Corn is a major US crop that is grown on 91.6 million acres of farmland, primarily in the Upper Midwest. Current agricultural methods used in this region depend heavily on the use of natural and synthetic fertilizers, which can cost upwards of $230/acre to boost corn crop yields. Despite efficient application methods, many nutrients from these fertilizers enter the surrounding water system through surface runoff or by leaching through the soil into the ground water. This process leads to nutrient accumulation in nearby lakes and streams which then concentrates in rivers like the Mississippi, and is deposited in the Gulf of Mexico and other estuaries.
Therefore, we have identified farm fields as our focus area and aim to provide clean water leaving the fields as a primary outcome of our design. Drainage tiling is implemented in many of these fields to reduce the rate of surface run-off, but nonetheless contributes to the eutrophication process by draining nutrient-rich water from the fields into surrounding water bodies.
Our team has developed a biomimetic drainage system that will retain nutrients in the soil so that they can be absorbed by the plants, rather than leaving the field in runoff. Doing so will greatly reduce nutrient input into surrounding water bodies, and eliminate one cause of eutrophication.