In November, UF-ABE PhD candidate Maria Zamora successfully defended
her doctoral dissertation on “Irrigation and Nitrogen Best Management
Practices in Corn Production.” Dr. Zamora’s academic career at ABE spans several years through winter strawberry fields and spring corn and peanut fields. She agreed to an interview with IrriGator to reflect on her experience and address what awaits
on the horizon.
Can you give us an idea about what your PhD research focused on?
MZ: My Ph.D. focused on irrigation and nitrogen (N) fertilizer
best management practices (BMPs) in corn production. It was located in the
Suwannee River Basin, which is characterized by a karst topography and
absence of a natural filtration system, thus, an increased vulnerability to
groundwater pollution. Excess N fertilizer applied with the intention of obtaining
higher yields, is a potential threat to waterbodies.Our project focused on evaluating different irrigation strategies and N fertilizers in corn production with the aim to reduce water and fertilizer use without impacts in yield. As a glimpse of our results, the strategies proposed can provide the same yield as conventional practices, but achieving between 43-53% water savings and near 26% reduction in fertilizer applications.
What are some real world applications for the insight your research generated?
MZ: Our results provided information that can be used to help growers
manage their crops better. Using the proposed irrigation strategies (a soil water balance, soil moisture sensors and a reduced conventional practice) and following lower N application rates, water and fertilizer savings can be achieved without compromising final corn grain yields compared to conventional production practices. BMPs should be followed and implemented particularly in regions more susceptible for N impairment. These results are beneficial for growers, can help reduce inputs to waterbodies while reducing negative consequences in the environment and potentially increase grower's profits.
Dr. Dukes’ program develops very skilled researchers that go on to do impactful work. What’s the secret?
MZ: Dukes program focuses on developing strategies for problems that
should be solved due to their tremendous magnitude and impact to society
and its resources. Our major goal is water efficiency and water conservation.
Our 'water research' studies also involve the use of technology applications
for decision making, which has become more commonly used in agricultural
and residential sites. For example, my project emphasized on reducing
irrigation and N use; however, simultaneously aimed to provide solutions that
target a balance between the environmental and economic sectors.
Can you tell us something about what you will be focusing on in the future/after graduation?
MZ: My near future will be focused on water conservation in blueberries.
I'll start a postdoc position on January 2019 at UF with Dr. Dukes working
with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). Since
blueberry is a fairly new crop to Florida and is growing in acreage, a need
exists to better characterize its irrigation requirements so that irrigation
allocation can be improved and irrigation scheduling tools can be developed.
Any advice/insight for graduate students just beginning their journey?
- Keep a healthy work–life balance.I highly recommend to make a balance between your multiple tasks (exams, presentations, deadlines, reports, write your dissertation, etc) and you. YOU MATTER and without you, nothing will be done. Looking after yourself is key for success.
- Back up your work! I don't know how many times my computer crashed!...You can avoid many tears by backing up your work.
- There is not a 'perfect' dissertation. The best one is a finished dissertation. Do not let perfection keep you from making progress. Just WRITE... I would also recommend to start writing as soon as possible.
- Have a clear NORTH.Discuss it with your advisor and make sure both are in the same page. Write down your objective (s) per chapter and make a plan. Then, follow the plan. A clear plan will help you to maintain focus.
- Enjoy your Ph.D.! Make time to meet new people, make friends, attend to conferences, intermingle... this is a unique opportunity to create a great professional network that might help you find a job, get to know other people in the near-future or might even be your friends for a lifetime!.
Is there anything I did not ask you that you feel the audience should know?
MZ: Yes, I would like to mentioned that my project was the baseline for a continuation project in which three Universities are working together (University of Georgia, University of Alabama and University of Florida).This project integrates all disciplines (economic, social and environmental) to ensure economic sustainability of agriculture and silviculture in North Florida and South Georgia while protecting water quantity, quality, and habitat in the Upper Floridian Aquifer and the springs and rivers it feeds. I am happy that our work provides a great source of information for other researchers and it served as a foundation for keeping an excellent work!