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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Full Slate for Summer 2018

Summer is always an exciting time for ag and bio engineering in general
and water-use work in particular. The next two months include both the
ASABE Annual International Meeting. July also ushers in
Smart Irrigation Month, a national effort to educate everyone about how
to water smartly just as outdoor water-use ramps up across the country.
Expect coverage of all of the above here on irriGator.

Tampa Bay Water HQ in April

Our first summer entry is a brief report back from the recent Landscape Irrigation Water Conservation Technologies Training which took place in
Clearwater, FL. This event was a joint effort by Tampa Bay Water,
Florida Irrigation Society (FIS) and UF/IFAS - bringing together regional
practitioners, a variety of vendors showcasing their latest devices, and
IFAS researchers training on best practices. This is a rare treat in
Florida in the spring, so much so that I made the trek from South Florida
to attend.

“Why go all that way?” you may ask. Well, Dr. Michael Dukes had promised an expansive agenda that would not only include water-saving devices like weather-based controllers and soil moisture sensors, but also pressure regulating sprinkler spray bodies (now a EPA WaterSense certified product). And that’s exactly what the training delivered. We covered water-saving technology best practices, why rain sensors are not the best choice for preventing unnecessary irrigation, and the work that went into testing how and why pressure regulating spray heads save water. Further, this year’s training featured a new lab portion requiring attendees to engage with a vendor to learn some basics about a specific technology, making for a lively vendor area with great exchanges about attendees.

Training lab session underway
The combination of Tampa Bay Water and Florida Irrigation Society (offering CEUs) helped attract a broad spectrum of practitioners to the training. I took every opportunity to speak to attendees to learn what area of the green industry they worked in and what they were interested in learning about. I spoke landscape architects, irrigation technicians, and a residential system contractor. Some attended to learn more about a specific technology (soil moisture sensors), others learned the most during the vendor lab session, and the residential contractor had plenty to share about the limitations of adopting new technology with homeowners when/where there are no incentives (rebates, etc.).

There will not be a more worthwhile irrigation-focused event until fall when
FIS and the Irrigation Association have trainings and certification exams. I
certainly journeyed back to South Florida eager to build on what I learned in
the auditing work that I do. Smart Irrigation Month is just a few weeks away.
Look for more information on water-saving technology and irrigation best
practices on here on irriGator.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Studying Irrigation Restrictions in Southwest Florida

Outdoor watering restrictions are one of the more common methods in Florida for curtailing irrigation. Most of the water management districts in the state recommend limiting irrigation during some portion of the year, usually during Florida’s dry season (November - April). Recently, UF-ABE alum Dr. Mackenzie Boyer published research which analyzes the effectiveness of irrigation restrictions - Water Conservation Benefits of Long-Term Residential Irrigation Restrictions in Southwest Florida. Read on for a selection of excerpts.

Dr. Mackenzie Boyer in presentation mode
Setting the Scene
Residential irrigation watering restrictions are often a standard water
conservation tool for US utilities, especially in the Southeast and
Southwest, where water resources are particularly limited and there
have been prolonged droughts. Water restrictions take various forms
throughout the United States. Most residential ordinances ban irrigating
during the hottest daytime hours (when irrigation water can be lost to
evaporation before it has a chance to be used by plants) and limit
homes to specific watering days. Some restrictions are voluntary,
while others are mandatory. Many have exceptions for newly
planted landscapes or handwatering. Despite the prevalence of water
restrictions, there is little published research on their effectiveness, and
research is generally limited to short durations or utility-wide averages

Study area in Southwest Florida
Irrigation restrictions in the Tampa Bay Water area offer a unique look into both long- and short-term restrictions as well as the behavior of individual customers. The goal of this study was to determine the effectiveness of long-term watering restrictions to reduce irrigation by individual single-family residential customers in southwest Florida. The primary objective was to compare each customer’s irrigation demand under two days/week and one day/week irrigation restrictions. Next, high, medium, low, and occasional irrigating groups were identified, and the high irrigators were mapped to determine whether there was a geographic component to irrigation behavior. Finally, the impact of a short-term ban on inground irrigation in Tampa was evaluated.

Figures 5 and 6 show both the benefits and shortcomings of
day-of-the-week water restrictions to reduce irrigation demand. The
figures show the mean (Figure 5) and median (Figure 6) monthly
irrigation demand and irrigation required of the four groups.
It is clear from the magnitude of the irrigation demand that the high
group irrigated regularly (3.2–5.6 in./month under two days/week
restrictions), whereas the occasional group irrigated little if at all
(<0.3 in./month). Therefore, the high group had a greater potential
for conserving. Irrigation demand for high irrigators was 10.2 in./year
lower under one day/week restrictions compared with two days/week
restrictions, whereas occasional irrigators’ irrigation was 0.3 in./year
higher (Table 2). Day-of-the-week restrictions were successful in
reducing irrigation demand of the highest users, but they may also
encourage some customers to irrigate.

Mean and median irrigation demand/required
Long-term water restrictions that periodically reduced irrigation from
two days to one day/week during the study period of 1998 through
2010 coincided with lower irrigation demand in southwest Florida.
Annual irrigation demand was 13% lower (11.3 in./year under two
days/ week restrictions to 9.8 in./year under one day/week restrictions),
while annual irrigation required was 3% higher (25.0 in./year under
two days/week restrictions and 25.7 in./year under one day/week
restrictions) during the period of the more stringent restrictions.
Throughout the region, customers’ irrigation demand tended to be
much lower than the irrigation required, classifying the region as a
whole as one of deficit irrigators. As a group, high irrigators’
(defined as having annual irrigation demand that exceeded the
irrigation required) irrigation demand as a depth was 20% lower
under the more stringent conditions, indicating that those who
irrigated most had the most potential for conservation. Additional
conservation potential existed for high irrigators, for which the
irrigation demand was still 56% above irrigation required under
one day/week restrictions. The primary focus of this study was
long-term water restrictions, but the brief ban on irrigation in
Tampa in April and May 2009 resulted in a substantially lower
irrigation demand as well.

The authors would like to thank the Southwest Florida Water
Management District and Tampa Bay Water for funding this research.