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USDA and LSU Embark on New Sugarcane Drainage Research

By Jill Lee
May 10, 1999

BATON ROUGE, La. , May 10--The USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Louisiana State University Agricultural Center today begin a long-term research project to evaluate pump-enhanced underground drainage for sugarcane fields as a tool for preventing farm chemical run-off.

"Sugarcane growers are coming under increasing pressure to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer and other farm chemicals leaving their fields and entering streams and lakes," said ARS agricultural engineer James L. Fouss, who heads the project for the agency's Soil and Water Research Unit in Baton Rouge. "A controlled subsurface drainage system allows rainwater to infiltrate the soil and thus reduces runoff from the land, so agrochemicals and topsoil stay in the field where they belong."

The project will allow scientists to evaluate water run off rates from fields with traditionally farmed crops compared to the new method. This could help sugarcane growers learn how well their familiar practices work in pollution control.

"The project will be conducted on a 16-acre site at the university's Sugarcane Research Station in St. Gabriel, La.," said Larry Rogers, vice chancellor and experiment station director of LSU's Ag Center. "Today, area sugarcane growers will have an opportunity to tour the site, see subsurface drains installed and ask questions of researchers from ARS and LSU."

Two-thirds of the research site will have the subsurface drainage system of corrugated plastic pipe--allowing for improved drainage to remove excess soil-water, but also allowing the water back into the soil by sub-irrigation. The remainder of the site will use only traditional surface drainage.

There has been some resistance to the technology because of the expense to install such a system--$450 an acre. But growers are also aware that the pumping system enhances yields and that it would also protect them from getting their harvesting equipment stuck in mud during rainy growing seasons. The environmental protection, however, may be an added reason for growers to consider this irrigation and drainage technology. An agricultural economist will be part of the project's team and will explore ways to make its use more cost effective.

Scientific contact: James L. Fouss or Ted S. Kornecki, ARS Soil and Water Research Unit, Baton Rouge, La., phone (225) 382-2089, fax (225) 389-0327, or Larry Rodgers, Louisiana State University Ag Center, Baton Rouge, La., phone (225) 388-4181,