Identifying Stacked Conservation Practices that Optimize Water Use in Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $349,977.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G235-19-W7500
Grant Recipients: Utah State University; Brigham Young University; Brigham Young University-Idaho; University of Idaho
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Matt Yost
Utah State University
Niel Allen
Utah State University
Dr. Earl Creech
Utah State University
Neil Hansen
Brigham Young University
Matthew Heaton
Brigham Young University
Ross Spackman
Brigham Young University-Idaho

Information Products


  • Agronomic: clovers, corn, medics/alfalfa, vetches, wheat


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, drought tolerance, irrigation, no-till, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy

    Proposal abstract:

    Concerns about water scarcity are mounting due to rapid urban growth, depleting groundwater supplies, and drought resulting from less and more variable snowpack in the western United States. These concerns are apparent in several areas of Idaho and Utah where water shortages are already common. We propose collaborations with several stakeholders to answer these three critical research questions: (1) Which combinations of irrigation and crop management practices result in the optimal use of limited water supplies for the best yield and profit outcomes for producers? (2) Which water conservation practices are and could be used by producers? and (3) How can their barriers to adoption be overcome?

                To address these research questions, we propose expanding ongoing work to: i) conduct on-farm and research station experiments to identify how individual and ‘stacked’ water conservation practices (irrigation, crop genetics, and crop management) optimize water use and increase crop profit at three sites in Utah (Logan, Cedar City, and Vernal) and three in Idaho (Pocatello, Rexburg, and Twin Falls); and ii) conduct statewide and local surveys of major irrigators in Idaho and Utah to quantify adoption rates of water conservation practices, barriers to adoption, and impacts of the proposed work. This work will be focused on pivot irrigation which comprises most of the sprinkler irrigation in Utah and Idaho. Dynamic outreach components will include interactive field days at the six research sites, presentations and publications through Idaho and Utah Extension and professional associations, and new curriculum and training for students at six Universities.  

                The anticipated project outcomes in the Western Region include:

    1.      Over 300 stakeholders will engage in discussions and demonstrations of water conservation research at six field days;

    2.      Over 1,000 stakeholders will be educated on practices to optimize their water use during various Extension and professional presentations;

    3.      Producers, agricultural professionals, and others will have access to timely information about practices that optimize water use through at least 3 Extension publications and 3 journal articles;

    4.      Over 2,000 producers will have the opportunity to share their experience with water conservation through surveys; and

    5.      Students from six universities will have access to new water conservation curriculum and hands-on training.

                Producing and disseminating results on the suites of practices that economically and feasibly optimize water should lead to greater acceptance and use of these practices. Preliminary studies by investigators have shown that some combinations reduce irrigation and energy use without impacting yield. Annual diversion of water could be reduced by 100,000’s of acre-feet if advanced practices were implemented by just half of the irrigators in Idaho and Utah. These outcomes would also assist producers and other stakeholders involved in proposing, creating, and administering cost-share or water bank programs to help conserve water. Furthermore, we expect these trials will provide the foundation for years of valuable information concerning ideal short- and long-term water conservation practices, and should spur further funding and support from the state and federal agencies where water conservation and optimization is a high priority.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Identify combinations of six (irrigation system, rate, and schedule coupled with crop type, crop genetics, and tillage) water conservation practices with the greatest ability to optimize water and energy use. Years 1-3.
    2. Expand variable-rate irrigation research to provide dynamic irrigation prescriptions based on soils and yield to improve water and energy use efficiencies. Years 1-3.
    3. Determine producer’s attitudes, acceptance rates, and barriers to adoption of water conservation practices in order to better adapt and target Extension and outreach efforts. Year 2.
    4. Deliver dynamic educational products and training on water and energy optimization through Extension and coordinated outreach to increase awareness and adoption of proven water optimization practices. Year 2 and Year 3.
    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.