Purdue leading research to improve water management on farms In Brief: A Purdue University researcher is heading a $5 million federally funded project examining the economic and environmental benefits and costs of storing water on farms so that crops can use it when needed and to reduce loss of nutrients into waterways. ASABE member Jane Frankenberger, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is directing the five-year research project addressing the issues of farm nutrients draining from fields, causing problems downstream, and the need for water in the late summer to irrigate sometimes parched crops. “Both of these problems are expected to get more pressing with climate change,” Frankenberger said. “This research will collect data now that will help farmers make better decisions in the future.” The research is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Other universities participating in the research project, titled “Managing water for increased resiliency of drained agricultural landscapes,” are Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, Ohio State, University of Missouri, North Carolina State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of Minnesota, as well as the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The objective is to advance three innovative practices that can address the problems of crop loss due to the increased likelihood of summer drought and the degradation of water quality from drained farmland: Drainage water management: This practice conserves water by raising the drainage outlet using a water control structure, thereby retaining water in the soil profile when drainage is not needed. Saturated buffers: This practice stores water within the soil by diverting tile water into laterals that raise the water table and slow outflow. Early results indicate that buffers can be effective in removing nitrate from tile drain water before it is discharged into surface waters. Capture and use:With this system, subsurface drainage water is diverted into on-farm reservoirs, or ponds, where it is stored until it is needed to irrigate crops. The researchers say that each of these practices has been evaluated at scattered fields across the region, but the findings have not yet been brought together and made into tools to improve decision-making. Drained lands comprise about 25% of U.S. cropland, some of it among the most productive in the world. Depending on the weather in any year, this land can get too much water from rain and snow or not enough water during drought. Many scientists believe that such conditions will intensify with climate change. The project will integrate research and education to develop new understanding, tools, and strategies to increase the resiliency of drained agricultural land. Extension and education programs will extend the strategies and tools to agricultural producers, the drainage industry, watershed managers, agencies, and policy makers. They also will help to educate the next generation of engineers and scientists in designing drainage systems that include storage in the landscape. Other Purdue researchers working on the project are Laura Bowling, associate professor of agronomy; ASABE member Bernard Engel, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; ASABE member Eileen Kladivko, professor of agronomy; and Linda Prokopy, associate professor of natural resource social science. A video clip of Jane Frankenberger explaining the research, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vynOVY0BcFI. For more information, contact Keith Robinson, Coordinator of News and Public Affairs, Department of Agricultural Communication, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., USA, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stem-bending sensor can predict yield in bioenergy crops In Brief: A “look-ahead” sensor that converts the bending load of napiergrass to a measure of yield was one of four yield-sensing approaches developed by University of Illinois (U of I) researchers. The study was conducted in Florida and funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute. Napiergrass, also known as elephant grass, resembles sugarcane in stature and in methods of propagation. The grass is emerging as a candidate bioenergy crop, but few studies are available on napiergrass yield sensing, a technology that could play an important role in implementing precision agriculture and reducing harvest costs. ASABE member Alan Hansen, professor in the U of I Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and ASABE member Sunil Mathanker, postdoctoral researcher in the department, worked with colleagues from John Deere and BP Biofuels to field test four yield-sensing approaches and document their correlation to napiergrass yield. In this study, a stem-bending yield sensor was developed to fit a John Deere 3522 sugarcane billet harvester. Four load cells were fitted between two parallel pipes to form a push bar. The push bar was installed between the crop dividers about 1.2 m above the ground and 1.5 m ahead of the basecutter. The study also investigated the hydraulic pressures of the basecutter, chopper, and elevator drives as indicators of yield. Three pressure sensors were fitted to the inlets of the hydraulic motors operating the basecutter, chopper, and elevator on the John Deere harvester. The sensor that measured stem-bending force was the most accurate among the four methods tested. “What’s particularly good about this sensor,” said Hansen, “is that we’re able to measure yield at the point of entry. This is somewhat unique. In combine harvesters, yield is monitored at a point much farther along in the flow of material, where the grain is about to enter the tank at the top of the combine. The delay between when the grain comes in and when it reaches the point of measurement creates a potential for error, which requires an