Sustainable Row Crop Irrigation Management in Louisiana

Final report for ES14-122

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $69,167.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Region: Southern
State: Louisiana
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

Proper irrigation is a best management practice that will enhance productivity or increase yields and will help insure the benefits from all other inputs are fully realized.  In addition to increased yields, irrigation can stabilize yield and quality from year to year.  The continued productivity of irrigated agriculture will be critical in Louisiana as the demand for food and fiber continues to grow.  The most common method of irrigating row crops in Louisiana is by furrow using disposable lay-flat tubing.  Though furrow irrigation is not very efficient on its own, this method is used by producers because it is considered economical considering the costs of water and infrastructure costs for alternative irrigation systems.  It has been demonstrated in the Delta region that combining furrow irrigation with technological advances, such as computerized hole size selection, irrigation timing using a soil water balance, and sensors for real-time feedback of plant and soil moisture conditions can produce significant water savings.  The training program was envisioned to provide the trainers and individual limited resource farmers (LRFs) with the tools that are critical for strengthening water resource management in row crop production, which further empowers LRFs to achieve social change.

Project Objectives:

The primary behavior-based objective is for the participants of this program to incorporate sustainable agricultural practices into integrated irrigation management strategies by implementing the principles and techniques identified below into their education and extension programs.

  • Introduction to sustainable production methods

Participants learn to identify the critical plant growth stages related to irrigation.  Topics covered under this objective include irrigation initiation, irrigation termination, residue management and cover crops, soil health, soil-water-plant relationships, and irrigation scheduling.

  • Introduction to water conservation technologies

Participants learn about irrigation design, irrigation efficiency, and water conservation technologies available for improving efficiency. 

  • Introduction to crop-water management practices

Participants learn about assessing water quality, developing nutrient prescriptions, and tail water recovery systems

  • Maximizing economic efficiency

Participants learn about investment costs, pumping costs, and relative economic profitability of any changes in irrigation methods and/or irrigation amounts.  An economic calculator, developed as part of the grant, is provided with education on use and applicability.

  • Trainees conducting trainings

Trainees will be able to use the materials provided to conduct their own training programs through extension.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Naveen Adusumilli
  • Chris Coreil
  • Dr. Syam Dodla
  • Dr. Dan Fromme
  • Bruce Garner
  • Biff Handy
  • Odis Hill
  • Dr. Changyoon Jeong
  • Steve Nipper
  • Dr. Stacia Davis

Education

Educational approach:

Our team conducted trainings to address integrated irrigation management for sustainable agricultural practices. The trainings included hands-on and interactive learning through three annual field days and 1 to 1.5 day workshops conducted three times per year for two years in Bossier City, Winnsboro, and Marksville, LA. Field days were conducted during the growing season when on-going farming activities illustrated principles and practices effectively.  Workshops were held during winter months to maximize the potential for attendance when farming activities had decreased. Additionally, long-term training opportunities include educational modules containing the most comprehensive research-based information presented in the workshops to address the strategies of the behavior-based objectives. 

The powerpoint material presented by the scientists was included on a USB drive as well as pertinent extension documents and the free software discussed and demonstrated during the workshop.  Each participant received the USB drive before leaving the first day of the training.  Additionally, binders containing the presentations and references were made available in anticipation of some participants being less technologically inclined.  

An interesting and important portion of the workshops included a producer panel discussion where the students were able to ask questions directly to their peers or other locals within the agricultural industry.  The panel was the most interesting and dynamic part of the workshop because of a commonly observed phenomenon where farmers engage more readily and openly with their peers rather than with scientists.  The panel discussion included all aspects of sustainable irrigation practices including discussion of experiences, barriers to implementation, advice on water management, and promote adoption of efficient production practices.  The Southern University AgCenter extension agent, Odis Hill, moderated the panel expertly using his sound knowledge on irrigation water management. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Introduction to sustainable production methods
Objective:

Participants will learn about the key growth stages of row crops, benefits of irrigation at critical growth stages, recommendations for seasonal initiation and termination of irrigation, and the relationship between soil, plant, and water with emphasis on irrigation scheduling.

Description:

Participants will be able to train the farmers in critical growth stages of row crops and water needs at these stages. Also, participants will learn about the importance of residue management and cover crops on overall soil health, organic matter, soil aggregation, and water storage capacity. Mentor farmers from the workshop will become ready to take the next step to fine tune their own operations. They will become educated on the available federal programs related to integrated water management plans and provide detailed training on how to apply for them. 

Outcomes and impacts:

It was expected that at least 50 percent of mentors will adopt at least one tool for sustainable production.  According to the survey results, more than 50% of participants indicated successful adoption of irrigation scheduling practices. 

Introduction to water conservation technologies
Objective:

Participants will learn about furrow irrigation technologies such as computerized hole selection, surge irrigation, and soil moisture sensors.

Description:

Efficiency differences inherent in irrigation design will be addressed with emphasis on targeted water application.  Trainees can facilitate adoption through the information learned at the training sessions.  Also, trainees will learn to use computerized hole-sizing software, critical for optimal irrigation application. The software will be provided to the trainees on USB drives. 

Outcomes and impacts:

It is our expectation that at least 75 percent of the participants will be able to select and install the technologies in a farmers’ field.  According to the survey results from the second year, 71% indicated that they either had adopted computerized hole selection or intended to adopt after the workshop.  Approximately 89% indicated that they had already or intended to adopt soil moisture sensors.

