helps quantity the benefits of subirrigation, and shows its effectiveness in supplying water throughout the soil profile, both vertically and horizontally.

There are two SI experimental sites used for this project, one in Richland County, ND and the other in Clay County, MN. The Richland county site is 116 acres with two separate gravity-fed subirrigation system of 4 inch laterals installed at 0.23% grade and 30 ft spacing. The Clay county site is 150 acres with a gravity-fed subirrigation system of 3 inch laterals installed at 0.1% grade and 40 ft spacing. The WUE is determined using in-field soil sampling and in-lab soil moisture determination method. The department faculty, research specialists and students carried out the tedious soil sampling in two fields before and after subirrigation in July and August, 2014.
Left to right, ABEN students Megan and Hannah collected soil samples in a corn field.

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.