Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Week with the Irrigation Industry: An E3 Report Back

By Justice Diamond

Experience, exposure and education are the three tenets of Irrigation Foundation’s E3 Learner Program. This is accomplished by inviting selected students to take part in a week of course work and networking during the annual Irrigation Show and Education Conference. 2017’s E3 Class included 28 students and 2 instructors from 17 states. IrriGator asked UF-ABE masters student Justice Diamond to report back on his E3 experience in Orlando, Florida.

E3 Learner Justice Diamond and industry reps 
My focus
The focus of my graduate work is to develop best management practices and deliver those to farms throughout the Suwannee and lower Suwannee basins in North Florida. What I’m working on specifically is to develop an app for irrigation scheduling for corn.
Suwanne River Basins (USGS)
My advisors Drs. Migliaccio and Dukes encouraged me to apply when they saw the opportunity arise and I went ahead and applied. The courses I selected for E3 were Landscape Water Management and Planning and Center Pivot Design. I’m really interested in Center Pivot technology and was especially looking forward to learning more about that.

The Big Week
My E3 experience was very positive. The highlight of the week for me was getting to know other people - having conversations about what they’re doing, the research they’re doing, and having conversations with people in the industry about how they perceive what the industry is going to look like in the future and what they want out of students. 
The least enjoyable part was how long classes were. The teachers were very good, but with an eight hour class there actually isn’t a lot of time to go see the exhibits and I think that part could be condensed. Nevertheless, having an in depth discussion with someone who lives and breathes center pivots I learned a whole lot more. In that sense it was very educational.

Sponsors like The Toro Company ensure the success of the E3 Program
Thank you to the Irrigation Foundation for the opportunity to participate in E3. Meeting people who are all about irrigation, it can only benefit me because that’s what I work with, too. I can only learn and grow from their experiences. My advice to eligible students in 2018: definitely apply! There’s nothing you can lose from the experience and you’ll only learn and meet people who will help you out in the long run.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Looking Ahead: Irrigation Show and Education Conference 2017

Next week irrigation industry professionals from all walks will descend on Orlando, FL, for Irrigation Show and Education Conference 2017. The largest irrigation-focused event of the calendar year, it is as advertised, part product expo (everything you can imagine and more) and part conference - academic presentations, training seminars and certification courses/exams. Best of all for our UF-ABE researchers specializing in irrigation, it’s only a 2 hour drive away.

Research Showcase
UF-ABE research will be featured in both the agriculture and landscape sessions of the Technical Program at Irrigation Show. PhD candidate Maria Zamora is presenting an overview of irrigation and nutrient best management practices in corn. Research associate Bernard Cardenas will discuss recent work pertaining to the EPA WaterSense pressure regulating spray sprinkler body specification

Dr. Michael Dukes will focus on finds from a multi-year Orange County (FL)-based smart irrigation technology study. And Dr. Kati Migliaccio is presenting on rainfall data resources for use in Florida.

E3 Learners
Once again this year I’ll be collaborating with the Irrigation Foundation on digital content. We hope to shine a light on the E3 Learners Program, which selects students from across the country to attend the Irrigation Show, complete coursework and network with established industry pros. This year’s Learner class is comprised of 30 students from 17 different states! Young people are the future of the industry, and the Irrigation Foundation is doing their best to welcome them into the fold.
I’ll also be live tweeting throughout show week. Catch me @IrriGatorUF and follow/tweet along with all the show goings-on at #IrrigationShow.

See you there?
If Irrigation Show 2017 can draw even a sliver of Florida’s sizable green industry/water sector it will be another successful event. If you’re reading this locally/regionally and you’re not sure about making the trek to Orlando this November, take Dr. Dukes' advice: “Just do it! Especially if you are in Florida - this is a great opportunity close to home to see the latest and greatest in irrigation products and tech! It won’t be back for at least several years.

Hear Bringing Water To Life Podcast's Irrigation Show episode:
Listen to "Episode 39 - 2017 Irrigation Show Preview" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A WaterSmart Innovations 2017 Report Back

By Michael Dukes

WaterSmart Innovations is a can’t miss meeting for me because it is the single meeting of the many meetings I attend annually that focuses on water conservation. For me that means irrigation water conservation, but the meeting also covers indoor water conservation. It’s a good chance to let people know some of our latest results and to learn what types of research and implementation is happening with regard to irrigation water conservation in other areas of the country.
Given our proximity to the tragedy on the Las Vegas strip there was a somber feeling and mood to the beginning of formal sessions. We observed a moment of silence for respect to the victims. Doug Bennett, program chair, sent out a message regarding the tragedy. To sum it up he encouraged us to carry on in our small way to make the world a better place.
In the Audience
I chose sessions related to irrigation water-use; specifically about reducing peak demand through the use of smart controllers, education and or landscape modification. These are all topics we work on and I wanted to see the latest implementation from across the country. It’s noteworthy that smart controllers are no longer new and niche products. They are being implemented widely across the U.S. and many people are familiar at least in general what they are. Just a few years ago they were “new” and we had to explain what they were to people.