Introduction to crop-water management practices
Objective:

Participants will learn about water quality, nutrient prescriptions, tail water recovery practices, and economics associated with these topics.

Description:

Participants will learn about assessing the water quality and developing nutrient prescriptions.  They will also be exposed to tail water recovery systems and steps necessary to take advantage of nutrient availability in the runoff waters.  Participants will learn about methods to measure water quality throughout the agricultural system and reduce the potential for excessive application of nutrients. Trainees will learn about the economic loss associated with such inefficient production practices. Participants will learn the requirements for designing and installing tail water recovery systems and about the federal programs that provide assistance for farmers interested to adopt such practices. Farmers signing up for these programs will be used as a yardstick to measure the behavioral change in the farming community.

Outcomes and impacts:

After the workshops, 56% of the participants indicated that they already test their water quality.  An additional 44% indicated that they intend to test their quality.  None of the participants indicated that they did not see the need to perform this practice.  

Maximizing economic efficiency
Objective:

The overall economic objective is to develop a mathematical model to estimate irrigation costs under a variety of operating conditions that allows evaluation of irrigation systems.

Description:

An irrigation cost estimator tool will be developed as a web application that will allow participants to learn about the economic effectiveness of various irrigation practices. The tool will allow the trainees to promote profitable production practices. Such information is strongly believed to make informed decisions that would maximize net profits and will be a major motivating factor in getting farmers adopt the water management strategies.  

Outcomes and impacts:

It was expected that at least 50 percent of the mentors and 50 percent of the mentor farmers from the workshops will adopt the tool. The economic app developed to meet this objective is fully operational.  However, internal delays occurred related to the redesign of the LSU AgCenter website that hosts the app during the middle of the project.  Thus, the release was delayed and adoption information has not been collected at this time. 

Trainees conducting trainings
Objective:

Participants will use the provided educational material to conduct their own workshops.

Description:

PI’s and Co-PIs will continue contact with the workshop participants in assisting them with their training needs.  Updates to educational materials will continue based on feedback from their experiences.

Outcomes and impacts:

It was our expectation that at least 50 percent of the trainees will conduct at least one training in their parish/region during the second year of the project.  Instead, participants used this knowledge to communicate better with their clientele and help others adopt the practices on their farms.  They also used the extension system to call the co-PI's to their irrigating clientele for direct education. Thus, none of the participants reported using the educational materials in a traditional way.  However, the information was communicated to the anticipated audiences through multiple field days, production meetings, and other events including the Morehouse Parish Black Farmer's Association Field Day held during all three years of the project.  This relationship was extremely beneficial and we have been asked to continue participating with irrigation-related demonstrations.

Educational & Outreach Activities

11 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: Economic investment app

Participation Summary:

23 Extension
14 NRCS
5 Researchers
92 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

21 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
52 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Overall, the project team helped farmers in the region to learn and adopt irrigation efficiency practices, financial tools, and available technologies. Several inquiries regarding the methods have been received post-workshops, which has enabled the participating members to provide material and technical assistance to the farmers. Improvements in understanding about the tools and their performance, participation in conservation programs, increase in participation in demonstration research has been noticed through anecdotal reports. The workshops proved to meet the needs of the farmers in the region, ultimately allowing them to be conscious about resource use and improve overall profitability.

Based on direct workshop feedback, there was a significant increase in knowledge, understanding, and adoption of sustainable irrigation practices.  During the first round of workshops in the winter of 2015/2016, 44% of the participants were already familiar with the concepts and 46% indicated that they did not know the concepts previously, but gained the knowledge from the workshop.  Those with prior familiarity with the concepts increased to 77% of participants and those that learned during the workshop decreased to 21% for the winter 2017 workshops.  The portion of participants that indicated continued lack of clarity in the educational content also dropped from 9% to 2% after the final round of workshops.  When asked directly about specific sustainable irrigation practices, successful adoption increased from 30% to more than 50%.  Those that had no interest in adopting a practice decreased in the second year for all categories except for PHAUCET, which may have been because the question was not clearly stated.  Though participant retention dwindled between the two rounds of workshops thus drawing from different sample populations, there is hope that the combination of our workshops with other educational outlets (e.g. conference presentations, mid-South media publications, and other extension activities related to sustainable irrigation) contributed to the overall educational impact.  Also, it seems that changes made to the educational content between the two years of workshops helped to minimize confusion of the principles.  

1 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
57 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

This project was designed by the team as a train-the-trainer program where the newly educated trainers could use the resources developed by the scientists to conduct their own educational programs related to sustainable irrigation practices.  Unfortunately, the trainers chose to learn the general concepts for themselves and not push this information on their clientele like we envisioned.  Instead, extension agents used the information to communicate about water to individuals who asked about irrigation-related problems and pulled the scientists directly to their clientele for additional field days, roundtables, or other extension events to have additional speakers.  Crop consultants and industry used this information to better interact with their customers and improve their irrigation technology sales.  Farmers attended to learn what they could do to add new sustainable irrigation capacity or learn how to irrigate more efficiently on their own farms.  Though this content made a measurable educational difference in Louisiana, it did not occur as planned. Despite this unintended outcome, a 95% of trainers found the content to be informative and valuable across all workshops with 100% response from the final three workshops.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.