LETHBRIDGE, AB – A research project at Lethbridge College is breaking new ground in the study of subsurface drip fertigation.

The method applies water and fertilizer directly to the rootzones of plants.

SDF is gaining popularity in Alberta and while it’s shown to provide benefits like more efficient water use, there are few scientific studies specific to Alberta crops and soil conditions.

A two-year study, led by Lethbridge College researchers, is currently exploring different fertilizer applications and how it affects nutrient uptake and crop yields.

Dr. Rezvan Karimi Dehkordi is a research associate on the Mueller Applied Research in Irrigation Science team.

She worked with First Fruit Farms near Lomond to test different fertilizer applications on durum wheat in 2019 and pinto beans 2020; she then compared the results with a control crop that did not receive any fertilizer.

The 2019 study found durum wheat crops treated with subsurface fertilizers had higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorous uptakes as well as higher yields.

However, the 2020 study of pinto beans found no significant difference between the study and control crops, which Karimi says is due in part to the wet conditions in the 2020 growing season.

She says this study is just a first step in determining whether the agronomic and economic benefits of subsurface irrigation are fertigation are enough to justify the higher cost of these systems compared to other alternatives.