story to find out more.
Soil scientist Norm
Fausey collects bottom sediments from a constructed wetland. This wetland,
located alongside a crop field, removes nitrate and sediment from field
drainage water so they won't end up in streams. In dry years, water from the
wetlands can be recycled back onto fields to boost yields. Click the image
for more information about it.
Curbing What Goes Down the Drain
By Don Comis
September 2, 2005
The underground drainage systems that criss-cross much of the U.S.
Corn Belt are about to get a major overhaul to improve both farm efficiency and
The upgrade is important because the same pipes that deserve a lot of
credit for America's agricultural bounty bear some of the blame for carrying
nitrates, phosphorus and other pollutants to waterways such as the Gulf of
Fausey leads the Agricultural Research Service's
Research Unit at Columbus, Ohio. He and ARS agricultural engineers
Allred, along with Ohio State
University-Columbus scientist Larry Brown, are now in the sixth year of
running drainage management studies in northwest Ohio.
Drainage management is a new system of draining water only as needed
for planting and growing crops. Currently, most drainpipes just drain
continuously year-round. With drainage management, control structures allow
farmers to raise or lower the water table in various fields as conditions
warrant. This even gives farmers the option of letting farm fields provide
wetland functions and wildlife habitat for birds and ducks during the
ARS serves on a task force called
Agricultural Drainage Management Systems, that is promoting the field drainage
upgrade. The task force's members are banking on the concept of drainage
management to reduce nitrate losses by at least 30 percent while draining 40 to
60 percent less water. Those numbers, recently reported by the ADMS task force,
come largely from research findings in Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.
ADMS is also considering the idea of creating new wetlands alongside
crop fields to filter contaminants from drainage water. Farmers could store the
filtered water in a reservoir for later reuse during drier parts of the growing
season. Fausey has designed such a system, called a
Reservoir Subirrigation System. He has seen these reuse systems raise corn
yields by more than 45 percent and soybeans by about 40 percent in dry years.
more about this research in the September 2005 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.