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Revolutionary Technolgy Aids Thirsty Crops During Drought
Michigan State University Today ^ | January 16, 2012

Posted on 01/22/2013 9:05:48 PM PST by JerseyanExile


While much of the nation’s crops withered under last year’s punishing drought, Michigan State University researchers dramatically increased corn and vegetable production on test farms using revolutionary new water-saving membranes.

The subsurface water retention technology process was developed by Alvin Smucker, MSU professor of soil biophysics and MSU AgBioResearch scientist. His invention uses contoured, engineered films, strategically placed at various depths below a plant’s root zone to retain soil water. Proper spacing also permits internal drainage during excess rainfall and provides space for root growth.

“This technology has the potential to change lives and regional landscapes domestically and internationally where highly permeable, sandy soils have prohibited the sustainable production of food,” Smucker said. “Water retention membranes reduce quantities of supplemental irrigation, protect potable groundwater supplies, and enable more efficient use and control of fertilizers and pesticides.”

The prototype can be used on a broad range of agricultural crops, as well as growing cellulosic biomass feedstock, plants grown specifically for fuel production, on marginal lands. SWRT-improved irrigated sands produced 145 percent more cucumbers than did the control fields without water-saving membranes. Researchers also dramatically improved irrigated corn production, increasing yields 174 percent.

Smucker and Kurt Thelen, plant, soil and microbial sciences professor, together with Mathieu Ngouajio and Ron Goldy, horticulturalists, will lead teams of scientists, engineers and industrial agricultural experts in implementing the new technology on farms in irrigated sandy regions of southwestern Michigan and the semi-arid and arid regions of the southwestern and the midwestern U.S.

Internationally, additional MSU researchers are exploring opportunities to overcome hunger with SWRT water-saving membranes in several global locations.

Smucker’s work in developing SWRT and conducting field testing was funded in part by the Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. There is a patent pending, and Smucker is working with MSU Technologies to develop the membranes on a commercial scale.

TOPICS: Agriculture; Business/Economy; Science
KEYWORDS: drought; farming; msu
Water Retention Membrane and Barrier Installation


Competition for limited water supplies necessary for the production of crops on sandy soils is becoming more intense in the US and globally, particularly with the increasing need for biomass produced as renewable energy sources. Subsurface water retention technologies (SWRT) are designed to increase water use efficiencies by as much as 20 times. SWRT technologies have the potential to impact strategic water and nutrient conservation and improve food, fiber, and livestock productivity. Although supplemental irrigation and additional fertilization do increase plant production on most sandy soils, farming such soils is not sustainable due to the elevated leaching losses of nutrients and other chemicals into groundwater.


Michigan State University's technology resolves the depleted water and nutrient deficits in the plant root zone while reducing groundwater pollution and the leaching losses of nutrients and other chemicals into groundwater. Polyethylene (PE) water barrier films that can be shaped to maximize soil water retention are installed at appropriate depths in sandy soils with a specially designed barrier installation device (BID). The technology enables double and triple water retention capacities in plant root zones via interruption of natural percolation rates within the upper 70-100 centimeter of the soil column. Although large pores within sandy soils absorb large quantities of rainfall, less than 20 percent of the water is retained in the root zone between the soil surface and 60-70 cm depths by the coarse-textured soils.

The SWRT approach incorporates water barriers at prescribed depths and configurations within coarse textured and sandy soil profiles in a pattern that alters the hydropedological water regimes and improves water use efficiencies by up to 20 times for food and cellulosic biomass crops on sandy soils. SWRT barriers are designed to bring marginal sandy soils into highly productive natural landscapes with substantial savings of water and fertilizer costs. SWRT processes can also be used to confine and reduce the deep leaching and groundwater contamination by agricultural chemicals and/or remove toxic chemical and biological wastes from municipal waste disposal and industrial sites to locations better suited for long-term sorption and bioremediation.


* Durable and easier to install than asphalt barriers: Polyethylene barriers can last at least 40 years and can be installed more quickly and with less labor than asphalt barriers.

* Enhanced plant and food crop production: The technology could potentially have an immediate impact in areas where marginal lands are the only option for production of food crops.

* Better water resource usage: Subsoil water retention technology has the potential for increasing water use efficiencies.

* Better chemical utilization: Just as better water resource efficiencies could potentially be derived, so could better utilization of fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals.


* Agriculture industry: Any crops (food, biofuel, and biomass) that are being grown in marginal regions would potentially benefit from the CEPEM and BID technologies.

