Helping Texas sorghum growers reduce water use In Brief: ASABE member Susan O’Shaughnessy is providing much needed guidance to sorghum farmers in the Texas High Plains who are trying to save water by using less-than-optimal amounts of it. Farmers in the High Plains area are turning to sorghum because many of them suffered major losses raising corn during recent droughts and water shortages. Sorghum is more drought tolerant than corn, but growers need to know if they will get sufficient yields using less water. They also must decide whether to raise early-maturing sorghum varieties (which are planted later and are less vulnerable to drought) or late-maturing varieties (which produce higher yields if given enough water). O’Shaughnessy, an agricultural engineer with the USDA-ARS in Bushland, Texas, evaluated yields and water use efficiency of earlyand late-maturing sorghum varieties produced under four levels of deficit irrigation. She and her colleagues planted latematuring and early-maturing varieties at optimal times and harvested both types at about the same time in the fall. They grew the crops for three seasons, tracked weather data and rainfall levels, and measured evapotranspiration rates—an indicator of the plant’s overall water needs. Above-average rainfall occurred in 2009 and 2010, and much lower than average rainfall occurred in 2011. They found that on average over the three growing seasons, crop water use efficiency (the water used by the crop in relation to the crop yield) was typically greatest at the 55% replenishment level, but even 30% replenishment at least doubled the yields when compared with no irrigation. At 80% replenishment, the late-maturing variety consistently produced higher yields than the early-maturing variety, but the early-maturing variety produced sufficient yields to make it a viable alternative. Growers risk severe or total losses if they practice even moderate deficit irrigation during droughts. In fact, total crop failure is likely without at least some irrigation in drought years like 2011. The results from this research should help farmers in regions with a growing season that has erratic rainfall, widely varying temperatures, and extreme weather, such as hail, flooding, and lightning. For more information, contact Dennis O’Brien, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-ARS, email@example.com. Taking the temperature of water-thirsty plants In Brief: When crops get thirsty, they get hot. Farmers can use canopy temperatures to determine if crops are water stressed, but the process can be complicated. ASABE member Kendall DeJonge, a USDA-ARS agricultural engineer in Fort Collins, Colorado, has found a way to simplify the process. The goal is to manage irrigation water more effectively in an area where saving water has become a top priority. Akey to DeJonge’s research is the use of infrared radiometric thermometers (IRTs), affordable sensors that can determine the crop canopy temperature and subsequently whether a crop is water-stressed. IRTs can be placed on fence posts or centerpivot irrigation systems to gather hourly or daily temperature readings on crops. Farmers and researchers can interpret the IRT data by using one of several indices, including the commonly used crop water stress index (CWSI). Developed by the USDA-ARS in the early 1980s, the CWSI involves using the air temperature and humidity to calculate a “vapor pressure deficit,” in addition to knowing the canopy temperature. The process is technical and requires additional measurements, so many farmers in Colorado just “guesstimate” when irrigation is needed. As a result, farmers may over-irrigate and waste water or under-irrigate and reduce yields. Providing farmers with a simple yet effective method of monitoring crop water needs is key. Population growth and droughts have made water a critical issue in Colorado, and DeJonge says using IRTs to determine crop water needs just makes sense. “With water becoming more precious, we need to exploit the potential of every tool available,” he says. DeJonge and his colleagues compared the CWSI with five other indices for interpreting IRT data to see how well they could detect crop water stress over two years in a corn-sunflower rotation. All of the indices used crop canopy temperatures to determine water stress levels. The CWSI, often considered the gold standard for quantifying water stress, also required air temperature and humidity data. Two of the indices developed for the study were simpler than the CWSI, including the “degrees above non-stressed” (DANS) index and the “degrees above critical temperature” (DACT) index. DANS is calculated by comparing a stressed plant’s temperature to the temperature of a non-stressed plant in the same environment. DACT is based on an established crop temperature threshold, with plant water stress determined by how many degrees the plant temperature rises above that threshold. Crop canopy temperatures for DANS and DACT were taken each day at 2:00 p.m., when water stress levels were usually highest. The researchers monitored soil water levels and crop water use, and fully irrigated part of the field while intentionally stressing other areas, some moderately and some severely. All the while, the IRTs continually measured crop canopy temperature. The findings showed that the DANS and DACT indices were just as effective as the CWSI at determining water stress even though they require much simpler measurements—a once-aday reading of crop canopy temperatures. DeJonge plans to develop “crop water coefficients” that establish water needs of specific crops for different scenarios. With that data, IRTs could be widely used by farmers. DeJonge foresees farmers using handheld IRTs in the near future, and eventually using IRTs with drones to calculate water needs over extensive areas. For more information, contact Dennis O’Brien, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-ARS, firstname.lastname@example.org. North Carolina’s AgrAbility project assists aging and disabled farmers In Brief: All-terrain wheelchairs, truck lifts, and garden scooters are among the solutions that the North Carolina AgrAbility partnership has designed to help disabled farmers remain productive. ASABE member Gary Roberson, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at North Carolina State University, discusses the program and the impact of student design projects for these farmers. I’m the engineering consultant for the North Carolina AgrAbility project,” said Roberson. “AgrAbility is a partnership between North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, East Carolina University, and the Agromedicine Institute, where