Friends, it’s time to welcome fall. What a great time of the year for us … students have returned to campus, classes are back in full-swing, and K-State football is finally here again! We at KCARE are very excited to note some successes of the season: the Experiment Station and Water Technology Farms’ field days were well-attended, and there appears to be lots of interest in implementing new water management technologies across the state. Please read more about the Water Technology Farms in this edition of our newsletter. I also appreciate all the efforts by irrigators and others to explore the development of new LEMAs, etc.
I look forward to getting updated on research results and other water issues at the 2017 Governor’s Water Conference in Manhattan on November 8-9. Registration for the event will be available in September, but a call for abstracts on water research is ongoing. Please check the KCARE website for more information.
On a sun-drenched August day, a group of farmers, sales representatives, government officials and university researchers were gathered, not in a conference room, but in the middle of a cornfield. Under the unrelenting sun, everyone had one thing on their minds: water, and how to use less of it.
This is a Water Technology Farm, one of the working farms sprinkled across the state whose owners have volunteered to focus on water conservation, in addition to crops and livestock. University researchers often tout new irrigation technologies as efficient or cost-effective, but farmers never really know how those technologies – so triumphant in a controlled experimental field – will perform in their own fields. With Water Technology Farms, producers can see first-hand how the latest irrigation technologies work in a real-world setting.
At six different Water Technology Farm field days across the state, K-State extension water resource engineer Jonathan Aguilar explained to the public how these farms work: by showcasing technologies such as mobile drip irrigation (MDI), evapotranspiration (ET)-based scheduling tools, soil water sensors and other tools, producers can see visible proof about how each of these experimental methodologies can assist them in their efforts toward water conservation.
NIWR is a national organization of Water Resources Research Institutes established under the Water Resources Research Act of 1964. Its 54 member institutes – one located in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam – work closely with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other partners to carry out their mission of objective research and communication on issues relating to the nation’s water supplies.
Devlin will serve a one-year term as NIWR President-Elect before taking on the position of President for 2018-2019. His duties as President-Elect will include planning and presiding over the organization’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in February. Devlin currently holds positions as the Director of the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources (KCARE) and the Kansas Water Resources Institute (KWRI) at Kansas State University. He is also a Professor in K-State’s Department of Agronomy.
“It will be an honor to represent the water institutes during the next few years,” said Devlin. “This is a great opportunity for me to work in a leadership role within the water research institutes across the country.”
Farmers use cover crops to reap plenty of benefits. Cover crops are a great way to slow down erosion or to stop weeds from covering fields. They can attract pollinators. Some varieties take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots to benefit soil quality. And for livestock producers, cover crops have an added benefit: they also can serve as forage for grazing animals.
However, the reality takes more planning to avoid losses for farmers – some of them catastrophic.
Cover crops are a little bit like the story of Goldilocks: there are only some considered “just right” for cattle and deemed “very safe” by experts. Other varieties are “too hot or too cold”: they can cause metabolic issues for livestock that, while manageable, can be an unpleasant surprise for uninformed producers. Still other cover crop varieties are so toxic, they can kill entire herds.
K-State faculty were among the more than 400 agricultural leaders that attended the second annual Agricultural Growth Summit in Manhattan on August 24. Coordinated by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the summit provided a framework to create connected communities within each of the state’s agricultural sectors.
“While there are disagreements on some subjects, there are no disagreements on agriculture,” said Governor Brownback, who opened the summit and discussed the importance of agriculture to the state, which is the largest industry in Kansas and produces tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually. He called on summit participants to continue working to cultivate the expansion of the Kansas agriculture industry.
Kansas leads most of the nation when it comes to agriculture, and it’s a tradition that has existed since before the Sunflower State joined the Union. Over the course of time, much about farming has changed in each of Kansas’ 105 counties – from crop rotations to farm equipment to irrigation technologies. Dr. Jonathan Aguilar is one of the researchers from Kansas State University helping farmers use the latest innovations to improve their harvest.
