CLEMSON, S.C. — A team of Clemson University researchers is working to show how Intelligent Water and Nutrient Placement (IWNP) can help farmers increase profits while minimizing effects of agricultural practices on the environment.
The team, led by Jose Payero, an irrigation specialist housed at the Edisto Research and Education Center (REC) in Blackville, received a $453,405 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to develop technologies farmers can use to manage nutrients and water applied to crops through overhead irrigation systems.
“IWNP uses smart sensing and model-based decision support systems that can be readily adopted by farmers on both small and large scales,” said Payero, who leads the Irrigation Research/Cooperative Extension Service program for Clemson. “This advanced technology will make it much easier and cost-effective for farmers to apply irrigation water and nutrients — like nitrogen fertilizer — where, when and in the amount needed to meet crop requirements.”
The ultimate goal is for this new system to be retrofitted on existing overhead irrigation equipment and automatically create site-specific irrigation and fertigation applications based on real-time sensor data (soil moisture sensors installed on-site and optical sensors mounted on the irrigation system) or from prescription maps developed using data from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Payero said this system will be able to adjust to changes in soil types, land use, crop types and topography.
“Currently, there is no affordable variable-rate, site-specific fertigation system available to apply the correct amount of nitrogen within a field through an overhead irrigation system, especially for variable rate irrigation systems, Payero said. “This new system will enable growers to apply nitrogen fertilizer where and in the amount needed through overhead sprinkler irrigation systems, which is the predominant type of row crop irrigation system used in the southeastern United States.”
This project addresses Clemson’s three-fold land grant university mission –
research, Extension outreach efforts and teaching. Once researchers have developed the system, a training program will be created for county agents, crop advisors, consultants and technology providers to teach farmers how to use the new system.
“Outreach efforts will result in an improved stakeholder understanding and adoption of advanced site-specific water and nutrient management,” Payero said. “Adoption and use of the new technology will result in reduced water, energy and fertilizer use, as well as improved environmental quality and improved grower sustainability.”
Rebecca Davis, Clemson Extension water resources agent, will help with outreach efforts.
“Once this system is ready, farmers can benefit from using this technology on their farms,” Davis said. “Training producers, Extension agents, crop consultants and technology providers will extend the impact of this technology.”
In addition, the fundamentals of this technology will be taught in undergraduate and graduate courses – Selected Topics in Agricultural Mechanization (AGM 4730 and AGM 8710) – offered in the Agricultural Mechanization and Business program at Clemson University.
“Offering these courses to Clemson students will result in training the next generation of scientists and educators who will work to solve the problems related to the water and nutrient management area,” Payero said.
This project is funded through May 31, 2024.