At the Podium
I was also tasked with presenting our work on the pressure regulating spray head (PRB) testing that was used by the EPA WaterSense program to develop their new spray sprinkler body specification. I feel it went well considering it was laden with technical details (I tried to trim as much as possible, but it’s a technical subject at the end of the day) and may have been boring to some non-tech folks. 
I got a number of technical questions and as a follow up met with some folks from California (CA). The CA Energy Commission is researching appliances for energy efficiency and water efficiency is directly related. In the near future (2019) they will have requirements for PRBs. I understand that non-PRBs will not be sold in CA after some transition date in the future. We may have the opportunity to do some more PRB testing in the lab to answer some of their questions. In fact a project proposal is currently being prepared!
Take Away
There were many good talks. Personally I was very interested in the talk by Joanna Endter-Wada about extension working with utilities in Utah to provide water consumption information to consumers. By understanding their detailed seasonal irrigation patterns and delivering targeted educational messages, they were able to significantly reduce over-irrigation. Excellent example of extension impacting stakeholders!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Researching Water Conservation Strategies with Dr. Mackenzie Boyer

This past summer Mackenzie Boyer successfully defended her PhD thesis and completed her work at UF-ABE. Dr. Boyer was the rare graduate student who returned to school following a stint in the professional world as a consulting engineer. As part of the Dukes research team she published the first journal article documenting water-savings in Florida-Friendly Landscape-certified (FFL) homes. Her work assessing effectiveness of outdoor watering restrictions in Florida was also novel terrain. On her most recent visit to Florida, Dr. Boyer agreed to speak with IrriGator about her research and more.

Dr. Mackenzie Boyer on defense day
What was the focus of your PhD research?
MB: The focus has been studying watering billing records to determine people’s irrigation habits in the Tampa Bay Water region (the SWFWMD area) trying to understand individual customer use for irrigation and then to also understand customer responses to irrigation conservation measures. So looking historically at how well the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program has done, and how well water restrictions have done and then also projecting into the future how well could a utility do if they were to adopt different conservation strategies.

You came back to graduate school from the professional world. How do you feel this informed your perspective as a student?
MB: The first part of my career focused a lot more on the smaller details of water treatment and water system designs, but what was missing was more of the planning aspect – the big picture. I recognized what was missing in the work that I was doing with water and that’s one of the reasons why I went back to school. A great thing about this project is that we’re working directly with Tampa Bay Water and SWFWMD and the utilities. I feel like we’re impacting the supply side of water more so with our research now.

Dr. Boyer's area of focus in Florida
You recently relocated from Florida to Arizona. Do you get a sense that people relate to water differently out West?
MB: They do relate to it differently. Xeriscapes are much more popular there than FFL is here. But there are still a lot of homeowners that have turfgrass in the desert where you need to put 7 or 8 feet of water on your landscape during the course of the year. I think there is an appreciation of the amount of water that goes into a landscape in that alternative landscapes are accepted at a much larger scale. But for the people who choose to have turfgrass there isn’t the concern about water conservation or the right ways to irrigate your landscape.

The Dukes program tends to attract and develop really skilled water researchers. Do you have any insight as to why?
MB: This is a very important problem in residential water use. 50% of the potable water that goes to homes in the US ends up on people’s landscapes. This is a large area of potential conservation and the research that this group is doing can address an immediate need for better ways to conserve our potable water.

Dr. Mackenzie Boyer circa 2013

Currently you are prioritizing raising your family, but looking ahead to when you return to the work force how would you describe your ideal job?
MB: I hope to work in some area of academia or some area where I’m working directly with utilities. I’d really like to be helping inform utilities on their customers’ irrigation use and methods of conservation that would be applicable to their customers. The type of work that I did using water billing records, a lot of utilities are doing. There is a growing amount of data available to utilities and trying to help them to use that data to affect their water demand would be ideal.

