Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A BMP Discussion with Dr. Maria Zamora

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?
MZ: Oh yeah! My favorite resources are here and here.
  • 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!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Next Stop Long Beach: Previewing Irrigation Show 2018

By Michael Gutierrez

The irrigation industry is gathering next week in Long Beach, CA, for the 2018 Irrigation Show and Education Conference. Easily the largest industry event of the calendar year, the Irrigation Show features trainings and certification exams, technical programs presenting new research in both landscape and agricultural irrigation, and a massive product expo showcasing the latest wares from new and established manufacturers.

Gators Presente
UF-ABE will be present at Irrigation Show 2018. Tuesday morning’s technical program includes two presentations from the Dukes research team’s Bernard Cardenas. “The rain sensor study compares field results of rain sensor performance to modeled results of turfgrass dry out and reinforces the results from our experiments across simulated different soil types,” said Dr. Michael Dukes. The other talk is an update on the long-running work studying smart irrigation technology in residential sites in Orange County, FL.

Another exciting aspect of the Irrigation Show is the annual Irrigation E3 Program. E3 invites students from across the country for a week of exposure, experience and education at the event. 2018 includes students from 19 schools in 14 different states! Two UF Horticulture Science graduate students will be making the journey to Long Beach. Watch this space from more about their show experience, and if you see an E3 learner in the crowd during show week do say hello.
Exam Week
Since the focus of my work has shifted from research to practice this year, the Irrigation Show is more relevant than ever for me. I’ll be there next week excited to see familiar faces and learn about new products. I’ll also be taking me first ever certification exam. If you are attending Irrigation Show 2018 make sure to get on Twitter and add your POV using the #irrigationshow tag. You'll find me there as well. See you in Long Beach!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

WaterSmart Innovations 2018: A Report Back

By Michael Gutierrez

One of the highlights of every October in the world of water-use research is the WaterSmart Innovations Conference (WSI). The event gathers experts, academics and utility personnel in Las Vegas for several days of presentations on a wide range of water-use related research and initiatives. UF-ABE’s Dr. Michael Dukes, an irrigation specialist focused on efficiency, was in attendance this year and agreed to report back on his WSI experience.

Was there any theme to the presentations you chose to attend this year?
MD: I guess the theme would be my interest in landscape irrigation water conservation. This ranged from rebate “coupons” (as SNWA calls them for smart controllers) to the use of AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) for customer messaging and future programs that utilities might implement. It is interesting that SAWS gave a talk on the power of randomized control trials as the best approach to evaluate experimental conservation programs. We here at IrriGator have been doing that from the beginning since its conventional scientific experimental design!

Did you have a favorite of all the talks you attended?
MD: My favorite talks were the ones I tweeted on in general. The SAWS and SNWA talks I tweeted on were excellent based on their thoroughness and relevance to my interests.
You presented on irrigation efficiency at WaterSmart. Can you offer a summary for those not in attendance?
MD: I discussed the definition of irrigation efficiency and how it can be used to determine a baseline for evaluation of irrigation systems when improving them such as adding smart controllers (Orange County Utilities) and comparing FFL (Florida-Friendly Landscaping) sites to traditional sites.

You rarely miss a WaterSmart Conference. Why is this an important annual event on your calendar?
MD: Correct! I think I’ve made all of them since inception (2007?). It is the premier water conservation conference in the U.S. It has not just scientists, as many conferences, but also practitioners such as industry and utilities. Great way to see what’s going on across the U.S. and to share what we are doing here in Florida, since most of the dire conservation issues are in California and other western states.

