Researchers might be able to recover nutrients from run-off

Two assistant professors at South Dakota State University are researching an unusual approach that could put nutrients back into agricultural fields.

They are Srinivas Janaswamy from the dairy and food science department of dairy and Laurent Ahiablame from the agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

They are looking at whether polysaccharides can be placed at the edges of fields to absorb nitrates and phosphorus being carried by run-off.

The materials are complex carbohydrates commonly used in food products. Their work is funded through a grant from state government’s Department of Agriculture nutrient research and education council.

Ahiablame is considering products such as wood chips and steel shavings, according to a SDSU news release. He wants to “capture nutrients at the edge of the field before they run off into creeks or streams.”

Janaswamy said polysaccharides “thicken and give texture to foods, such as ketchup, ice cream and even chocolates.”

“Nitrates and phosphorus in water could be nicely attracted to polysaccharides—all we have to do is put them into the nutrient-containing water,” he told Ahiablame, according to the news release.

The men are preparing beads similar in size to cornmeal in grits and smaller than the silica gel beads in shoeboxes.

The researchers want to evaluate the rate at which the beads absorb and release nutrients and determine the capacity. Lab work could take at least two years.

The biodegradable beads seem able to absorb nutrients and could be spread on fields to fertilize crops. The researchers believe producers who use the beads could see a savings.