There's a new, better way to dig a ditch — one that's good for both farming and the environment — and it sprang from the mind of an Ohio State University scientist.

Andy Ward, an agricultural engineer in Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), knows the benefits of conventional ditches, which are trapezoidal — or roughly V-shaped with a narrow, flat bottom — in cross-section.

They carry excess water from farm fields and in doing so benefit food production.

But he's also seen their drawbacks. Often, they're too big for small stormwater flows and too small for big ones.

They require expensive upkeep by landowners — mowing and plant removal that in Ohio costs about $450 per mile per year. And their upkeep exposes the ditch bank to erosion and destroys the plants and animals that live there.

Enter Ward's "two-stage" ditch design, which earned him the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center's (OARDC) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award. The award honors innovation and entrepreneurship by OARDC scientists. The center is CFAES's research arm.

The new design has a small main channel at the bottom of the ditch (stage one) and raised, grass-covered "benches" along both sides of the channel (stage two).

The benches catch any overflow from the channel, are high and wide enough to keep heavy rain runoff from topping the banks and flooding surrounding farmland, and serve in the same way as a natural river's floodplain.