New edge-of-field research in Lenawee County focused on WLEB | Michigan Farm News

New edge-of-field research in Lenawee County focused on WLEB

Category: Livestock, Opinion, Technology, Crops

by Farm News Media

A five-year project in Lenawee County is hoping to determine if controlled drainage and saturated buffers can improve surface water quality by reducing the loss of both dissolved phosphorus and nitrogen in subsurface drainage water.

BLISSFIELD, Mich. — Members of the Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research (MI CLEAR) recently visited an edge-of-field water quality monitoring project site in Lenawee County. The group met with Dr. Ehsan Ghane, head researcher of the project, to learn how drainage conservation practices help reduce phosphorus loading into the Western Lake Erie Basin.

The five-year edge-of-field research project is a partnership between Michigan State University, Lenawee County Conservation District, and the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Environment, Energy, and Great Lakes.

“It’s well-known that there are a number of factors which go into feeding algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin with nutrient run-off from farms being one of them,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell. “We really need to understand how to help farmers keep these vital nutrients on the ground and reduce run-off. And, thanks to research like what’s being done by Dr. Ghane and his team, we’re doing just that.”

Ghane demonstrated to the group how controlled drainage works in a viewable model. He also walked through how a new technology in Michigan will adjust for elevation differences between farm fields and the drainage control structures, as well as reducing the number of control structures needed if a field has a slight slope.

“Through continued partnerships like we have with our state and local partners, we are working towards finding out the efficiency of drainage conservation practices,” Ghane said. “We are demonstrating how much these practices will help reduce phosphorus runoff in agricultural farmland. High levels of phosphorus in water has a big impact on the quality of life for people living close to the affected areas.”

Three farm sites in Lenawee County were selected for the project. Measurements and water samples are being collected year-round to determine the effectiveness of drainage water management systems.

The project is looking at two drainage conservation systems. One is controlled drainage, the practice of managing water by storing it in the field; and the second is saturated buffers, which filter water through the soil by diverting drainage from the field into buffer soil at the edge of the drain bank. Baseline data is being collected at each site. The project is set to end in September 2022.

“It's great to see the collaboration between MDARD and MSU Extension to recognize solutions that address not only the needs of farmers but also benefits our Great Lakes,” said Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski.

MI CLEAR is a coalition of stakeholders from environmental, agricultural, universities, and other groups, who are working together to improve the water quality of the WLEB.

For more information on the edge-of-field project contact Ehsan Ghane, [email protected]. To learn more about MI CLEAR visit