WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Yesterday, researchers from 20 land-grant institutions received the 2014 Experiment Station Section Excellence in Multistate Research Award from the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP). The award, presented by ESCOP Chair, Bob Shulstad, and Director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), Sonny Ramaswamy, recognized the researchers' exceptional collaboration on a multistate research project that helps farmers better use microirrigation (MI) systems to sustainably irrigate their land, especially during droughts and water shortages. Researchers participating in the project, W-2128 Microirrigation for Sustainable Water Use, were honored for their efforts during the Awards Program held at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
"The Multistate Research Program is one of the best kept secrets of the land-grant university system, and this award recognizes outstanding interdependent efforts of researchers and extension specialists that have come together to tackle a priority issue that no one institution can address on their own. This microirrigation project was selected out of more than 300 multistate projects because, since 1972, the group has made major advances in sustainable agriculture and water conservation," said H. Michael Harrington, Executive Director of the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors.
Conventional irrigation systems that apply high volumes of water over wide areas can lose a lot of water through runoff, wind, or evaporation. As a result, conventional irrigation systems often over- or under-water plants. Instead, MI systems use special timers, sensors, and a network of narrow tubes to deliver the right amount of water at the right time.
In the last five years, W-2128's research has led to new MI equipment and tools that are easier to install, more durable, and more precise. These advances, along with engagement with farmers, have encouraged adoption of MI systems, which has led to significant economic and environmental impacts. In Idaho, farmers who used MI systems saved 10% on labor and water pumping costs. Farmers who used MI systems in Puerto Rico were able to grow taro on a commercial scale despite dry conditions. In Oregon, MI systems have reduced groundwater pollution and increased onion crop yields. MI systems have also helped to restore land disturbed by uranium mill sites on the Navajo Nation.
"As director of USDA-NIFA, my goal is to ensure the science we invest in leads to solutions to today's most pressing challenges. One of those challenges is finding ways to feed the growing population while minimally impacting the environment," said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. "A safe, reliable supply of water is inextricably linked to food security. The five-fold increase in irrigated acres that took place during the 20th century cannot be repeated in the 21st century—there isn't the space. Instead, we must increase efficiency of the irrigated farmland we have, and that is what this project is doing."
W-2128's efforts are supported, in part, through USDA-NIFA by the Multistate Research Fund, established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary agricultural research on critical issues. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists.
The land-grant institutions participating in W-2128 include: Auburn University; University of Arizona; University of California, Davis; University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Colorado State University; University of Florida; University of Hawaii; University of Idaho; Iowa State University; Kansas State University; Mississippi State University, University of Nebraska, New Mexico State University, Cornell University; Oregon State University; University of Puerto Rico; Texas A&M AgriLife Research; University of the Virgin Islands; Washington State University; and University of Wyoming. In addition, the universities collaborated with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Agricultural Research Service.
"Leveraging the expertise at several institutions and federal agencies gives much greater impact to the results of the research and education efforts," said Steve Loring, Associate Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at New Mexico State University and administrative adviser for the project.
Following the awards ceremony, the project's name will be added to a plaque at the USDA Waterfront Centre in Washington, D.C., and the group will receive $15,000 to support their ongoing work. The group's continued efforts are more critical than ever as the U.S. continues to experience extreme droughts that threaten water supplies and crops that depend on irrigation.
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SOURCE Agriculture is America