* Waste management: Potential for use in landfills as a method for reducing toxic leaching exists.

1 posted on 01/22/2013 9:05:57 PM PST by JerseyanExile
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To: JerseyanExile

What ever happened to water pipelines and pumping stations?

2 posted on 01/22/2013 9:13:24 PM PST by bunkerhill7 (The Second Amendment has no limits on firepower.)
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To: JerseyanExile
engineered films?

Hey wait a minute. I'm not sure I want to eat corn grown with engineered films.

3 posted on 01/22/2013 9:16:50 PM PST by gunsequalfreedom (Conservative is not a label of convenience. It is a guide to your actions.)
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To: JerseyanExile

Can this help individuals grow trees easier in desert climates?

4 posted on 01/22/2013 9:46:10 PM PST by ansel12 (Cruz said "conservatives trust Sarah Palin that if she says this guy is a conservative, that he is")
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To: gunsequalfreedom

You are likely eating corn that is genetically modified by Monsanto Bt ready roundup, the engineered films are like icing on the cupcake...

it’s all sh*t... but hey feel free. Most of the population has no idea what they are consuming.....cancer is not rampant at a all. Nah!

Michael Taylor is now the head of the FDA, former Monsanto criminal and bozo crony.

Your mom was right.. you are what you eat, grow your own with heirloom seed.

5 posted on 01/22/2013 9:52:53 PM PST by acapesket
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To: ansel12

Maybe if the trees have shallow roots and not a taproot.

Then again, I’m just guessing. I have no real knowledge of botany or new water-retaining magic films.

6 posted on 01/22/2013 9:53:57 PM PST by Two Kids' Dad (((( Leftists: Stupid or Evil. Sometimes both. ))))
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To: Two Kids' Dad

Just helping for a few years while they work on that deep root, would be a big help.

7 posted on 01/22/2013 9:58:12 PM PST by ansel12 (Cruz said "conservatives trust Sarah Palin that if she says this guy is a conservative, that he is")
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To: acapesket

I love 100 percent with you on the problem with Monsanto and their seeds

8 posted on 01/23/2013 1:05:16 AM PST by gunsequalfreedom (Conservative is not a label of convenience. It is a guide to your actions.)
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To: acapesket

This is nothing more than plastic gutters buried underground. The ‘engineered’ shape keeps the water from draining away.

This is not new. This is ancient technology. People have used clay pots for a similar effect for a thousand years. I did something like this for my rose bush here in Arizona. I buried some plastic a few feet out from the bush. When I water, that area retains the moisture. This is nothing more than common sense.

9 posted on 01/23/2013 6:11:01 AM PST by Marie ("The last time Democrats gloated this hard after a health care victory, they lost 60 House seats.")
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To: Marie
Thank you for pointing out the obvious. This is yet another government funded “study” boondoggle.
10 posted on 01/23/2013 8:55:14 AM PST by Durus (You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. Ayn Rand)
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To: JerseyanExile

Someone came up with a far simpler solution many years ago: just plow Styrofoam packing peanuts into the soil. They catch and hold the right amount of moisture, excess water and salts drain through them, and they keep the soil loose and aerated.

At the time they said the only potential problem was that some kinds of packing peanuts had undesirable chemicals or toxins in them, so don’t use those. Otherwise, you could actually see the difference between fields that had them, and those that didn’t.

11 posted on 01/23/2013 10:17:04 AM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Best WoT news at
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To: JerseyanExile

They ought to look into using Brawndo, instead of trying to retain the liquidy stuff used in our toilets.

12 posted on 01/23/2013 2:39:56 PM PST by MCH
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Why can’t we ust stay with something like clay, which is a soil baked with water instead of putting BPA’d, chemicals and pellets in the dirt where the roots absorb that s$it?
Is it all about convenience? THIS is not freaking rocket science!

13 posted on 01/23/2013 8:31:44 PM PST by acapesket
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To: bunkerhill7
What ever happened to water pipelines and pumping stations?

Well, in Australia, vineyards have noticed a rise in ground water level from all their watering. Unfortunately for them, the ground water tends to be on the salty side.

I think they've gone to minimizing water usage via more direct targeting of vines. I don't believe the article that I read mentioned any barrier methods.

However, it's a tool. And yes, besides unexpected side effects, I'm sure any harm in crop quality and/or production with be magnified by solons and bureaucrats mandating it for use where it's not either needed or useful.

14 posted on 01/26/2013 6:44:33 AM PST by Calvin Locke
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