Precision Ag Blog

Jun 21
Funded NRCS-CIG Irrigation Projects in Alabama

The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through the Conservation and Innovation grants (CIG) program, is currently funding two projects related to irrigation in the Southeast. One is in Alabama and the other is in Georgia. With funding totaling more than $1 million, Extension and Research faculty from Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension system will conduct demonstrations for three years of the innovative irrigation practices. Working alongside Auburn University are, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, Alabama A&M University, Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee, Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District in Georgia, USDA-ARS-National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, NRCS Alabama, and four cooperating farmers. The demonstrations will be located at three farms in North Alabama (Posey Farm in Lawrence county and Bridgeforth and Haney Farms in Limestone county) and one farm in Southeast Alabama (L. C. Farms in Geneva county). The farms selected for this project are recognized to be on the front end of technology adoption by the farming community. Then, it is expected they can be role models for fellow farmers when it comes to the increase of irrigation adoption and use of technology to increase irrigation water use efficiency.

The funding will be used to address several needs:

  • Comparison of the benefits of variable rate irrigation versus uniform rate irrigation.
  • Use of different irrigation scheduling methods to improve irrigation decisions of rate and timing.
  • Evaluation of the impact of managed deficit irrigation strategies on irrigation water use and crop yield.
  • Evaluation of different methods of irrigation management zone delineation.
  • Identification of the number of soil sensors required to improve irrigation decisions at the within-field level.
  • Use of farm ponds for irrigation water storage.
  • Demonstrate an innovative approach to rainwater harvesting on ponds for irrigation based on ENSO forecast.
  • Evaluation of the impact of irrigation practices on plant nutrient uptake.

Three out of the four demonstration fields don't have center pivot irrigation systems with variable rate irrigation capabilities, therefore those pivots are currently being retrofitted with sensors and technology for application of different water rates along the pivot lateral. At each demonstration site, the field will be divided into alternate strips (strip trial) which will receive either a uniform water rate (farmer's practice) or variable zone irrigation (Auburn's practice). Soil sensors will be installed on both strips to either schedule irrigation and/or monitor crop response to farmer's irrigation practice. The majority of soil sensors used for these demonstrations will be soil water tension sensors (Watermark) which will be arranged on a wireless mesh network for data collection and transfer to an on-site base station and subsequently to the Internet.

Gauges to monitor changes on streamflow will also be installed on the streams/creeks used by farmers for irrigation water withdrawal. Daily and monthly changes of rainfall and streamflow throughout the life of the project will be used to demonstrate an innovative approach to rainwater harvesting for irrigation based on ENSO forecast.

Four farmers' focus groups have been established at each of the demonstration sites. The members of each group are farmers, consultants, extension agronomists, and NRCS personnel.The goal of these focus groups is to learn about farmers' needs regarding irrigation and train the members of each group on the use of the different irrigation practices and technologies being demonstrated/evaluated. We are expecting a two-way interaction among the group members, including the project leaders, in order to advance on the adoption of smart water and climate-based irrigation practices. A first meeting with each group took place on February 5th and 6th, 2018. At the meetings, the 2018 project's plan of work was presented and an interactive survey on irrigation practices and needs was conducted. We will be meeting with the members of each group again this summer to discuss and present data that is currently being collected and used for irrigation scheduling.

The Auburn Faculty leading this project are: Brenda V. Ortiz, Associate Professor and Extension Precision Agriculture Specialist (bortiz@auburn.edu), Puneet Srivastava, Director of the Water Resources Center (srivapu@auburn.edu), and Jasmeet  Lamba, Assistant Professor in the Biosystem Engineering Department (jsl0005@auburn.edu).

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