estimate in relation to the time lag. So having this look-ahead sensor right up front is of significant value.” While the look-ahead sensor showed the best correlation with yield, Mathanker said there are still issues, such as crop lodging, harvester speed, and the ability of critical components to respond to sudden changes in ground speed, that pose a challenge for this sensing approach. Varietal characteristics, harvest time, moisture content of the stems, soil conditions, sensor height, and physical properties of the stems can also influence the bending force on the push bar. Among the three hydraulic pressure-sensing approaches, the chopper pressure showed the highest correlation with yield. A reasonable correlation was found between the base cutter pressure and yield, although it was expected that the basecutter pressure would depend on cutting height in addition to yield. Chopper and elevator pressures were less affected by factors other than yield compared to basecutter pressure. “Based on the results of this study,” Mathanker said, “the stem-bending yield sensor showed potential for real-time napiergrass yield prediction. It can also be used to control operating parameters of the harvester, such as travel speed, and generate yield maps for precision agriculture. We believe this force-sensing approach can be extended to other thick stemmed crops as well.” Hansen and Mathanker published their findings in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture (doi: 10.1016/j.compag. 2015.01.007). Co-authors of the article are ASABE members Hao Gan, Jason Buss, and John Larsen. For more information, contact Leanne Lucas, News Writer, Agricultural Engineering Sciences, Urbana, Ill., USA, email@example.com. Vegetable study targets water saving in the Texas High Plains In Brief: Vegetable production is not new in the Texas High Plains, but it is being re-examined in a Texas A&M AgriLife Research study to see if it might offer a water saving alternative for some cereal grain production. "Everybody knows we are generally short of water in the Texas High Plains and can no longer meet 100% of all crop water needs,” said ASABE member Thomas Marek, senior research engineer for irrigation water conservation and management at AgriLife Research in Amarillo. “We grow a tremendous amount of corn for the cattle industry, and we know from our regional water plan that corn production is going to have to be reduced in the future.” Marek said production changes, preferably to higher value crops such as certain types of vegetables, might be a partial solution to sustaining future profitability for Texas High Plains producers, particularly those facing water shortages in the northwestern area. “Water is the largest input factor for economically feasible crop production, so numerous water management strategies have been proposed by the region’s water planning committee, the Panhandle Water Planning Group,” he said. “One of the strategies being considered is crop changes to reduce irrigation water use.” “While water use for vegetables may not be less per acre than that of some currently produced cereal grains, less overall regional acreage may be required to maintain or even increase the existing profit level for producers,” Marek said. Marek conducted a relatively small demonstration in 2014 with several categories of vegetables at AgriLife Research’s James Bush Farm north of Bushland, Texas. The USDA-ARS Ogallala Aquifer Program, AgriLife Research, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported this study. Marek said they grew higher-value runner- type vegetables such as squash, zucchini, cucumbers, as well as peppers, onions, melons, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and okra. “We have a pretty definite range of what we are evaluating at this point,” he said, “and the potential has been promising to date.” All vegetables were grown with a single irrigation level targeted at high evapotranspiration (ET). A weather station, which is part of the Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network, was located near the plots and was used to compute daily reference ET to determine what the actual water demand was. Plots were planted on May 29 and again on June 10. This was later than desired, but scheduling conflicts prevented earlier operations. Irrigation was applied using surface-flow systems. Because the total plot area was relatively small, Marek said irrigation efficiencies were very high, and the total amount of irrigation applied from planting to harvest was 17.46 in. The in-season rainfall in 2014 was 12.61 in. Each vegetable was planted on a bedded, two-row, 20 ft long plot. The row spacing was 30 in. Vegetables were hand harvested on a two to three day picking schedule. Data on plant count, harvested fruit number, total harvested weight per picking, and water use were recorded for each harvest event. Several findings were determined from the first round of the study: earlier planting would help increase yield output per plant, and plant establishment with transplants needed to be augmented with protective wind cylinders due to early season high winds in 2014. “We had local folks driving by the field and asking, ‘What are all those white things out there in the field, and what are y’all doing?’ so I knew the community was paying attention,” Marek said. Marek indicated that they would also need to look at the heat unit requirements to be sure vegetables can be routinely produced. In addition, more research is needed regarding water use and management within the region before adequate assessment can be made for vegetables as a viable water-saving alternative to current cereal grain production. A demonstration is planned again for 2015 and will be complemented with related projects in the Texas A&M AgriLife cropping system program involving other AgriLife Research scientists and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists. “The results so far have been promising,” Marek said, “We can produce vegetables. What’s needed ultimately is to develop a market structure. We will also continue to determine the production aspects and water-use efficiency of various vegetables and determine what is most efficient over time.” For more information contact, Kay Ledbetter, Associate Editor and Communication Specialist, Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Amarillo, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org. On-line tool evaluates options for reducing odors from livestock operations In Brief: A team of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists has developed an online tool to help livestock and poultry producers compare odor mitigation techniques that could be useful on their farms. The Air Management Practices Assessment Tool, AMPAT for short, is web-based and available at no charge at www.agronext.iastate.edu/ampat. “The website was developed to help livestock and poultry producers identify practices to reduce odors and emissions of gases and dust caused by animal production,” said Angie Rieck-Hinz, an ISU Extension field agronomist and member of the project team. “The database lists options for three core sources of odor and emissions—animal housing, manure storage and handling, and land application.” Other members of the team include ASABE members Jay Harmon, Steven Hoff, and Dan Andersen, professors of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State. Producers can select a specific mitigation practice and learn more about its effectiveness and relative cost by using AMPAT in conjunction with the National Air Quality Site Assessment Tool (http://naqsat.tamu.edu/) to identify opportunities to make changes, find best practices for improving air quality, and evaluate their effectiveness. To evaluate practices on AMPAT, the producer selects one of the three core odor sources. Each category provides access to resources that are specific to a particular pollutant. Once a pollutant is selected, a variety of resources are listed. The resources include research-based publications on recommended practices, the pros and cons of using a recommended practice, and short videos. Additional information and related links also are provided. “Our goal was to develop a tool that is easy to use and provides relevant information for livestock producers across the state,” Harmon said. “AMPAT helps producers see which technologies have the highest impact.” For quick reference, AMPAT uses a colored-coded listing of the technologies available to address pollutants. Green indicates that the selected technology has a high impact on that particular pollutant; yellow and red indicate medium and low impact, respectively. No color indicates that there is insufficient data available to classify the effectiveness. “For example, if producers are concerned about a potential odor problem from animal housing, they can scan down the list under the ‘odor’ heading. From the list, they will find that ‘siting,’ ‘scrubbers,’ ‘urine/feces segregation’ and ‘biofilters’ have green bars, meaning they have high impact on odors. With that information, the producers can then investigate options for implementing those technologies and evaluate their selection based on relative cost, or they can investigate all four options.” “It’s not uncommon for producers to identify best practices and implement them in their operations,” he said. “Producers want to be good neighbors, and this tool helps them to achieve that goal.” For more information, contact Dana Woolley, Communications Specialist, Departments of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Aerospace Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, USA, email@example.com. Inexpensive aerial imaging can target treatments where they are needed In Brief: ASABE member Chenghai Yang, an agricultural engineer with the USDA, has developed a practical, costeffective approach for taking aerial images of cotton fields that are detailed enough to show patches of large fields in need of special attention. Small aircraft have been used for years to survey fields and treat crops for pest infestations, plant diseases, and other problems. But Yang, who is with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in College Station, Texas, began evaluating whether aerial imagery could spot problem areas within cotton fields when growers started using a new fungicide to control cotton root rot. Root rot infections are usually limited to just 20% to 30% of a field. But many growers treat entire fields, thereby wasting a fungicide that costs about $50 an acre. Working with Texas A&M AgriLife scientists, Yang mounted two digital cameras on the underside of a small airplane, equipped them with GPS, and took images of cotton fields to see whether they could identify areas with cotton root rot. One camera took standard color images, and the other camera was filtered to capture images in near infrared. Yang tested the system for two years with about 40 flights at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 ft on sunny and cloudy days. Yang’s results show that the equipment could detect the presence, location, and disease progression of cotton root rot, as well as invasive weeds and areas affected by drought stress. The dual-camera system costs about $6,000, but Yang says that a $1,500 system with a single camera will also suffice. The camera can be attached to the bottom of an aircraft with minimal modifications. Fees for aerial surveys should be more than offset by reduced pesticide costs, and fewer chemicals will get into the soil and waterways, he says. For more information contact, Dennis O’Brien, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-ARS, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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