The world is heating up, and along with it comes longer and more intense droughts. Since climate change isn’t going away anytime soon, we must learn to adapt to the new environment. Researchers at Michigan State University are doing their part by working on a new technology to help retain water: a water retention membrane that is buried beneath the soil to trap water molecules. The material works so well that last year, while a huge swath of US produce wilted under a colossal drought, MSU’s test crops actually increased production.
Developed by Alvin Smucker, professor and scientist at MSU, the membrane was created out of contoured film that is then placed at various depths below the root level of the crops. This spacing traps water where the plants need it while still allowing room for drainage and root spread. Test crops of cucumbers and corn showed an increased yield of 145 percent and 174 percent, respectively.
Called SWRT, the new technology can be used on a wide range of crops, from edible vegetables to plants grown for fuel production. The technology has broad application benefits, including helping people in arid countries to increase yield in order to reduce hunger and reducing the use of harmful chemicals in U.S. crops. “Water retention membranes reduce quantities of supplemental irrigation, protect potable groundwater supplies, and enable more efficient use and control of fertilizers and pesticides,” says Smucker.
Smucker and his team intend to move forward by testing out the technology further on farms in the sandy regions of Michigan and the arid southwestern and the midwestern U.S. Smucker also intends to develop the technology for commercial applications.