Tuesday, March 12, 2019

4th Annual Urban Landscape Summit: A Preview

By Michael Gutierrez

IrriGator blog is pleased to kick-off its spring/summer season with one of the high points of the spring calendar - UF/IFAS Urban Landscape Summit 2019! Focused on all things urban landscape, this year’s event spans two days and includes an optional Green Infrastructure Field Day preceding the summit for extension professionals. The UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE) hosts the Urban Landscape Summit and Center Director Dr. Michael Dukes agreed to an interview with IrriGator to preview the event.

Do you feel there is a more defined theme to this year’s summit than previous years?
MD: Yes, that is the intention. We want the group to intentionally think about landscapes, influence of external forces such as water quality requirements (BMAPs/TMDLs). Specifically, how are external forces going to shape future Florida landscapes?

The structure of the event has changed this year with an emphasis on more presenters and no keynote speaker. Can you give us some insight into this decision-making?
MD: The first day will start with state of the art presentations summarizing research on landscape issues including turfgrass nutrient requirements, water requirements, and breeding as well as soil amendments and water quality associated with urban areas.These presentations will then lead into a panel of external stakeholders that will discuss forces that could change current landscapes into what will become future landscapes. Given the recent red tides and harmful algae blooms, these topics are extremely timely!

There is a lot of great research slated for presentation on both days of the summit. Any highlights you’re excited about?
MD: I’m excited to hear the updates I mentioned above and in particular to hear from the panel. How do we collectively envision future landscapes? What are the implications for the industry and ultimately the public? This summit will go beyond presentations as in previous summits and will serve to synthesize what we know and help us chart a path for future research priorities.

There is still some time left to register. What would you tell a green industry or extension professional on the fence about attending this year’s summit?
MD: Register!! If you want to get a view on the thinking of the people that are closest to the cutting edge research and those closest to policy concerning landscapes in Florida you will not be disappointed!

Is this summit one of CLCE’s final events considering the recent announcement of the Center for Land Use Efficiency’s creation? Can we expect a continuation of the summit or events like it in 2020/the future?
MD: CLCE will still exist! The formation of CLUE will serve to link existing programs such as CLCE, PREC, and Ag BMPs. The summit has been a key event for our urban landscape programs and will continue.

The 2019 UF/IFAS Urban Landscape Summit takes place March 20 - 21, 2019 in Gainesville, FL. Register here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

On the Scene in Long Beach: Irrigation Show 2018 with UF's E3 Learners

By Michael Gutierrez

Among the many events that go on during the annual Irrigation Show and Education Conference, one of the more rewarding is the E3 Irrigation Program. Every summer the Irrigation Foundation invites students from around the country to apply for a week or exposure, experience and education on location at the show. This includes attending classes and networking events, and engaging vendors during the large product expo. 2018’s E3 Learner class included students from 19 schools in 14 states. Representing UF were two PhD students from the Department of Horticultural Sciences. They agreed to share a little of their E3 experience with IrriGator.

UF HortSci PhD students Ricardo Lesmes and Natalia Macan
Can you introduce yourselves?
RL: I am Ricardo Lesmes. I am originally from Colombia. Currently I’m working in Dr. Johnny Ferrarezi's lab located in Fort Pierce at Indian River REC. I’m a PhD student in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. We grow premium grapefruit, which is one of the most sensitive citrus species to HLB (Huanglongbing or citrus greening - the worst disease the industry has ever faced). I work with citrus under protective screens. We’re focused on preventing infection of the trees by using physical barriers against the main vector of this disease - Asian citrus psyllid.

This production system of groves enclosed in screenhouses is a different microclimate for the crop. I focus on improving the horticultural aspects of the production of high quality fresh fruit. Experiments focus on testing new citrus varieties, testing the effects of different color nets, testing canopy management (automated or manual) and testing irrigation and fertigation management of the groves using soil moisture sensors and weather stations in the screenhouses.

NM: I am Natalia Macan, a PhD student at the Horticultural Sciences department. I started my studies in August 2018 and I am still discussing the details of my research project with my advisor, Dr. Rhuanito Ferrarezi. However, I can say that it will focus on irrigation management strategies for HLB affected grapefruit. HLB, or greening, is a disease with severe impact on the citriculture. Regarding the plant, one of the consequences is the reduction of root density. This affects the plant ability to uptake water and nutrients. So, it is necessary to study if the frequency of irrigation events and the amount of applied water should be different from healthy plants. Moreover, most of the irrigation management here in Florida is based on weather data, and the idea is also to test soil moisture sensors.

What motivated you to apply to E3?
RL: Different motivations. One was networking. I am starting my second year here. The industry production systems and technology level here is quite different from my country. I wanted to get to know the industry, manufacturers, other researchers, and learn about different equipment to improve my knowledge to conduct better research.

E3 Learner Class of 2018
NM: The main reason was to expand my irrigation knowledge. I have been passionate about irrigation since 2012, when I took my first undergraduate level class. I had an excellent professor (Dr. Tamara Gomes) and I liked learning how to develop an irrigation project. It caught my attention because it involves biological concepts, plants and soil, and engineering concepts, using math and physics to calculate friction loss. I was very excited when Dr. Ferrarezi told me about the E3 program. I knew that it would be an excellent opportunity to improve my knowledge, learn about new technologies and meet people that also work with irrigation.

What do you feel was the most rewarding aspect of this week?
RL: Everything was enriching to me. I enjoyed the classes. They were useful to improve and update my knowledge in this field. Being aware about all the different resources we have as students and future scientists. The expo is impressive - so many manufacturers and companies that work to improve water management in different fields, always producing better products, integrating technological advancements to manage water better.

NM: It is hard to choose just one thing. During the week I had the opportunity to attend many events and each one was special in a different way. At the education classes, I improved my technical knowledge and what I learned about drip irrigation design I am going to use to double check the irrigation system in my experiment. At technical sessions, I became aware of new irrigation research and this will also be helpful for my research because I learned about some difficulties in the use of soil moisture sensors. At the exhibition, I visited many companies and discovered new types of sensors that can be used for irrigation scheduling. I also had the opportunity to meet students, researchers, vendors, all type of people that work with irrigation. However, if I have to choose, there were two most rewarding moments in the week. The first was Mark Eaton’s keynote lecture and his message to help and protect who is around us. We live in a very competitive world and his speech made me think about it. The second moment was the Women in Irrigation Social. We know that irrigation is a male-dominated industry, so it was gratifying to see the room full of women that, like me, decided to follow this career.

Would you recommend E3 to students focused on ag or irrigation?
NM: Of course! This is a unique opportunity! If you like irrigation, you must participate in the E3 program. As I said in the previous answer if you attend the Irrigation Show and Education Conference you will learn, expand your network and be exposed to new ideas that can be useful in your job/research.

RL: Absolutely. This experience not only updates your knowledge but it also gives you the chance to open your eyes and have a wider picture of the industry and see what is going on in a real life sense because it encompasses scientific seminars and also what the industry is doing for growers.

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.