Building the case for subsurface drip irrigation

There’s no messing around when the lead researcher of the subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) system at Lethbridge College asks for soil for her project.

Bins measuring six by three metres and one metre deep were filled with three different, but common topsoil types found in southern Alberta. They include Grassy Lake sand, Lomond loam and Coaldale clay — all donated by local farmers.

Dr. Willemijn Appels, the college’s Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science, and the lead for the research project, says they wanted to be able to test SDI year round, and without variables such as wind, rain or gophers.

“It’s a type of irrigation in which you bury lines into the soil and then water your plants directly with water in the root zone instead from overtop like a pivot or a sprinkler,” she says. “We’re looking at the different schedules and management strategies that you can implement to make sure that water from these lines gets to your crop.”

This type of system could help those with a variety of crops including alfalfa, canola, and corn who deal with problem corners or spots that aren’t getting enough moisture, says Appels, noting the technology is becoming more available and more appealing to producers as the water goes directly to the source with minimal waste.

(courtesy Lethbridge College)

Back in February, they planted alfalfa, and although there were a couple of kinks along the road, she says they’re seeing great results with the various schedules they’re implementing.

Although the project only has funding for one year, she hopes they’ll be able to get more funding to continue the research with not only water, but by adding nutrients to the soil as well.

“(Our aim is to) create more data so that people can make decisions based on data that have been obtained in soils and for crops that are relevant to them.”

If you’re in the Lethbridge area in the near future, Appels says you can come see the soil testing research project for yourself to learn more.

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