Overview of current research projects at the center

Impact of previous research and education programs

Soil moisture sensors in row crops

The adoption of soil moisture sensors to schedule irrigation in row crop production is growing, but at a rather slow pace. Between the two types of soil moisture sensors, volumetric (capacitance), and tensiometric, the tensiometric style probes have seen a much higher adoption rate in row crop production mainly due to their lower cost. The Mitchell County Extension agent implemented on-farm demonstration trials in three southwest Georgia counties in corn, peanuts, and cotton using three different style capacitance sensors from three vendors. All of the county agents and farmers gained knowledge of using capacitance style soil moisture sensors and that the data given to the farmers influenced their irrigation decisions. Results also showed that all of the farmers were more than likely to implement soil moisture sensors systems on their farm in the future.

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Precision agriculture adoption

Producers need a way to better manage their inputs from year to year to aid them in increasing profitability. One such strategy is the implementation of Precision Agriculture techniques into their production operations. There are many Precision Agriculture techniques and technologies available to producers across all aspects of their production practices. These systems can be adopted throughout the entire production practice, starting from tillage and planting, all of the way through harvest. Irrigation scheduling and technology adoption in agriculture are critical issues in increasing the level of productiveness, profitability, and crop yields. The UGA Extension crop and soil scientist focused on employing projects that have evaluated irrigation scheduling methods in all of the major row crops grown in Georgia (cotton, peanuts, corn, and soybeans). These projects have included the testing of soil moisture sensors, online irrigation scheduling tools and smartphone apps, plant sensors, and tools that estimate evapotranspiration. He has also begun working with a colleague to develop new irrigation scheduling apps for smartphones for both soybeans and vegetables. He is currently collaborating with UGA agronomists and physiologists to determine the effects of irrigation methods on crop growth, development and final yield. In conjunction with the agronomic side of the research projects he has been working with UGA agricultural economists to aid in selecting the methods and technologies that not only produce the highest yields but also work towards increasing efficiencies, meaning they are most profitable for the producers. The implementation and incorporation of irrigation scheduling tools into production practice has the potential to not only increase water use efficiency of crops, but the potential to increase yield.

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Helping Farmers Irrigate Efficiently

In Georgia, there are over 13,000 center pivot systems, watering about 1.5 million acres. However, recent drought periods and lawsuits between states have prompted a renewed interest in water conservation methods. The C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park (SIRP) is a state-of-the-art irrigation research and education center providing an easily accessible facility to assist farmers in managing irrigation and the general public in understanding the role of water in the economy of the region. Scientists, engineers, UGA Cooperative Extension specialists and staff collaborate to define crop water needs, improve food, feed and fiber production under irrigation, and find more efficient ways to apply irrigation water. SIRP hosted research projects from many different disciplines in 2009, including using remote sensing technologies to detect soil moisture stress in cotton, comparing new and established peanut cultivars under paired irrigated and dryland tests, evaluating irrigation scheduling methods for sweet corn production, evaluating corn and peanut irrigation schedules in a strip-till system, testing interaction of cotton plant growth regulators and irrigation, evaluation of subsurface drip irrigation in a corn-cotton-peanut rotation, low input peanut production systems in conventional vs. conservation tillage, irrigation scheduling effects on winter wheat yields, irrigation scheduling of watermelons and plastic mulch effects on thrip movement in drip irrigated tomatoes. SIRP's partnership with the Flint River Basin Program has assisted with the Program obtaining $10 million from the USDA-NRCS AWEP program for cost-sharing irrigation efficiency and conservation enhancements, including lower pressure drop nozzles, remote soil moisture monitoring, and variable-rate irrigation systems (VRI). The park and its scientists are working with the Flint River Basin Program to deploy Variable-Rate Irrigation systems by 2013. The effort will have installed 130 VRI systems for a total water savings of about 650 million gallons (or 2 acre-inches) per season.

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Stripling Irrigation Research Park

The C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park (SIRP) is a state-of-the-art irrigation research and education center providing an easily accessible facility to assist farmers in managing irrigation and the general public in understanding the role of water in the economy of the region. Scientists, engineers, extension specialists, and staff collaborate to define crop water needs, improve food, feed and fiber production under irrigation, and find more efficient ways to apply irrigation water. SIRP hosted research projects from many disciplines in 2015. SIRP's linkage with the Flint River Partnership has assisted with the Partnership obtaining $5 million from the USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program for cost-sharing irrigation efficiency and conservation enhancements, including lower pressure drop nozzles, remote soil moisture monitoring, and variable-rate irrigation systems. SIRP coordinated with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to become one of 30 official “partners” on these RCPP projects. The Park and UGA/CAES is continuing to work with the Partnership and their 2016 $10 million RCPP project proposal to strengthen drought resiliency in the lower Flint River basin.

