FFAR Grant Addresses Precision Irrigation Scheduling for Specialty Crops



  • Sustainable Water Management

BOULDER (November 20, 2020) – Farmers growing specialty crops, like fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, currently lack access to cost-effective irrigation guidance tools. Due to the complexities of farming diversified crops with different growth patterns and water requirements, specialty crops are often over-irrigated. Precision irrigation, including automated or remotely controlled systems, can address these challenges. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $500,000 grant to GeoVisual Analytics to improve precision irrigation tools for specialty crop growers. The University of Arizona Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture (YCEDA), the University of California and Western Growers Association (WGA) provided matching funds and/or in kind support for a total investment of $1.3 million.

The Western US is the primary provider of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts across the country; standard industry irrigation practices for many crops in this region apply excess amounts of water. This over-irrigation results in water quality concerns, including the leaching of fertilizer-derived nitrates into groundwater, where they act as environmental pollutants. Additionally, depleted groundwater levels can cause sea water to leak into coastal aquifers, potentially contaminating the drinking water of millions.

Existing irrigation technologies can be challenging to adopt given the management complexities of specialty crop farms, leaving farmers few practical options to maintain market quality and yields while meeting water regulations.

“Proper water management for specialty crop farmers is essential to prevent annual crop loss which can jeopardize food security and farm profits,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Providing farmers with irrigation methods that can more precisely account for each crop’s water needs supports water conservation, improves yields and helps farms thrive.”

Working with specialty crop farmers in California and Arizona over a 24-month timeline, Dr. Jeffrey Orrey and his team are improving irrigation guidance and grower adoption of precision irrigation technologies. Dr. Orrey’s research is using a combination of drone-based remote sensing data and field measurements to improve our understanding of how plant-water transfer rates and soil moisture patterns vary within a field due to soil, plant and atmospheric conditions and field management practices. Understanding these linkages is essential to improving the predictive models that can help make the scheduling of irrigation easier and more precise.

“Farmers are eager for solutions that will save them time and reduce their costs, and they want to minimize their operations’ impact on water quality,” said Dr. Orrey. “This project is geared to advance practical solutions that will address all of those priorities.”

This research will enable farmers to set up field-specific irrigation schedules and more effectively utilize remote irrigation management technologies, thus reducing labor demand and improving farm operation efficiency.

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing the sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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