Dr. Aguilar hails from the Philippines, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural engineering from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB). While there, his studies focused on land and water resources as it pertained to irrigated agriculture and environmental stewardship. After graduating, he continued to work at the university as a researcher, as well as taking on several water resource-related projects with the UPLB Foundation, the Philippine Department of Agriculture, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Dr. Aguilar came to K-State to pursue his doctoral degree in biological and agricultural engineering and graduated in 2009. He joined the faculty here in 2012.
Welcome to the first issue of the new KCARE newsletter series! KCARE focuses on projects that find and implement solutions to issues around agriculture and the environment, such as water quality, irrigation and water quantity, the impacts of cover crops and tillage practices, fertility, climate change, air quality, etc. We want to make sure that we get information about this important work to you as soon as possible – and this newsletter will play a large role in that. This monthly publication will spotlight Kansas State University research and extension faculty as well as provide summaries of cutting-edge research and extension projects conducted here at K-State. I am excited to bring this information to you, and I thank the faculty and staff for their support.
You will also notice that the KCARE website is being completely revamped with much more current information – on both faculty and projects. Keep checking back to find new updates!
Water use is something that both researchers and farmers have explored for decades: what happens to a crop when irrigation is reduced? All backyard gardeners or self-proclaimed green thumb know that plants need water. But how much water is enough? What amount still guarantees healthy plant growth and a good yield of wheat, corn, alfalfa, sorghum, or sunflower? Agricultural engineers are experimenting with new ways to grow more with less water in a process called deficit irrigation: it’s a practice where farmers reduce the amount of water applied to a crop, allowing mild stress to the growing plants.
According to the FAO, irrigated agriculture uses more than 70 percent of the water withdrawn from the earth’s rivers; in developing countries around the world, that figure can exceed 80 percent. In Kansas, irrigation accounts for 85 percent of all consumptive water use – mainly from the Ogallala aquifer. With unsure rainfalls and aquifers diminishing faster than they can recharge, the trick is knowing exactly how much stress a crop can take, and precisely adjusting irrigation to still result in a profitable harvest. Dr. Isaya Kisekka, an assistant professor in K-State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, is working to take the guesswork out of the equation and give farmers the tools they need to maintain their net profitability and protect the state’s water resources for future Kansas farmers.
Erosion can be a major problem for Kansas farmers: with every downpour or major weather event, precious topsoil slides away from arable fields. This eroded soil can leave large, unplantable tracts in what should be rich agricultural land. One such type of erosion yields larger rills called ephemeral gullies: they often form in the same place year after year and although they can be removed, it all adds to the farmer’s management time and cost.
Not much is known about the effectiveness of current practices for the reduction of ephemeral gully erosion. Some producers use terraces or winter cover crops to mitigate the problem. Others try creating obstacles or artificial swales to stop gully formation. It’s a time-consuming process that eats away at the farmer’s ability to focus on planting, growing, and harvesting.
That’s where Dr. Aleksey Sheshukov and his team come in. They want to assess ephemeral gully erosion by monitoring soil loss for ephemeral gullies on several no-till fields in Kansas. This will help them to evaluate the factors contributing to this type of soil loss by creating a predictive model. Once this model is complete, the team will use it to create a set of best management practices for farmers to slow ephemeral gully erosion or, better yet, keep it from happening at all.
Streambank erosion in Kansas is a serious concern, particularly upstream of reservoirs. In just one year, normal changes in rainfall or storm events lead to tons of soil from streambanks washing away into the water, headed downstream. That same sediment, when unchecked, also can diminish reservoir capacity, degrade wetland areas, and create problems with municipal water systems.
With approval from the Corps of Engineers and funding from both the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and Watershed Restoration and Protections Strategies (WRAPS), watershed specialist Ron Graber and his team partnered with a select few landowners along the Smoky Hill River interested in trying an untried method of streambank stabilization. This experiment is called a “woody revetment,” and, if successful, could save landowners tens of thousands of dollars – more, if there are several unstable streambanks on a property.