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Smartphone Apps for Irrigation Scheduling

Georgia has faced repeated droughts and widely varying rainfall patterns over the past two decades making irrigation a critical asset in maintaining yield stability. Easy-to-use irrigation scheduling tools are not readily available and frequently require daily data entry from producers to function. This makes it difficult for agricultural producers to use these tools, resulting in very low adoption rates. So UGA crop and soil scientists are developing a suite of easy-to-use smartphone applications which can be used for scheduling irrigation in several crops important to Georgia. The apps require minimum input from the user and push notifications to the user when it is time to irrigate. The Cotton SmartIrrigation App was released in 2014 and has been used by cotton growers for three growing seasons. Data show that it can improve water use efficiency by more than 30 percent. Apps for soybeans, tomato, cabbage, watermelon, and blueberry are currently in various stages of development and will be released to the public by 2018. Apps are free and can be downloaded for iOS and Android smartphones from www.smartirrigationapps.org.

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Soil Moisture Sensors

In response to the Florida/Georgia water legislation, the University of Georgia established a team of researchers to examine the benefits, barriers and perceptions of farmers, consultants, and UGA Extension agents in implementing irrigation scheduling technology into their farming decisions. Soil moisture sensors and its accompanying smart technology have the ability to help farmers make responsible irrigating decisions to use water efficiently for maximum crop yield. The AgWET team is comprised of the technical, social science, and education and outreach. The social science team has been tasked with evaluating the impact of using soil moisture sensors in cotton and peanut fields in south Georgia. Using surveys and interviews, the team has worked with farmers, consultants and Extension agents to better understand farmers' adoption of technology to make efficient irrigation scheduling decisions. The data from the surveys indicated farmers were most likely to respond to online and mobile-friendly surveys, rather than paper or text message surveys. The data also indicated farmers are conscientious of their use of water in their irrigation scheduling decisions. Most interestingly, farmers indicate water use is of great importance, but do not believe it is a direct issue on their farm. Farmers recognize the use of water is a national or state issue, but not on their farm or in their county. The research will address barriers of adoption and attitudes toward technology integration in farming practices to utilize water and natural resources efficiently. The results from this research will be used to provide farmers, agents, and consultants with accessible technology to meet their needs and efficiently use Georgia water.

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Variable Rate Irrigation System

Variable rate irrigation (VRI) for center pivots was developed by the University of Georgia Precision Agriculture Team. The technology is now widely offered by most pivot manufacturers. VRI allows pivots to vary the amount of water they apply along the length of the irrigation system to address the variability within fields. Although VRI is a great leap forward in improving water use efficiency, the system could be greatly enhanced by having real-time information on crop water needs to drive the application rates. So the Georgia Precision Agriculture Team developed the UGA Smart Sensor Array, which is an inexpensive wireless soil moisture sensing system that allows for a high density of smart soil moisture sensors – a feature needed to enable dynamic prescription maps. The smart sensors wirelessly transmit soil moisture data to a web server where the data are processed and converted to recommended irrigation application rates. These recommendations are converted into daily prescription maps which can be downloaded remotely to a VRI controller, creating a dynamic VRI control system. As a result, when an irrigation event is initiated, the VRI-enabled pivot applies water to meet actual soil moisture needs. During 2015, they conducted an experiment to assess the system in a 230-acre field in Calhoun County, Georgia. The dynamic variable rate irrigation control system performed well throughout the growing season. The VRI controls allowed the scientists to not irrigate non-farmed areas within the field, saving significant amounts of irrigation water. In addition, the control system allowed them to irrigate some areas off the field more frequently and other areas less frequently based on actual crop water needs. This system has the potential to greatly increase agricultural water use efficiency and how much crop farmers get for every drop of irrigation water applied. This technology may be a powerful tool for increasing agricultural productivity without increasing irrigation water demand.

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Water: An Important Resource

Georgia is stepping up its efforts to do serious water planning. To help ensure a clean abundant water supply for the future, Mitchell County 4-H collaborated with other professional educational groups to educate 4-H youth, grades 5 through 12, about the importance of water to southwest Georgia. Three days packed full of educational and fun hands-on activities were held during the 9th Annual Mitchell County 4-H2O Day Camp. About 130 southwest Georgia 4-H'ers from 11 counties participated in activities focusing on water quality, water conservation, water usage, and global water issues. Scientists, researchers, and field-related personnel presented materials in an outdoor classroom setting. 4-H'ers enjoyed visits to the Flint RiverQuarium in Albany, the Stripling Irrigation Research Park near Camilla, the George Andrews Lock and Dam in Jakin and Water World in Dothan, Alabama as they learned the importance of irrigation and water conservation to agriculture and the importance of a clean water supply for recreational purposes in Southwest Georgia. Since 2008, a grand total of over $54,000, including grants, donations, and registration fees, has been secured to fund the Mitchell County 4-H2O Day Camp and over 960 4-H'ers from southwest Georgia have participated in the three-day water camp. “This camp gives them a background on the importance of water, protecting water, conserving water,” said the Stripling Irrigation Park Superintendent. “We want them to be good stewards of water.”

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