There seems to be a lot of interesting work being done at Arizona State University and some of the cities like the city of Phoenix and the City of Scottsdale. Hopefully I can join some of their work and be able to contribute to it. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Looking Ahead to WaterSmart Innovations 2017

Next week researchers, utility personnel and other water-use professionals converge on Las Vegas, NV, for 2017’s WaterSmart Innovations Conference (WSI). UF-ABE will be present in the form of two researchers from the Dukes group. Here is a look at what they will present at the event and other talks we are looking forward to learning more about.

UF’s contribution to this year’s conference focuses on irrigation technology. Research Associate Bernard Cardenas is presenting on the effectiveness of soil moisture sensor technology when used in residential irrigation systems on reclaimed water. Dr. Michael Dukes will discuss recent work on the pressure regulating spray head testing that was used by the EPA WaterSense Program to develop their new spray sprinkler body (SSB) specification. Did the high-nutrient content in reclaimed water interfere with soil moisture readings? Does SSB pressure regulating capacity vary at different flow rates? All will be revealed at WSI!

Sessions and More Sessions
WSI always offers a host of informative presentations. As Dr. Dukes said: “It’s a good chance to let people know some of our latest results and to learn what types of research and implementation is happening with regard to irrigation water conservation in other areas of the country.” Noteworthy talks this year range from water reuse to social media marketing to smart irrigation technology. Here are some sessions we are excited about:
  • Rainwater and Graywater Myth Busters
    Patrick Dickinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas
  • A Wild West Tale: Debunking the Myth That Conservation Increases Rate - Candice Rupprecht, Tucson Water
  • You Can’t Play Soccer in a Perennial Bed: The Case for Turf Sustainable Landscape -Paul Johnson, Utah State University for Water Efficient Landscaping
  • How We Got 10,000 Facebook Followers - Clint Wolfe, Texas A&M Agrilife Water University
  • WaterSense in Jeopardy: Saving the EPA Water Labeling Program - Mary Ann Dickson, Alliance for Water Use Efficiency
  • Water Conservation in Urban Communities: How the SNWA Does It - Jared Bilberry, Southern Nevada Water Authority 

WaterSmart Innovations always shares presentation pdf files at the end of conference week. Stay tuned for that and, whether you are attending or not, make sure to follow and contribute to conference goings-on on Twitter using #WSI2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reporting Back from the Primer Simposio de Investigaciòn Agrìcola Latinoamericana in Honduras

Earlier this month UF-ABE PhD Candidate Maria Zamora traveled to Central America to present her research at the first ever Simposio de Investigacion Agricola Latinoamericana. Ms. Zamora studies how nutrients and water interplay in the soil profile in agricultural settings. The work she presented at the symposium was titled: Using soil moisture sensors to monitor irrigation in corn production in Florida. Upon returning from her travels, Ms. Zamora spoke to IrriGator about her experience.

How did you get invited to present at the Simposio de Investigacion Agricola in Universidad Zamorano?
MZ: A former graduate student from UF, Dr. Emmanuel Torres-Quezada, was hired as a professor at Zamorano. He has different ideas about how to collaborate with universities around the world so he developed this symposium, which is the very first symposium in Zamorano focused on how we can use technology to improve production in different agricultural crops.

What can you tell us about your symposium experience?
MZ: It was a one day symposium and the idea was to present to growers, students and faculty ongoing research that arrives at solutions using technology. For example, my talk was about how we can use soil moisture sensors to determine when and how to irrigate, and how we can translate that into water-savings and nitrogen leaching reductions to avoid the environmental impacts of nitrogen leaching.

The idea was to demonstrate how research can be applied and how we can help growers using different technology. We covered topics like irrigation, using bio-fertilizers, and using different types of materials to reduce contamination with plastics.
Maria Zamora presents her research at Universidad Zamorano
Any talk you were especially interested in?
MZ: I really liked one talk from a Zamorano faculty member - Dr. Emmanuel Torres-Quezada. He is trying to adopt practices developed during his dissertation here at UF to conditions in Honduras. He works with optimizing early yield in strawberry production. They are trying to find ways to acclimate plants, or bring them in acclimated, to reduce inputs but still achieve high yields. It’s ongoing research but it’s interesting how they are using strategies that worked here in other places like Honduras.

Maria Zamora uses Sentek soil mositure probes in her work 
How was your talk received?
MZ: There was lots of interest in the project and how it was performed. Water and fertilizer is an issue not just in Florida but other places. One researcher approached me later asking about reducing nitrogen leaching in a soil like theirs, which is completely different. I mentioned to her that sensors can be helpful for monitoring how nutrients are leached into the soil profile; however, they can use simpler techniques like measuring for nitrogen in their runoff if leaching is suspected. Using the same principles in my presentation it was easy for me to explain to her how she can help growers visualize that they are losing nutrients.

