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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 (, Puneet Srivastava, Director of the Water Resources Center (, and Jasmeet  Lamba, Assistant Professor in the Biosystem Engineering Department (

Through a federal appropriation secured by Congressman Robert Aderholt, $8 million is available to eligible farmers in certain watersheds to install new irrigation systems on land that is not currently irrigated. Under current federal programs, farmers and landowners are limited to improving existing systems. It is the first time in many years that funds will be available for new irrigated acres. 

The funding is available on a cost-share basis through the Alabama Agricultural and Conservation Development Commission, a program run by the Alabama Soil & Water Conservation Committee. Farmers will apply at their local Conservation District office (locate yours here) and the Commission will rank the applications to determine eligibility. In this first year of funding, applicants with an existing water source will receive highest priority. All criteria for eligibility and the cost-share rate have not yet been finalized. A sign-up is expected in early 2019.

For additional information, contact Dr. William Puckett (, Executive Director of the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee. 

Success of the growing season starts on the front end with planting.  Seed costs continue to increase so peak performance of the planter is critical to maximize the yield potential of every seed.  The Alabama Precision Ag Team has been hard at work getting our planters and technology prepped for the upcoming season.  Our focus has been ensuring planting depth is correct while not placing too much down force on the gauge wheels to induce side wall compaction or compaction in general around the seed. 

There are plenty of check points and setup features to look over on your planter.  Below are two videos which cover basic tips for setting up your planter.  Beyond the points mentioned in these videos, here is advice from our Precision Ag Team on how to improve planting:

  1. Check the wear on the gauge wheel stops.  We found some rows to be 1/4 to 1/2 inch different in depth due to difference in wear; easy check and quick fix.

Gauge Wheel Stop2

  1. Place each meter unit on a test stand – 99.5% or higher singulation should be the goal on the test stand.
  2. Calibrate planters with hydraulic drives – follow the operator’s manual but use pans or buckets under each row to determine if the displayed target rate in the cab matches what is actually metered by row.
  3. Invest in a quality planter display with row-by-row feedback – one of the best technology investments.  One can ensure the performance of every row and that target rates are being met from day 1 through the entire planting season.

We collected 2013 farm data in corn fields which highlighted room for improvement in planter performance.  Results can be seen on our Facebook page:  Just take some time before heading to the field to make sure your planter will perform to your expectations.  There is no room for error today considering your seed investment.

AgriGold Agronomist John Brien via Ohio Ag Net & OCJ
Beck’s Hybrid Agronomist Jason Webster via Beck’s Hybrids


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Big data or data management in agriculture continues to be a hot topic.  The 2013 InfoAg Conference highlighted not only how data management is growing in agriculture through the tradeshow and presentations but that industry partnerships will be a key to success of this data evolution.  One company cannot provide the one-stop shop as it relates to ag data management since this service is complex.  Farmers, ag retailers, machinery companies and other ag businesses all require different data streams and information to provide feedback on their business or to their customers.  Further, the analytics being developed to analyze and gleam valuable information (e.g. “knowledge”) must address agronomic, machinery, economics and other areas.  Therefore, the idea of partnerships will allow the data management aspect of Precision Ag to develop and help the agricultural community in a positive way.  Our PrecisionAg team here in Alabama has recognized that their remains barriers to data management and especially the sharing of data with others while maintaining privacy.  However, the ag industry is moving forward and starting to assemble pieces of the puzzle to allow data sharing and enhance the ability to draw valuable knowledge and help farmers maintain profitability. 

My view is that a farmer will need to rely on a machinery dealership to help move data on and off or between machines while consultants and ag retailers provide the agronomic analysis and Rx map generation at the regional level.  Technology companies have already invested and providing solutions to learn more about how their products such as seed technology perform on a regional or site-specific basis.  They can learn from this information in order to improve their offering to an individual farmer.  There are other companies which will play a critical role.  In return, everyone must be working together or partnering in order to best serve the farmer. 

I was amazed at the 2013 InfoAg Conference the number of company exhibits in which partnerships were being visibly publicized.  These partnerships have also been integrated into exhibits at the various fall farm shows around the US.  I feel this is a positive sign for farmers and the ag community as the data evolution matures.  Still plenty of work for everyone to address farmer concerns but the discussions and partnerships between companies is positive.


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We know the adoption of precision ag continues to increase across the US. Here in Alabama, technology and site-specific management exceeds national averages reported by the USDA.

In 2009 and 2010, the Alabama Precision Ag Team conducted surveys around the state asking farmers their adoption of many available technologies. Data was collected during winter crop production meetings coordinated by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). At that time, adoption in central Alabama was low in comparison to other regions. Therefore, the team has been working to help farmers understand the benefits of technology and how to best implement on their operations in this region. In February of 2013, we were able to repeat the same survey in order to assess how adoption had changed after 3 years collecting data at these same winter meetings.

Results from the 2013 survey and comparison to the 2010 data has been reported in a Timely Information Publication which can be viewed by clicking here. Of interest, there was a significant increase in Precision Soil Sampling and associated use of Variable-Rate Technology.& Autoguidance and especially RTK increased during this period. A surprise was that yield monitoring jumped from 16% in 2010 up to 48% in 2013. This trend was encouraging as we enter the data management era. Finally, 96% of the farmers have access to high speed internet with 81% requesting more precision ag education.

Publication - Precision Ag Adoption in Central Alabama

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The Alabama Precision Ag Team has been using Facebook as its portal to archive images and information.

The site provides updates on projects, demonstrations and other Extension activities. A Facebook account is not required to view and navigate the site.  So check it out and follow us through the year.


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The Biosystems Engineering Department at Auburn University has a research assistantship, at the Master of Science (MS) level, available in the area of machinery automation focused on enhancement of agricultural equipment for site-specific management.  The position would start during the summer or by August 2013.  This individual would have the opportunity to conduct cutting edge, practical research on planter technology or fertilizer distribution systems in order to improve delivery and timing of inputs for high yielding crop production systems.  There will also be opportunities to work with Alabama Precision Ag team members on extension and education activities around Alabama and South US. 

Interested students need to be self-motivated, energetic and willing to work both in a laboratory setting and outside in the field.  An undergraduate degree in agriculture, biological, biosystems or similar engineering program is required.

For further information about this position, contact Dr. John Fulton at,

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The Alabama Precision Ag Team is looking for an energetic young student to fill an open 2013 summer internship.  The internship would include supporting research and education activities in the area of precision agriculture.  Responsibilities will include assisting with field data collection in support of site-specific agronomic practices under evaluation and technology development.  One would be required to setup and troubleshoot machinery and technology being used for field research and demonstrations. The individual will also help prepare educational information and be responsible for downloading field data from machinery.  Interested individuals should be proficient in MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint and willing to work outside.  The experience will provide exposure to new precision ag technologies from various manufacturers and participating field days. 

Please contact Dr. John Fulton for further information if interested:

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) has just announced an OPEN POSITION Agronomic Crops extension position in southwest Alabama.  The qualified person will provide research-based information and learning opportunities to agricultural row crop producers in this region of Alabama.  They will work directly with the Agronomic Crops Team and will be required to address questions and programming related to precision agriculture.

Click HERE for the job description and other related information about this position.

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) has announced an opening for an Regional Extension Agent (REA) position in Southwest Alabama focused on Agronomic Crops.  The Extension program for a successful candidate will include emphasis in the area of Precision Ag while also addressing agronomic issues among growers in this region.  Applications are currently being requested with a closing date of July 23, 2012.  Information about the position and how to apply can be found on the ACES website (click here).

More information on the Alabama Precision Ag program can be found at:

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