Buried films keep thirsty plants growing

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — New water-saving membranes increased corn and vegetable production on test farms, despite drought conditions.

The 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.


The contoured films, strategically placed at various depths below a plant’s root zone, help retain soil water. View larger. (Credit: Michigan State)

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“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,” says Alvin Smucker, Michigan State University professor of soil biophysics and AgBioResearch scientist, who developed the subsurface water retention technology (SWRT) process.

“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 colleagues 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 US.

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

The Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provided funding for the research. There is a patent pending, and Smucker is working with MSU Technologies to develop the membranes on a commercial scale.

Source: Michigan State University