- Agronomic: corn, soybeans
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: extension, technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Natural Resources/Environment: riparian buffers
- Pest Management: chemical control
- Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures
The environmental cost associated with agricultural drainage has caused concern for water quality in the Midwest and other regions. Drainage water management is an alternative drainage practice being developed that can utilize existing drainage systems to improve crop yield, reduce nitrate loss and drainage water loss from fields. This project will assess the impact of drainage water management on increasing crop available water, reducing nitrate loss and reducing tile outflow from drained fields, through paired-field studies on three farms in Indiana. The short-term outcome is that the impact of the practice on drain flow and water quality will be determined. The results will be used to prepare material for field demonstrations, presented at a professional conference, and published in a peer-reviewed journal. Intermediate-term outcomes are that the knowledge gained will enable farmers to make more informed decisions on whether or not the adoption of the practice would be profitable for them, and enable federal, state, local, and non-governmental soil conservation and water quality organizations to make decisions about supporting drainage water management as a best management practice. The long-term outcomes are that farmers will adopt the practice if it is determined to be successful, and that as a result nitrate loss to surface water from drained fields will be reduced.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project will evaluate an alternative drainage practice that has the potential to reduce the negative water quality impacts of agricultural drainage, while maintaining or increasing crop yield on drained land. Agricultural drainage can reduce soil erosion and phosphorus runoff, but there are also environmental costs which have raised concerns, particularly related to its contribution to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico (Burkhart and James, 1999). The North Central region has the highest concentration of drained lands in the U.S. (Zucker and Brown, 1998), and this high level of drainage is unlikely to decrease in the future. Because tens of thousands of farmers and landowners farming more than 50 million acres rely on drainage to produce crops, more sustainable agricultural production methods must be developed for drained cropland. This project focuses on drainage water management, a practice that limits drain flow at times of the year when drainage is not needed and improves water management for crop production.
Our evaluation will take place on three Indiana farms representative of the corn-soybean cropping system on tens of millions of acres in the North Central Region. The short-term outcome is that the impact of the practice on drain flow and water quality on these representative farms will be determined. Intermediate-term outcomes are that the knowledge gained will (1) enable farmers to make more informed decisions on whether or not the adoption of the practice would be profitable for them, and (2) enable federal, state, local, and non-governmental soil conservation and water quality organizations to make decisions about supporting drainage water management as a best management practice. The long-term outcomes, which are unlikely to be achieved during the short time scale of this project, are that farmers will adopt the practice (if it is determined to be successful at increasing yield and promoting improved water quality), and that as a result nitrate loss to surface water from drained fields will be reduced. These desired outcomes support all three of the broad-based outcomes of the SARE program:
(1) The profitability of farmers will be improved if the practice is found to increase or at least maintain crop yields, and this information is communicated to them in a timely and useful manner
(2) The environmental quality and natural resource base on which agriculture depends will be sustained and improved through reducing nitrate loss from drained fields
(3) The quality of life for downstream rural communities and society will be enhanced through improving their water quality.