we assist farmers who have suffered some form of disabling injury or disabling illness maintain a level of productivity. “We design or help design and develop assistive technology or adaptive technology that we can apply to tractors, combines—you name it. The garden scooter was one of our earlier projects. It’s designed to allow someone to move through a garden and harvest produce, vegetables, or whatever they want to do. It lets you get down close to the ground so you don’t have to bend or stoop or crawl. The original design was developed by ASABE member Mike Boyette here at NC State. We’ve been making some modifications and improvements all along. We have student groups working on enhanced versions of it. “We also have an all-terrain wheelchair. There are some commercial units out there, but this one is a standard power wheelchair that our students modified to make it all-terrain. They’ve been able to demonstrate it climbing hills, climbing steps, going through streams—so again if someone needs to go out, maybe go around the fence line checking the status of livestock or maybe just go hunting or fishing, this is a device that will help them do that. “We’ve got a truck lift. There are commercial lifts available that you can put on the back of a truck so you can lift things like coolers or produce baskets into the truck to take to the farmers market. This one is much, much less expensive. It’s also something that a farmer, if he’s got a good shop, can fabricate or can have fabricated locally. But again it’s designed to help make the task of lifting heavy objects into the back of the truck a lot easier. “We’ve looked at other technologies, and in a lot of cases we’ve found a way to adapt things that are available off the shelf, to make things a little easier for farmers who have disabling or debilitating injuries or illnesses. “The senior design aspect of our AgrAbility project is unique to us, I think. We are one of the few programs— maybe the only one—that incorporates a senior design component into the AgrAbility program. “Some of the projects are things that we have gleaned from dealing with clients. We work one-on-one with clients, so we get a lot of ideas. We will formulate the idea, write it up, and present it to the senior class. The seniors are free to choose the projects they are interested in. However, in the last couple of years, some of the first projects they chose were AgrAbility projects, because the students can see how useful it is for the person at the other end—the client. “I think this work is important because we are trying to maintain agricultural productivity. Our farm population is steadily getting older. A lot of knowledge and experience is out there, and a lot of older farmers aren’t ready to quit. So, this is all about maintaining productivity, giving them the tools that they need so they can maintain that level of productivity, safely and comfortably.” For more information, contact Carolyn Mitkowski, CALS News Center photographer, email@example.com. A video of Roberson’s interview, with clips of the projects he mentions, is available at www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/news-center/ media-releases/steward-of-the-futuregary- roberson/. ASABE Fellow Singh receives World Agriculture Prize In Brief: ASABE Fellow R. Paul Singh, a distinguished professor emeritus who has held dual appointments in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, has been named the 2015 Laureate of the World Agriculture Prize by the Global Confederation for Higher Education Associations for Agriculture and Life Sciences (GCHERA). Singh’s award was announced at the annual GCHERA conference, held in June at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Juniyah, Lebanon. Formal presentation of the award took place in September, during a ceremony at Nanjing Agricultural University in Nanjing, China. “I was deeply humbled and honored upon receiving news of this award,” Singh said. “I’m proud of my students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists for their numerous contributions to our research program. I’m also indebted to my UC Davis colleagues for their consistent support, which has allowed me to pursue my research and teaching activities in food engineering.” Singh earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering at India’s Punjab Agricultural University, and then a master’s degree and PhD at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and Michigan State University, respectively. He joined the UC Davis faculty one year later, in 1975. “For over four decades, Professor Singh’s work as a pioneer in food engineering has been improving lives the world over,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi. “This prestigious, and well-deserved, honor is a testament to the importance of his research, and UC Davis is tremendously honored to call him a member of our faculty.” Singh became recognized for a body of research in areas such as energy conservation, freezing preservation, postharvest technology, and mass transfer in food processing. His research on airflow in complex systems helped in the design of innovative systems for rapid cooling of strawberries, and his studies on food freezing led to the development of software that improves the energy efficiency of industrial freezers. Under a NASA contract, his research group created food-processing equipment for a manned mission to Mars. He has helped establish and evaluate food engineering programs at institutions throughout the world, including Brazil, India, Peru, Portugal, and Thailand. As of June 2015, individuals from 193 countries have viewed his 115 video tutorials more than 150,000 times. In recent years, his research has focused on the physical mechanisms responsible for the digestion of foods in the human stomach, with an eye toward developing the next generation of foods for health. The GCHERA World Agriculture Prize, a multidisciplinary, lifetime achievement award, was established in October 2012 on the occasion of Nanjing Agricultural University’s 110th anniversary. The prize is designed to encourage the global development of higher education institutions that focus on research and innovations in agricultural and life sciences by recognizing the distinguished contributions of individuals in these fields. The previous GCHERA World Agriculture Prize laureates are Ronnie Coffman, an internationally acclaimed plant breeder at Cornell University, and Paul Vlek, a worldrenowned soil scientist at Germany’s Bonn University. For more information, contact Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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