Anything we did not cover that you feel the audience should know about your WaterSmart Innovations experience?
MD: One last thing is the new wireless soil moisture sensor (SMS) company Spiio (my final WSI tweet). We’ll see what happens with that. Everyone is very interested in wireless tech for SMS but the reality in range and battery life hasn’t panned out in the real world.
The B-hyve and Rachio (cloud-based controllers) have been very popular in the SNWA coupon (rebate) program, averaging 800 units/year for the last three years. I’ll be following up on more irrigation tech at the Irrigation Show in Long Beach!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

UF-ABE: An Exciting Place To Be

By Michael Gutierrez

In August, Dr. Kati Migliaccio formally began her term as Chair of UF’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department. With new administrators come new ideas and Dr. Migliaccio is very much a researcher of the moment - well-versed in perfecting how engineering and technology can benefit the end-user. During the recent ASABE meeting in Detroit, Dr. Migliaccio agreed to an interview with IrriGator to discuss water-use research at UF-ABE and other thoughts about where the department is and where it’s going.

IG: What’s exciting right now in terms of water-use research at UF-ABE?

KM: There are several things that are exciting. One is looking at water scarcity and the aspects of how we’re going to manage water for the growing food demand and the growing population, and with sea level rise. There are many factors at play in a dynamic system. Another interesting aspect, related to climate change, is the change in water availability over space and time. Crops that are grown in some places may no longer be grown there; crops may be grown in other places, so the water demands are going to change. How are we going to modify our food systems on small scales and larger scales to adjust with those changes in a sustainable way?

Water research is also moving forward with technology. Technology is becoming an integrated part of all water management decisions. Technology is more user-friendly and people are becoming more accustomed to using it. You’re seeing more and more technology applications related to making better water decisions - in restrooms, outdoors in irrigation. With any water application, new technology is developing either in sensing, or managing volume, or allocating our resources so we don’t overuse something for an application that requires a smaller amount to get the job done.

IG: Is there some water-related research that may be missing that you would like to see develop further in the department?

KM: The one area that I would like to explore more that we haven’t has to do with vertical farming and how we can manage resources - water and energy - to produce our food in a more contained environment in readily accessible places like cities. I see that as a real future focus area for our department.

IG: You have always had an interest in the professional development of students. Are there any plans to encourage more of that in the department for undergraduates - more lab and industry experience?

KM: One of the really valuable things a student can experience is that partnership with industry. I would like to see us grow those relationships so that students are exposed on a more regular basis to what it would be like to work for different types of companies and do different types of things. And also, give students the experience in the profession environment. So not just applying the knowledge or the fundamental principles they learn in graduate school, but also polishing their professional skills and working in that environment that is driven by many factors and not just the science.

IG: What would you say to an incoming undergraduate student with an interest in engineering. Why choose UF-ABE?

Follow Dr. Migliaccio on Twitter
KM: UF-ABE provides a very unique opportunity for students. We have a fairly good ratio of faculty to students. Students in classes do get to know the faculty and faculty are very helpful to the students. That’s not true in all engineering disciplines, many of which have larger classes. Also the application aspect is something that you may not experience in other disciplines. Because it is agricultural and biological, all of the engineering principles and core operation management principles, are applied to real world situations - water issues, energy issues, and food management system issues. You get that experience of applying concepts that you’re learning to something you can really appreciate because they are part of your life. It’s a great place to be. You learn how to not only solve problems from a technical aspect that you might apply professionally, but also how you can integrate this knowledge in your own personal life to be a better citizen.

The future and our ability to live well will depend on our ability to manage our resources. The agricultural and biological engineering discipline focuses on managing our resources. ABE students will contribute to a more sustainable world for future generations - and UF-ABE offers excellent training for students to succeed in this endeavor.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Next Stop: Detroit - An ASABE AIM 2018 Preview

By Michael Gutierrez

Summer means rain and heat for us in Florida, but it also means a new ASABE Annual International Meeting (AIM). This year many students and faculty from UF-ABE will be making the trek to Detroit, MI, to compete, present research, and network with both international and national peers.

