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State-of-the-art drain tile system gives MSU researchers new tools

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A crew installs a state-of-the-art drain tile system at Mississippi State University — photo by Dominique Belcher

A new water management system installed at Mississippi State University’s R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center is elevating university researchers’ capabilities of developing drainage solutions for farmers in Mississippi and across the Mid-South.

Advanced Drainage Systems, a leading manufacturer in drainage and irrigation, selected MSU as a Midsouth research site for the state-of-the-art water management system. The company recently installed it in a 10-acre field at the center, commonly referred to as North Farm. The system allows for field drainage and subsurface irrigation through a process known as pattern drain tile.

Darrin Dodds, professor and head of MSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said the installation will allow scientists in the university’s Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station to enhance drainage research for growers in the region.

“While a few growers have adopted pattern drain tile in parts of east Mississippi, a system of this nature is very new to our state,” he said. “We are uniquely positioned to evaluate not only the efficacy of drainage through this system but also study how it impacts aboveground and subsurface irrigation and water quality.”

In 2021, the team will plant cotton in the field and evaluate drainage with subsurface irrigation, drainage with furrow irrigation and drainage alone across three trials.

“To the best of our knowledge, Mississippi State will be the only university in the southern U.S. that has a system such as this coupled with irrigation capabilities and the potential to monitor the effect of agricultural practices on water quality,” Dodds said.

Jason Krutz, director of the Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute and plant and soil sciences professor, said he hoped the partnership demonstrates a tool that saves producers money and improves water-use efficiency.

“The project has the potential to alleviate two of the most critical limiting factors in the Midsouth—drainage and supplemental irrigation,” said Krutz, who noted the latter could help farmers in the Mississippi Delta, in particular, where one of the most intensively irrigated agricultural regions in the nation draws more than 90% of its irrigation water from the Mississippi River Valley Alluvial Aquifer.

While pattern drain tile gets its name from previous drainage systems that used cylindrical clay tiles, modern drain tile — including the MSU installation — uses corrugated plastic piping.

Darla Huff, Advanced Drainage Systems’ market manager for North America, said she hopes the research at MSU will establish a return on investment for Mid-South producers interested in installing the system.

“We know this system can increase yields of up to 30% across the Corn Belt and in the Upper Midwest, where much of 56 million acres of pattern drain tile in the U.S. is installed,” Huff said. “However, as someone who grew up in Louisiana and graduated from Mississippi State, I know agriculture in the South is completely different. Producers here need research and data from fields with similar soils and conditions as their own.”

Mississippi State University contributed this article.