Transforming the mindset around farm drainage

Jane Frankenberger

Jane Frankenberger. Photo by Vincent Walter.

03/03/2016 |

Corn grows during only five months of the year, and drainage is essential to its growth. The other seven months while cornfields are empty, water and nutrients continue to drain away from farms. That’s a long-accepted farming practice, but it’s also harmful environmentally. With $5 million from the United States Department of Agriculture, Jane Frankenberger is devising resources and tools to help with water drainage problems.

There are two main problems, says Frankenberger, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering. One, drainage releases nitrate into waterways, which can harm humans and animals.
Two, water supplies are inconsistent. Even in humid states, there are often reductions in crop yields because there isn’t enough water at critical times. These problems are expected to worsen with climate change. To combat both issues, Frankenberger is investigating ways to retain water from
farm fields through new types of drainage systems, saturated buffers and reservoirs.

“Our goal is to transform the mindset around drainage, Frankenberger says: “Instead of just draining everything off, you actually hold it, and just drain during the parts of the year that
you need to.”

– Sarah Anderson
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