The project, Predicting Crop Per Drop in Sandy Soils, will kick off this summer, thanks to a $36,000 grant from the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, in collaboration with a regional leader in agriculture, Chippewa Valley Bean, the world’s largest producer of dark red kidney beans. The company is based in Dunn County.
How can mathematics and data science help produce more red kidney beans and potentially aid farmers around the state and world?
The answer hopefully will be in a set of equations developed by UW-Stout. The equations would be the basis for a software-based application used by agronomists at Chippewa Valley Bean. Agronomists would test soil areas for moisture, input their numbers and get an output for the optimum amount of water needed for the highest crop yield.
Research results would help Chippewa Valley Bean’s growers, who farm across Wisconsin and the Midwest, answer two key questions:
- How many inches of water are required per 100 weight of kidney bean?
- When is irrigation necessary and how sensitive are kidney beans to the length of the irrigation time window?
Agronomists could quickly test inputs on a laptop computer instead of having to do field experiments to determine the best watering strategy.
Wojciechowski initially approached Chippewa Valley Bean Vice President Charles Wachsmuth, a UW-Stout alum, about opportunities to work with UW-Stout’s mathematics, statistics and computer science department on research projects that could benefit the company.
The issue of how much crop irrigation is needed has been tackled before by researchers but not for sandier soils such as in the Central Sands region or specifically for kidney beans, Wojciechowski said.
“We’ll take existing research and modify it. It’s not cutting edge but difficult enough to recalibrate the models and enhance them by dealing with the particular soil type we have to deal with,” he said.
UW-Stout’s model could be altered for a variety of soil types and updated as more or higher quality data is provided.
“This problem is becoming more and more important as we lose farmable land globally,” he added.
Wojciechowski sees the project as an example of the experiential learning championed by UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s polytechnic university, and the Wisconsin Idea — the UW System mission to improve the lives of state residents. “We’re a public university, and we should be out there helping the public,” he said. “We’re helping Chippewa Valley Bean, which is helping farmers put food on the table.”
Predicting Crop Per Drop in Sandy Soils is one of eight projects totaling $306,000 at UW-Stout recently funded by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin.
The project also will collaborate this summer with UW-Stout’s LAKES REU — research experience for undergraduates — program funded by the National Science Foundation.