An innovative project managed by University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Jeff Strock could help farmers boost yields while also improving water quality.
Later this summer, Strock will oversee the installation of an on-farm storage pond on a farm in Southwestern Minnesota. Surface and subsurface drainage water will be diverted to the pond instead of nearby waterways. Later in the summer, the water can be used for irrigation when thirsty crops need it most.
“This project has both agronomic and environmental benefits,” Strock said. “We’re trying to use some of that water on the fields that might otherwise end up in the river and conserve nutrients like nitrate.”
The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and complements other corn farmer-funded research Strock and the U of M conduct that addresses ag water quantity and quality. The project is one of eight nationwide that received a $5 million USDA grant earlier this year.
The goal is to store 4 million gallons of water in the pond and use it to irrigate 50-100 acres. How much water is stored and how much is needed for irrigation depends on Mother Nature.
For example, in June of 2014, an area in eastern Redwood County received 14 inches of rain in June. That’s a lot of rain in a short period of time, meaning a good amount of that water left the field and didn’t nourish the crop.
With the storage pond, some of that excess moisture can be captured before it spills into nearby waterways. Later in the summer when the weather dries up, that excess water can be used on crops.
“Farmers want to produce more bushels, but water is limited in areas of Minnesota, especially in the Western part of the state,” Strock said. “We’re looking at on-farm storage as a move into the future for farmers to both increase production and improve water quality.”