A farmer in the Red River Valley is one of a few testing a new idea to bring back excess water to fields when it's needed.
Having too much water is often a problem for farmers in the valley. But Gerry Zimmerman, who farms near Moorhead, Minnesota, has devised a system to pump water from a drainage ditch back into fields through underground drain tile.
"Traditionally, in the valley here where we're at, we always get hurt by too much water," he said. "I decided we wanted to be able to pour water back into the tile as well as drain."
Minnesota Public Radio News reports few Upper Midwest farmers are trying out this idea, which could provide a better way to use water in a changing climate.
Zimmerman is working with researchers at North Dakota State University in Fargo. They look at the project to see how fields using subirrigation compare with fields that use no irrigation at all.
Zimmerman said he pumps in water in July and August during peak growth periods for corn, sugar beets and soybeans.
"Does subirrigation work? It definitely works," Zimmerman said. "You going to get the same results every year? No, because the weather and how much water you get from Mother Nature is always different."
In the dry summer of 2012, Zimmerman said extra underground water that was pumped in made corn yields rise by 30 percent. But the drainage ditch he used nearly ran dry.
University of Minnesota soil scientist Jeff Strock is working on an idea that would be a workaround to dry ditches. The plan calls for farmers to store excess water runoff in the spring and fall in small ponds.
"We may get wetter in the fall and in the winter, but during the critical period when our typical crops, corn and soybeans, that we grow now are growing, we're going to become drier," Strock said. "That will really challenge farmers."