Research Project

Investigating water and nutrient management strategies for field crops under subsurface drip irrigation in Alberta.

“This investment will enhance productivity of irrigated land, improve efficiency of on-farm irrigation systems, water conservation and environmental stewardship – 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.”

How will this research impact Alberta’s agriculture industry?

Read the Project Press Release

Application of fertilizer for crop production following the guiding principles of right source, right rate, right time, and right place (the 4R’s) is widely regarded as the best way to increase the sustainability and profitability of cropping systems. While most fertilizers in southern Alberta are applied in a solid form, irrigated agriculture offers the opportunity to apply liquid fertilizers mixed with irrigation water; known as fertigation. The advantage of fertigation compared to broadcast or banded fertilizer applications is that nutrients can be applied in more readily available forms (right source); can be administered in smaller doses at multiple times during the growing season (right rate and right time); and can be applied on top of or below the soil surface (right place).

Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) systems are ideal for fertigation practices as they support delivery of the dissolved compounds directly into the root zone. Subsurface drip fertigation (SDF) has the potential to lower the overall requirements for fertilizer and increase nutrient use efficiency by matching the application of water and nutrients to crop requirements. Previous research in this area has highlighted the need for consideration of specific crop responses to SDI/SDF practices before wider adoption takes place in southern Alberta. 

Why did RDAR invest in this research project?

This research project is aligned with the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association mission to ensure the vitality and sustainability of irrigated agriculture in Alberta.  This irrigation project supports research priorities of the major cropping commissions within Alberta, as it is directly aligned with a focus on nutrient management and the efficient use of cropping inputs which support sustainable agriculture in our province. 

This project is also aligned with the provinces’ Irrigation Strategy, notably this research supports multiple strategies including enhanced productivity of irrigated land, improved efficiency of on-farm irrigation systems, water conservation and environmental stewardship. 

Positive outcomes from this project will gather data to build upon the general benefits of SDI/SDF use in irrigation, with additional future work focused on the economic assessment of these measures. Outcomes from this project can support the increased adoption of SDI/SDF systems, which are currently utilized in a limited capacity (Less than 1% of the 525,000 ha of irrigated land in Southern Alberta is utilizing SDI currently). 

How will research knowledge be transferred and shared with producers?

To share outcomes of this research project with producers, four field tours will be hosted at the AITC facility in collaboration with Southern Irrigation.  To show how to use this technology, SDI/SDF will be demonstrated during 2 days of Technology Demonstration Days at Lethbridge College. Research leads expect 25 to 35 Lethbridge College students will be exposed to SDI technology at these events. Additionally, project results will be communicated through development and distribution of 3 factsheets, 3 media releases, 2 interviews with regional ag news outlets, and 12 social media postings.