Are there plans to continue this symposium in the future?
MZ: People were very engaged and the feedback was very good so I believe they will try to do it again next year or the following year. That’s the main goal. Since this was the first one they wanted to be sure people were interested. It turned out well. Hopefully it will be a channel of communication between the university, students, faculty, and growers so everyone can have research-based feedback. All the research was evidence-based and then translated into how it could be applied. It was a good breakdown of research and extension – bringing research-backed findings to the people in a way that can be applicable.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017 HERS Leadership Institute: An Inside Look with Dr. Kati Migliaccio

This summer UF-ABE professor Dr. Kati Migliaccio traveled to Pennsylvania for two weeks of intensive training at Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Migliaccio took part in one of HERS' Leadership Institutes for women in higher education. As one training participant shared on Twitter: “There is such a need for leadership and women in leadership in higher ed.” IrriGator approached Dr. Migliaccio to speak about her experience at #HERSBrynMawr17 and she kindly agreed.

Image via @HERSInstitutes
Can you tell us about your two week training experience at Bryn Mawr?
KM: The event was the 2017 HERS Training at Bryn Mawr. There are 3 locations for the training each year. One is at Wellesley, one is in Denver, and one is in Bryn Mawr. Three other UF women will attend HERS in 2017. The two weeks are focused on providing women in academics with different experiences to help them excel in their careers. Topics focus on basic knowledge skills such as accounting, but also include professional development skills such as speaking, dealing with difficult situations, and negotiating.

Dr. Kati Migliaccio
How does one get invited or become eligible for this training?
KM: Every institution does it differently. There’s a history with some institutions and their relationship with HERS. UF has a long history and the Provost Office has supported women attending HERS for many years (thank you!). Your supervisor or your dean can nominate you, or you can self-nominate when the call for nominations is released. Nominations are reviewed at the UF level; candidates are selected to apply to HERS for acceptance into the program.

What academic disciplines would you say were represented in your training?
KM: The majority of people at Bryn Mawr 2017 were from small liberal arts colleges, but there were also several people from large land-grant institutions. This year they had a STEM program and about half of the Bryn Mawr women were in STEM disciplines. The STEM program within HERS included special breakouts for STEM attendees where STEM issues and speakers were highlighted.
Specifically, were there topics covered that you felt you can immediately apply in your academic work?
KM: There were many topics! We focus so much on our science, or our discipline, that we don’t think about some of the other pieces that could help us do a better job. Examples are basic negotiation strategies, forming working partnerships, and reframing. Also, there were personal discussions on how to manage your time: how to create enough time and not feel guilty about taking time off work for a vacation or for family needs. We also covered how to get your point across through what you say - how to take your value system and move your value system into your conversations so people understand where you’re coming from and the reasoning behind your decisions.

There was also really good advice on finances. How to manage for retirement. And, how universities are being funded and how that’s likely to change. Some topics were really outside of the scope of your disciple but more those pieces that surround it and can either enhance your program or create more of a struggle for your program. 

One of the things that I hope to start to do is to allocate time on my calendar to look at bigger picture issues. For example looking at what’s happening nationally as far as education – and what the research funding future may be. I also hope to spend more time learning about the university system to better engage in activities that interest me such as improving graduate education.
Having attended a HERS training is it something you would recommend to women in academia eligible to attend?
KM: HERS is very specific for women and half of our curriculum was based on inclusive excellence. Whether or not other women would benefit from attending would depend on their future goals. Women interested in learning about or becoming involved in inclusive excellence would greatly benefit from this program. If you’re more interested in maybe going into the budget part of the university, or some other very specialized part, then there might be another training that’s better. If you’re interested in inclusive excellence and some of the unspoken issues and some of the more challenging social elements that are happening in society today, then it’s a really good place for you to go.
Can you elaborate on inclusive excellence?
KM: Inclusive excellence at the university is inclusion of all types of diversity across all aspects of the institution.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you about your HERS experience that you feel we should know?
KM: One of the things that I really liked about the program is that it made a point to say that it’s really easy in academics to get frustrated and get overwhelmed with everything you have to do, but to remember that you come to work, you do your best, and you go home. You’re not supposed to be everything to everybody and you’re not supposed to save the world. You’re supposed to do your job - that reinforcement of: it’s OK if you are sick a day. It’s OK if you don’t apply for every grant. 

The other thing I think we overlook especially as STEM people is that we get really focused on science and then we lose sight of our core values. And are our core values really playing out in our actions with our students, in how we teach, in how we do our research? I was reminded to keep my core values in place so they will help me be a better professor, mentor, and role model.