Things To Do
There will be dozens and dozens of talks during ASABE AIM. Here I’ll highlight some of what I’ll be focusing on from a water-use perspective, with an interest in UF-ABE work. Activities ramp up on Monday with the General Session and the start of technical sessions. The “Producing More Food with Less Water” panel should generate some excellent discussion on water quality, quantity and the role of ag and bio engineers. Monday also features incoming UF-ABE Department Chair Dr. Kati Migliaccio presenting “Water Quality - The Reality Show” in Session 123. Big data and Computational Tools presentations are slated for Tuesday in Session 254 among others. UF-ABE graduate students Miles Medina and Kathleen Vazquez will present during this session. I’ll also be on the lookout for talks from Hao Gan and Thaigo Onofre (Sessions 210 and 242 respectively) two top UF-ABE graduate students in precision ag and cloud computing.  
“I am looking forward to listening to Dr. Ian Hahus’ two presentations and meeting with Resource magazine about a special issue I am co-editing next year focused on women leaders in the discipline,” said Dr. Migliaccio, UF-ABE Chair. ABE alum Dr. Hahus will present during Sessions 262 and 324 at AIM, and on Wednesday will accept the Robert E. Stewart Engineering Humanities Award.

The RoboGators are back for 2018!
Design Competitions
Amidst the presentations and networking, student teams also travel from far and wide to take part in the Robotics Design and Fountain Wars Competitions. 2018’s robotics competition features 19 teams in two categories. Teams will field autonomous robots on a board to simulate the harvest and storage of apples. All three rounds of robotics take place on Tuesday.  Fountain Wars is judged on a number of criteria - including written and oral presentations. But crowds will form Monday evening when teams put their fountains to the test completing two technical tasks - launching a golf disc and keeping a balance beam level, using only water and engineering savvy.

IrriGator will be in Detroit for all the goings-on. If you are attending ASABE AIM follow along and contribute to the happenings on Twitter using the #ASABEaim18 tag. Digital presence has never been more vital to scicomm so be sure to add your research and POV to the mix.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

BMPs and BMAPs: A Twilight Corn Field Day 2018 Report Back

Last week North Florida Research and Education Center - Suwannee Valley (NFREC), hosted Twilight Corn Field Day 2018. The event covered topics from corn production to irrigation management. Twenty percent of Florida’s farming happens in the region served by NFREC, an expanding research venue currently involved in some 50 projects. UF-ABE PhD candidate Maria Zamora attended the field day event at NFREC. Her work with corn best management practices is closely related to the topics presented at the event. She agreed to discuss her field day experience with IrriGator.   

UF-ABE PhD Candidate Maria Zamora (image: M. Dukes)
As a researcher and also an extension educator, what do you feel was the objective of the Twilight Corn Field Day?
MZ: The most important objective overall was to let growers know about the urgency to adopt best management practices (BMP) for nitrogen (N) reduction loads in the Suwannee River Basin. The target of the Santa Fe, Suwannee and Withlacoochee​ Basins of 0.35 mg/L monthly average nitrate concentration must be met in the next 5 years.​ According to the new basement management action plan (BMAP), these basins are a susceptible area for nitrogen leaching in which action must be taken.

As a researcher the most important objective was to provide research information and results from research experiments performed at the Center to growers. Most of this information was regarding BMPs that growers can choose and implement in their fields. As an educator, the most important objective was to communicate research results to the open public, especially to the growers, who are the main target audience of the research being performed to meet the target N load reductions.

NFREC Director Bob Hochmuth addresses Field Day attendees (image: M Zamora)
Can you give us an idea of what kind of research work was highlighted?
MZ: Several projects were highlighted:
Dr. Charles Barrett explained in a very demonstrative way how to schedule irrigation using soil moisture sensors (SMS). As well, Dr. Joel Love, who coordinated the Twilight Corn Field Day, provided details about ongoing research on selection of corn varieties (high yielding varieties), fertilizer options and timing. Dr. David Wright provided concise documentation about starter fertilizer placement in no till corn, control release fertilizer in corn, control of nematode population, irrigation and fertilization amounts and timing among others. Overall the research pointed to the optimization of inputs (essentially N and water), as potential BMP options that growers could adopt.

