Protecting Saturated Buffers from Root Penetration

By: Claire Hinther, St. Olaf ‘19

As my work on the Legvold saturated buffer nears an end, I am excited that the Legvold farm will continue to serve as a living laboratory for undergraduate students at St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges. I recently met with Mark Dittrich, Senior Planner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), to discuss future projects on the Legvold saturated buffers.

In my first blog of the summer, I discussed an investigation of vegetative roots penetrating and blocking the sub-surface distribution line in saturated buffers. As part of that work, we will plant an MDA-developed seed mix over the distribution line on the saturated buffer this fall. Our goal is to determine the point at which roots in the distribution line impact saturated buffer performance.

The seeds will take a couple of growing seasons to establish, so results from this experiment likely will not be available until summer of 2020. Although this is a long process, it is an exciting opportunity for aspiring scientists at St. Oaf and Carleton to learn about sustainable farming in the field.

Coming from western Montana, I knew almost nothing about agriculture, its environmental implications, and common farming practices. Furthermore, agricultural education is remarkably spartan at both colleges, which is unhelpful for a rising generation of environmental scientists who will be charged with addressing unprecedented water pollution and the effects of climate change. Agriculture contributes significantly to both of these highly relevant issues, and it is imperative that students in the field have an opportunity to learn first-hand about sustainable farming practices and policies.

 Figure 1.  Camera shots from inside of the distribution line show root growth into the sub-surface distribution line (DL). After the new grasses over the DL have become established, cameras will be sent through once again to determine which seed mix creates the least potential for DL blockage.

Figure 1. Camera shots from inside of the distribution line show root growth into the sub-surface distribution line (DL). After the new grasses over the DL have become established, cameras will be sent through once again to determine which seed mix creates the least potential for DL blockage.


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Claire Hinther is a senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. She is pursuing a double major in political science and environmental studies with a concentration in women’s and gender studies. A native of Missoula, Montana, she grew up hiking in Glacier National Park, biking in Western Montana and Idaho, and spending long days fishing and swimming the three rivers in her hometown. Through these childhood experiences, she has developed a deep love for the outdoors and a great appreciation for the value of our environment.