Irrigation Scheduling Tools to Address Climate Variability – Especially Drought
Because of climate variability and the increasing frequency of drought, irrigation has become essential to crop production in the southeastern USA. As a result, the competition for available fresh water supplies is increasing. Ugly political and legal battles between competing users to secure access to water are taking place in a region where annual precipitation exceeds 1300 mm. If irrigated agriculture is to survive in this competitive environment, we must use irrigation water efficiently – especially during periods of drought.
We have several ongoing Smart Irrigation projects whose objectives are to develop a wide variety of tools which will enable farmers to better utilize their water resources. The projects range from developing smartphone apps for scheduling irrigation to developing smart wireless soil moisture sensing systems. Below is an example.
The UGA Smart Sensor Array for Scheduling Irrigation
The UGA Smart Sensor Array (UGA SSA) is a low-cost wireless soil moisture sensing system. Its low cost allows a user to install a dense network of nodes to accurately characterize soil moisture variability. This type of information is necessary to make good irrigation scheduling decisions – especially if a variable rate irrigation system (VRI) is used. Data from the UGA SSA are transmitted wirelessly to the UGA SSA Data Portal where users can view their soil moisture data remotely in real time from any internet capable device including smartphones and tablets. The Data Portal uses the soil moisture data to develop irrigation recommendations. The recommendations are available by irrigation management zone (IMZ) and can be downloaded to the controllers of VRI-enabled center pivots. The irrigation recommendations incorporate drought adaptation strategies and precipitation forecasts to enable users to make better decisions on irrigation scheduling. To learn more, please visit Vellidis.org and select Smart Irrigation.
Agricultural engagement in the SECC happens in a number of ways and locations. Below are a few examples of what SECC researchers are doing to engage agricultural stakeholders.
- Engaging State Climatologists
- Dialog with limited resource producers
- Row crop climate learning network
- Interactive workshops on adaptation options
Ms. Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia, spends much of her time on delivering climate-related information to stakeholders. She develops fact sheets, conducts webinars, and presents at workshops and other educational settings. Examples of topics she addresses are precipitation trends in the Southeast, impacts of ENSO on various crops, climate change impacts on degree days and growing season length, and reporting on drought conditions in Georgia and the Southeast. She also maintains a blog where stakeholders can find the latest news on climate and agriculture. Pam has also been an integral part of the development and delivery of an online course on climate change and livestock production.
David Zierden, the Florida State Climatologist, also spends time delivering climate information to stakeholders. His outreach efforts are maintained on a blog through the Florida Climate Center. David is very involved with the Tri-state row crop meetings (detailed below) and frequently gives presentations on climate science at SECC stakeholder meetings.
Dr. Carrie Furman (below), an anthropologist at the University of Georgia, works closely with underserved groups in the Southeast such as organic farmers and African American farmers, to gage their needs on weather and climate and to deliver relevant information. Dr. Furman works closely with Ms. Knox to deliver this information. Dr. Furman and Ms. Knox are piloting interactive blog posts through Georgia Organics where outlooks, forecasts, and information are posted for the purpose of creating a web-based community of practice. Participant farmers have the ability to ask questions, pose adaptive strategies, and assist other farmers in climate risk management strategies. Dr. Furman is also working with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives to develop a climate-based community of practice.
The UGA Climate Extension team maintains the GeorgiaClimate.org website (currently under construction) to provide climate and weather-related information to county extension agents in Georgia.
Since 2010, we have been engaged in supporting the Tri-state Climate Learning Network, which convenes row crop farmers, extension agents and researchers from GA, FL, and AL to discuss options for reducing climate-related risks. Led by Wendy-Lin Bartels and Dan Dourte (UF), tri-state participants meet biannually and learn together about how to adapt production practices based on seasonal climate forecasts. Several farmers from the Flint River basin have attended these meetings in the past.
For more information:
Open Sesame: A Possible Crop to Mitigate Climate Risk?
10th meeting of the Tri-State Climate Learning Network
Live Oak, FL — August 7, 2014
High-residue cover crops, field tours, Q&A, climate change
Monticello, FL – February 2013
High-residue cover crops, sub-surface drip, and water harvesting
Headland, AL — August 2012
Adaptaton Exchange meetings bring together farmers, Extension agents, and other decision-makers to discuss climate, weather, and agricultural management strategies to deal with climate and weather variability. These meetings are led by Clyde Fraisse (UF) and the Southeast Climate Extension team.
Advanced Farming Technologies for Reducing Climate Risks
Edisto Research & Education Center, Blackville, SC — August 12, 2014
Climate Adaptation Exchange Fair
Tifton, GA — February 2013
Adaptation Exchange: Farm management strategies to reduce climate-related risks
Quincy, FL — February 2012
AgroClimate Tools for Managing Climate Risk in Agriculture
AgroClimate is an innovative web-resource for decision-support and learning, providing interactive tools and climate information to improve crop management decisions and reduce production risks associated with climate variability, climate change, and extreme weather events. Users can monitor variables of interest such as growing degree days, chill hours, freeze risk, disease risks for selected crops, and current and projected drought conditions. Users can also learn about the impacts of climate cycles affecting the Southeastern United States, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Water and carbon footprint calculators provide system-specific estimates of how efficiently water and energy are being used. AgroClimate also includes educational resources – videos and fact sheets – about management practices and technologies that can help improve efficiency of production and decrease the vulnerability of agricultural systems to climate variability and change. AgroClimate is regularly used during training events for County Extension faculty and during workshops with agricultural producers. Its modular platform allows for an easy replication in other geographies and for content expansion.
Smart Irrigation Apps for Managing Urban and Agricultural Irrigation
This project focuses on the development of smartphone apps for scheduling irrigation in citrus, cotton, strawberry, and urban lawns. These free apps provide real-time and forecasted information that can be used for more efficient irrigation and water conservation. Some of the apps also incorporate drought adaptation strategies such as primed acclimation and precipitation forecasts to enable users to make better decisions on irrigation scheduling. The Apps are available for both Android and iOS platforms and can be downloaded for free. To learn more, please visit smartirrigationapps.org.
SECC tools have yielded success stories of service to our stakeholders. They are available here.