Farmers are some of the unsung heroes in our world; farming is not only hard work and tends to be not very visible to most of us, but it's also subject to forces that can't be controlled, such as the weather.
And last year's drought conditions (covering as much as 2/3 of the U.S.) not only dramatically cut crop yields, but may also end up being the new normal. Fortunately, some researchers are making headway in developing new technology that may help to mitigate the effects of extremely dry weather.
Scientists at Michigan State University have invented an innovative new tool for farmers that may not only lessen the effects of drought on their fields, but may actually improve the yields. Alvin Smucker, an MSU AgBioResearch scientist and professor of soil biophysics, led the development of a subsurface water retention membrane that has been shown to increase vegetable production in dry years.
The membrane is a contoured film that can be placed under the crop's root zones to help retain water in the soil, while also allowing for proper drainage and root growth. Plots on test farms using the new subsurface water retention membrane have shown that yields for cucumbers were up 145% over control fields without the membranes, and corn yields were increased by 174%.
"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. Water retention membranes reduce quantities of supplemental irrigation, protect potable groundwater supplies, and enable more efficient use and control of fertilizers and pesticides." - Smucker
According to MSU, this new technology could be used on a wide range of crops, including cellulosic biomass feedstock, fuel production crops, and to increase production on marginal lands. The research team is also investigating the possibility of using the new membrane to boost food production as an aid to hunger relief efforts in other areas around the world.