July 12th, 2024

Partnership with Lethbridge College grows irrigation research

By Lethbridge Herald on May 3, 2022.

Lethbridge College photo by Tyler Waldron Subsurface drip irrigation lines are installed on Lethbridge College's irrigation research farm.

A research partnership between Lethbridge College and Southern Irrigation will provide insight that could help producers maximize their crop production.
The college and Southern Irrigation are studying the opportunities created by subsurface drip fertigation (SDF), a method that applies water and fertilizer directly to the root zones of plants through a series of pipes.
This past summer, Lethbridge College and Southern Irrigation installed 15 acres of subsurface drip piping on 21 individually controlled zones at the college’s irrigation research farm. The project has graduated to a field-scale study after starting as a small-scale research project in three custom boxes inside the college’s on-campus innovation space.
Lethbridge College’s research is being led by Dr. Willemijn Appels, Senior Research Chair in Irrigation Science in the college’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE) and Dr. Rezvan Karimi Dehkordi, research associate on the Irrigation Science team.
This work follows up on an earlier project Dehkordi undertook on a commercial farm near Lomond, Alta. in 2019 and 2020. The first phase of the partnership will study SDF on two crops and is funded in part by a grant from Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) and the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP).
“With this study, we’ll get data about water use, fertilizer use and crop yields, as well as information on how the water and nutrients move into the root zone that will allow us to create numerical and empirical models of the field, basically showing us exactly how our field works, which sets the baseline for future experiments,” says Appels, “The funding from RDAR and CAP is the support we needed to get this work going. And it’s nice to have this partnership and a direct link to Southern Irrigation, a company with a vested interest in finding new questions and answering them.”
By partnering with Southern Irrigation, Lethbridge College can access nearly 40 years of technical expertise from a company that is connected to industry and is able to communicate the needs of producers into applied research opportunities.
“Southern Irrigation is happy to partner with Lethbridge College to research SDF as we both strive to explore and research intelligent water solutions,” says Kees Van Beek, SDI specialist at Southern Irrigation, “We hope that these research projects with Lethbridge College will help farmers and the agriculture industry boost yields by using SDF effectively on crops typically grown in the Canadian prairies.”
The college acquired management of the irrigation research farm from the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in October 2020. Previously, field-scale research had to be conducted on private farms on plots donated by producers. Now, with control over the research plots, Appels can run year-over-year studies.
“This investment will enhance productivity of irrigated land, improve efficiency of on-farm irrigation systems, water conservation and environmental stewardship,” says Clinton Dobson, Director of Research at RDAR, “Outcomes from this research will boost the adoption of subsurface drip fertigation and subsurface drip irrigation technology use in southern Alberta – growing our province’s agriculture potential.”
Appels has scaled up her initial research from lab tests to longer term studies in the college’s innovation space to now working on field-scale tests at the research farm.
“We would like to figure out how well we can deliver a substantial amount of fertilizer through SDF under varying weather conditions and what the effects are of varying the timing of fertilizer application with crop growth stage,” says Appels, “This short-term project has helped us do a trial season with the SDI system and will get us started on a longer-term fertigation research project.”
To learn more about the project, titled Investigating water and nutrient management strategies for field crops under subsurface drop irrigation in Alberta visit the RDAR website.

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