Based on your work what presentation was most relevant or useful?
MZ: Based on the work we have been ​performing during the last 3 years, I found the SMS demo very interesting and engaging. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what we cannot see. The demo consisted of showing the rootzone in a fully developed corn field trial. A pit was made in order to visualize how deep the roots were growing. As a result, growers and participants were able to visualize that the most active rootzone is concentrated in the top ~0-40 cm. Roots might grow in deeper soil layers, but are mostly concentrated in those top layers. Therefore, irrigation should be managed where plants can take up the water. Large amounts of irrigation result in drainage and nutrient leaching from the rootzone.

A corn field's soil profile exposed (image: M. Zamora)
What do you feel is the most impactful work that is being pursued at NFREC?
MZ: The most impactful work being pursued is reaching the balance between profitable agriculture production and environmental protection. This is being realized through the different on-going research projects, as well as future projects, such as a crop rotation with the inclusion of grass and cattle production.

There is not a single factor that will modify final yields or final N losses to the environment. Factors are all tight together:
-Choosing the right variety for the right place and environment would define the potential yield when it's managed correctly.
-Adequate placement of fertilizer would improve the uptake and reduce the losses. Therefore, sidedressing is a practice that would reduce N losses. Different types of fertilizer also are alternatives (litter, cow manure, control release fertilizer, etc).
-Adequate irrigation is required in order to keep nutrients in the rootzone and to avoid overirrigation (i.e. greater amounts are applied than needed).
-Adequate control of nematodes (especially in a corn-corn rotation) is essential to avoid final yield reductions. Where the first assumption might be N or water stress, in many cases nematodes are the cause (very hard to see/detect).
Charles Barrett presenting at the Field Day (image M. Zamora)
Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think readers should know?
​MZ: I hope all BMP alternatives serve as a cocktail of strategies for growers! ​There is an urgency to take action now. Adopting and implementing BMPs would be beneficial for growers and for the environment. Growers can reduce losses (i.e. input losses and final yield losses), hence increase profits and investments. However, these efforts must come from all sides and angles: from researchers, extension agents, educators, modelers, industry and stakeholders to find that sweet balance among humans and nature.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Florida Section ASABE Meeting 2018

In June, the Florida Section of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers hosted their annual meeting. This meeting provides a venue for all working in the profession to come together, share ideas, network, and learn. The section has a tradition of meeting annually and hosting a trade show exhibit, research presentations, an awards ceremony, and professional development opportunities.

Talent On Display

(image Jodi Scholtz)
 Drs. Eban Bean and Adam Watson of UF ABE presented research during the sessions. Dr. Bean's programs focus on urban hydrology and work closely with the Program for Resource Efficient Communities and the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. Dr. Watson's focus is on agribusiness, farm economics, supply chain management and food systems. He is a faculty member in the Agricultural Operations Management program in ABE. Other presenters included Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis and Dr. Kati Migliaccio.

Dedicated Professionals

(image Jodi Scholtz)
Dr. Steve Searcy from Texas A&M University (and current ASABE president) providing the 25 year award to Dr. Rafa Munoz-Carpena. Dr. Carpena is a Professor in ABE and is the Interim Chair of the Department.

The excellent work of former and current students was also recognized.

(image Jodi Scholtz)
Dr. Anne Elise (Creamer) Wester current PhD student Thiago Borba Onofre were recognized for contributions to the discipline and presentation excellence, respectively.

(image Jodi Scholtz)
Other noteworthy contributions were made by Dr. Richard Scholtz who has long supported and been part of the Florida Section ASABE leadership.

(image Jodi Scholtz)
We should also mention that Dr. Aditya Singh was recognized for his work by the section with an award.
(image Jodi Scholtz)
Dr. Singh is UF ABE's new remote sensing faculty member and specializes in optical remote sensing.

If you haven't attended a Florida Section meeting for ASABE lately - plan to attend next year. The meeting provides a great place to share ideas, meet new people and learn about exciting new advances in the discipline. Look for more information on the website.