SWRT: MSU Professor’s Innovative Technology Designed to Improve Crop Production with Less Water and Nutrients

East Lansing, MI — With climate change disrupting food availability and quality on the rise, a Michigan State University soil biophysics professor’s subsurface water retention technology—or SWRT—is poised to positively impact crops worldwide.

Dr. Alvin Smucker of the Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences developed the SWRT technology with his colleagues after six years of research. The patented technology involves placing two rows of U-shaped impermeable films under the soil at defined depths that are installed by a unique SWRT machine. This allows the retaining of plant-available water and nutrients in the plant root zone, increasing agricultural production and reducing the effects of drought.

Dr. Alvin Smucker of the Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences developed the SWRT technology with his colleagues after six years of research.

SWRT shows the potential for improving production and water conservation for 80 million acres in the United States along and at least 2.4 billion acres globally and increasing crop production by up to 500%, depending on crop type and site-specific local conditions. One assessment of corn production on irrigated sandy soils with SWRT membranes resulted in an average corn yield of well over 300 bushels per acre. In other tests, irrigated SWRT improved sands doubled average corn production and showed up to 80% production improvement in small fruits and vegetables. SWRT has also been tested on over 40 crops planted in both arid and humid regions, producing healthy food on previously non-productive sandy soils.

The company SWRT Solutions, Inc. was founded by Dr. Smucker to make the SWRT technology available to farmers. SWRT Solutions is working on ways to address the growing demand by U.S. farmers and soil water conservation contractors to install SWRT in sandy areas across the country while also addressing states’ unique qualities. For example, Smucker says, “Southeast Florida has too much water; we are developing how drained agricultural water can be removed and safely stored in locally owned storage lakes designed to recycle fertilizer-rich field drainage. Meanwhile, the state of Colorado is considering the development of temporary financial payment of up to 60% government support of SWRT membrane installations on sandy fields of farms, which would greatly diminish nutrient leaching to groundwaters while saving local fertilizer costs.”

The MSU Innovation Center, which recognized Smucker as Innovator of the Year in 2015, is a proud supporter and resource for the SWRT Solutions team.

“SWRT Solutions licenses membrane and installation chisel technology developed at Michigan State University, [and] the technology is already showing excellent results in crop yield improvement in irrigated corn and soybean fields,” said Jon Debling, technology manager with the MSU Innovation Center. “We are excited to see the membranes being installed all around the United States and the positive impact it will have on U.S. and global agriculture. Alvin and his team at SWRT are well-positioned for an amazing 2024.”

As Spartans look to provide solutions to the world’s problems, Smucker is encouraged by the success of his innovative SWRT process and looks forward to seeing it expand across the U.S. and globally to better feed humanity.

Over the past few years, simultaneous field testing and financial proof of the SWRT concepts have led to additional government and industry funding as Smucker looks to further develop the technology on a larger commercial scale.

“I am motivated to expand these direct and rapidly expanding SWRT Solutions technologies designed to totally transform U.S. crop production, distribution and exporting more healthy grain and vegetable crops that make major differences,” said Smucker.

About the MSU Innovation Center: 

The MSU Innovation Center is dedicated to fostering innovation, research commercialization, and entrepreneurial activities from the research and discovery happening across our campus every day. We act as the primary interface for researchers aiming to see their research applied to solving real-world problems and making the world a better place to live. We aim to empower faculty, researchers, and students within our community of scholars by providing them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to bring their discoveries to the forefront. Through strategic collaborations with the private sector, we aim to amplify the impact of faculty research and drive economic growth while positively impacting society. We foster mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with the private sector through corporate-sponsored research collaborations, technology licensing discussions, and support for faculty entrepreneurs to support the establishment of startup companies.   

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