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SDSU innovates with automated farm drainage systems

SDSU innovates with automated farm drainage systems

By Scout Nelson

South Dakota State University's Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering is spearheading research into automated controlled drainage systems. These systems could be a game-changer for farmers facing the challenges of wet springs and dry summers in eastern South Dakota.

John McMaine, an SDSU associate professor and the Griffith Chair in Agriculture and Water Resources, explains, "Automated controlled drainage takes this technology one step further." This innovation aims to improve upon traditional controlled drainage systems that have already proven beneficial by adding a level of automation to optimize water use and retention.

Controlled drainage systems, which are quite prevalent across Midwest croplands, function like mini dams inside drainage pipes, allowing farmers to manage the flow of water through their fields more effectively.

These systems are designed to increase water retention when crops need it most and reduce water flow when it's not necessary. "Controlled drainage has been around for a while and has proven benefits for farmers with tile drainage systems installed in their fields," McMaine noted.

The next step in this technological evolution involves automation. McMaine and his team are developing algorithms to control these drainage systems automatically, based on real-time data. This shift towards automated systems could significantly enhance the effectiveness of water management on farms, leading to better crop yields and reduced environmental impact.

The research includes various phases, from field installation of automated systems at SDSU's Southeast Research Farm to the development of sophisticated machine learning algorithms by Murad Ellafi, a postdoctoral research associate. Ellafi is focused on integrating data into DRAINMOD, a simulation model, to optimize the performance of these drainage systems under different weather scenarios.

Ellafi emphasizes the potential environmental benefits: "Automated controlled drainage elevates water conservation efforts to a new level — a crucial advancement given the agricultural impacts of more extreme weather patterns in South Dakota." The aim is not only to improve crop yields but also to mitigate the adverse effects of excessive nutrient runoff into nearby water bodies.

This research could lead to significant advancements in agricultural practices, making them more sustainable and efficient in the face of changing climate conditions. As the project progresses, the findings will likely influence both local farming techniques and broader agricultural policies aimed at enhancing productivity while protecting the environment.

Photo Credit -pexels-adam-sondel

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Categories: South Dakota, Crops, Education

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