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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #355389

Research Project: Precipitation and Irrigation Management to Optimize Profits from Crop Production

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: The Wendell irrigationist

item Evett, Steven - Steve

Submitted to: CSA News
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/20/2018
Publication Date: 8/2/2018
Citation: Evett, S.R. 2018. The Wendell irrigationist. CSA News. 63(8):16-17.

Interpretive Summary: The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) is a scientific and technical society with members from every state in the US, and from many other countries. Many members are scientists and engineers involved in research and development of improved agronomic methods that reduce waste and cost, make more efficient use of agricultural inputs, defeat pests and diseases, improve harvesting methods, improve water quality and increase farm and range profitability. In addition to more than 8,000 scientists and engineers employed by federal, state and private industry, the society includes several thousand crop advisors and farm managers who put into practice the engineering and scientific advances and feed back to the scientific community the relative success or need for improvement of new methods, products and approaches. The Society and its membership play strong roles in promoting all five key indicators of rural prosperity listed by the Presidential Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, but particularly the last two: Harnessing Technological Innovation, and Economic Development. In our changing climate, drought, flooding and erratic precipitation are increasingly affecting agricultural productivity. Effective and efficient management of water resources is vital to agricultural productivity worldwide, making water security and food security inexorably linked in sustaining human wellbeing. Irrigation is an effective response to short and longer term drought, but places stress on reservoir capacity, aquifers and water quality. Finding solutions to the myriad problems faced by agriculture will take all of the agronomic sciences working together. Fortunately, members of ASA are allied with members of many other professional societies in engineering, crops, soils and water, in providing multi-dimensional problem solutions.

Technical Abstract: Irrigation is essential to crop production in arid and many semi-arid climates, and it is increasingly used in subhumid and even humid climates prone to short-term “flash” droughts during the cropping season. But irrigation is a means to an end, the husbandry of crops, animals and families. While husbandry is variously defined, one definition is, “the act or practice of cultivating crops and raising livestock.” Other definitions include, “the control or judicious use of resources: conservation”, and “the scientific control and management of a branch of farming and especially of domestic animals.” This is very close to the definition of “agronomy”, which is why many who irrigate consider themselves agronomists. Most members of the agronomy, crops and soils professional societies specialize in some of the agronomic sciences. Agronomy is an exceedingly big tent. The American Society of Agronomy has joined with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and the Indian Society of Agricultural Engineering to meet in Hyderabad, India, for the Global Water Security Conference, Oct 3-6, 2018, because in the words of conference organizers, “Effective and efficient management of water resources is vital to agricultural productivity worldwide, making water security and food security inexorably linked in sustaining human wellbeing.” Nearly every nation is facing the combined impacts of climate change, population growth and consequent increased competition for quality water resources, and to some extent the effects of water management strategies, procedures and infrastructure designed for the last century but inadequate in current times. The US is no exception. Drought places severe pressure on inadequate reservoir capacity in the West, and aquifers in the Great Plains. Rapidly increasing acreages of irrigation and drainage in the Upper Midwest and Mid South place pressure on water resources and aquifers, both in terms of quantity (aquifer declines) and quality. Drainage makes agricultural land more productive, but short circuits the hydrologic cycle, increasing the rapidity of P and N movement to streams, rivers and water bodies, including the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie and Chesapeake Bay. Clearly we need to do a better job of water management for multiple reasons, not least of which is the fact that N and P move with the water. Increasing irrigation in the Eastern states responds to a compelling statistic – without irrigation, rainfed crops east of the 95th Meridian achieve on average 50% of potential yield – with irrigation, the average is 80% of potential yield, with a clear reduction of both the yield gap and of interannual yield variation. Finding solutions to these myriad problems will take all of the agronomic sciences working together. These are exciting times for the future of our societies and for agriculture in this changing world.