Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: A Year In Review

On the occasion of the final week of 2014, it’s only fitting that we should take a look back at the past year’s work. Here then is a reflection on some of the more notable events and how they may or may not portend things to come – entirely from my perspective.
A blog is born
The year began auspiciously enough with the initiation of this irriGator blog. On orders of "do the same thing you’ve been doing, but differently," I packed up my wares from my previous writing home in the interweb’s lost recesses and set about writing/editing here. 
Design notwithstanding, this blog has developed considerably this year. We featured one notable guest author (fresh from a national victory) and slowly began integrating entries summarizing recently published research pertaining to irrigation and water conservation (the latter's popularity exemplifying the utility of the blog format). Expect more of this in 2015 as we feature more guest authors, more research, and the thrilling conclusion of the soil moisture sensor “water-saving” saga.
The Unit turns 1
One notable event in 2014 was the Landscape Unit research site celebrating one year in operation. We marked the occasion over the summer by adding a final flourish to the site: warm-season turfgrass. 

St. Augustine, centipede, zoysia and bahia were added – the latter species as demonstration, and St. Augustine as a critical part of the research plots comparing Florida-Friendly (FFL) and traditional landscape designs.
Click here to view some of my field images…and see ongoing Landscape Unit research data.
While one project was just getting started, another study we endearingly referred to as the “strawberry project” came to a close following three years of winter plantings and frost protection irrigation work. 
The wet, wild winter that spanned Jan./Feb. made for some sloppy harvest days and constant battles with fungus and pests. Nevertheless, the research did generate some insight as to how lowering spray head pressures can reduce water-use without affecting fruit yield.
Roll camera
In addition to the blog, the irriGator project’s video arm also picked up steam in 2014. We produced 13 videos on water-use topics as wide-ranging as soil-water retention curves, methods for using ET in Ag irrigation and, as a matter of fact, why do we even irrigate?
The latter production coincided with this year’s Water Institute Symposium at UF and provided a perfect opportunity to approach disparate experts and capture their insight into why we irrigate. 
What motivates irrigation according to author/journalist Cynthia Barnett? Watch the video and find out! 
One video, about the parts that comprise a typical residential irrigation system, stood out from all the others this year when it was selected by water blogger Alan Harris for his annual Labor Day Tribute to water management workers nationwide.
Meanwhile, in Miami…
In addition to my irriGator hat, I also continue producing visual media for Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit (UCU). 2014 started off with a bang for us with a video about industry certification that was shared by peers from coast-to-coast. Why certification? When you evaluate irrigation systems (and new system installs) daily, you gain an appreciation for craftsmanship. Industry certification helps set a standard in quality while also bringing the lazy and/or ill-equipped in our industry into stark relief.  
Some intriguing video topics fell into our lap this year. Our tree-planting allies at Citizens for a Better South Florida began work on a project to revive a 20s era underground cistern on their property and we were happy to chronicle this effort over two chapters (1 and 2). In 2015 we hope to capture the culmination of lots of work when the cistern goes online to help water their demonstration FFL garden.
And on other occasions we used context to our advantage. Such was the case in April when all of Miami celebrates National Poetry Month and we gathered some area friends and put image to verse to join the festivities.

Considering all our shorts and micro-shorts, we produced 15 videos this year. In the final weeks of December, we began photography on two new productions. 2015 here we come!

#futurevideo: a community garden in Florida City, FL.
To tweet, perchance to dream
I also had the opportunity to attend the irrigation industry’s biggest conferences this fall: WaterSmart Innovations and the Irrigation Show and Education Conference. These conferences provide great opportunities to revisit with colleagues, stay updated on new developments in research and technology and tweet up a storm. And tweet I did.
Notable moment: Dr. Michael Dukes accepts the Irrigation Foundation's Excellence in Education Award in Phoenix, AZ.

In fact, this year my social media experience opened several new doors. I was invited by the Graduate Student Professional Development Committee in our department (Ag and Bio Engineering) to present on the effective use of social media. And as fall semester came to a close the committee invited me back to organize a workshop on video editing.
Always add a QR code for good measure
Both of these topics are increasingly relevant in our mobile, social world where one's professional presence and accessibility needs to extend from the physical to the digital. UF/IFAS is certainly embracing this reality. One 2015 event we're already planning for is an in-service training for Extension Agents exploring both social media and mobile apps and how facility with these tools can complement a program’s outreach and public profile.
2015? Let's get it
At the same time we continue using every venue and opportunity within our reach to get the message out about water-use efficiency and conservation. To that end, look for the UCU next month on national twitter discussion #landscapechat

We’ve been invited to highlight all the good work Miami-Dade and UF/IFAS are doing to help everyone save water and make informed decisions when managing their landscape.

About the author: 
Michael Gutierrez is a water resources 
technician with UF/IFAS in the Ag & Bio 
Engineering Dept. He tweets, blogs and 
also shoots still and video media in South 
Florida, Gainesville and anywhere else a 
camera is handy. (image: Michael Dukes)

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