Southeast Partnering with USDA-ARS on Subsurface Drainage/Irrigation System Upgrade

Vargas-Nussbaum at farm

Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas, right, discusses the upgrade to the subsurface drainage/irrigation system at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center with Mark Nussbaum, left, USDA-NRCS area engineer.

GORDONVILLE, Mo., July 13, 2015 – Southeast Missouri State University is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) in which USDA-ARS will invest $50,000 to upgrade the controlled subsurface tile drainage/irrigation system at Southeast’s David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center in Gordonville, Missouri.

The partnership has paved the way for creation of a reservoir where high quality tile-drain water generated during the dormant winter season will be stored. That water will then be pumped back into the soil in the summer, said Dr. Mike Aide, chair of Southeast’s Department of Agriculture.

The reservoir, he said, will allow the Barton Center to recycle tile-drain water “in a fashion that mitigates any soil pollution.”

The goal of the cooperative research is to measure the quantity and quality of the tile-drained water during the off-season as a potential water source to recharge the aquifer. Research also will focus on agriculture practices and cover crops to reduce nutrient concentrations in tile-drainage water, Aide said. Researchers also will evaluate the effectiveness of nitrate-reducing bioreactors that isolate nutrients in tile drainage water, he said.

This project, which is national in scope, is about enhancing water quality and reducing agriculture’s irrigation water use, said Mark Nussbaum, area engineer with USDA-NRCS.

Vargas on Gator at farm

Collin Schabbing, right, manager of the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center, provides Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas, left, with an overview of the Center’s operations.

“When the Barton Center enhancements are complete it will have one of the best drainage water management systems in the nation,” he said. “The Barton Center is already the only facility that combines precision land grading with subsurface drainage and subirrigation, which together target high agricultural output in an economic manner.  The addition of a storage reservoir and second bioreactor gives the University a unique ability to research irrigation water savings and water quality improvements for drainage water management systems.”

Aide said Southeast is “the only entity that has figured out how to take pollution out of water via drain lines,” referencing the Center’s bioreactor installed last year. The bioreactor is an underground chamber designed to remove nutrient runoff from farm fields, primarily nitrates from fertilizer, before it enters streams.

 

“The Barton Center enhancements are actually two separate projects.  Both have the goals of irrigation water conservation and improved water quality,” Nussbaum said. “The reservoir system will test the concept of subirrigating a field solely with excess water stored from that same field during the winter, thereby eliminating the need for aquifer pumping.  The bioreactor system will test the concept of using wood chips to treat large volumes of wintertime tile drainage water, with the goal of having water clean enough to provide irrigation water or possibly even aquifer recharge.”

Vargas on gator at farm 2

Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas, left, gets a firsthand look at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center and its controlled subsurface tile drainage/irrigation system during a tour with Collin Schabbing, right, Center manager.

The upgrade to the Barton Center’s controlled subsurface tile drainage/irrigation system is important, Aide said, as sources of underground water are declining.

“Aquifer depletion has become a critical national concern.  Information gained from the Barton Center enhancements have the potential for far reaching applications, providing methods for fighting aquifer depletion while maintaining production of our nation’s food supply,” Nussbaum said.

The reservoir will be placed on a 100-acre research field at the Barton Center. Water table data loggers in each quadrant of the field will be used to quantify the amount of water moving through each quadrant, Aide said. Plans call for work on the reservoir to be completed in late summer with the upgrade to be in place by this coming fall.