Irrigation Innovation Consortium funds seven projects for 2021

ogallala aquifer aerial view

The Irrigation Innovation Consortium, a collaboration between Colorado State University and other land-grant universities and industry to accelerate the development and adoption of water- and energy-efficient irrigation technology, is funding seven research projects in 2021.

The consortium awarded a total of $533,126 in funding from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research to selected projects. Through collaboration with partnering institutions and companies, these teams are bringing an additional $979,424 in match funds to support their innovative research and outreach efforts.

Launched in 2018 with a $5 million contribution from FFAR, the IIC leverages public-private partnerships to maximize impacts from investment in irrigation research. By 2023, with matching support for every FFAR dollar, an investment of at least $10 million will have supported IIC-related projects and activities.

Critical irrigation research

As freshwater resources become ever more precious globally, research in irrigation technology is critically needed to optimize systems and maximize efficiency. Efficient use of water is necessary to ensure resiliency in agricultural and landscape systems. Through the consortium, industry and the public sector codevelop, test, prototype and improve equipment, technology and decision-support systems.

IIC-funded research is equipping today’s turf managers, farmers, and water district managers with cutting-edge, more user-friendly tools and technologies that have the potential to transform how water is used and managed at scale in the future.

“As we face issues related to water and energy efficiency, it’s important that we look beyond our own state lines, and form strategic partnerships with other institutions that share in the land-grant mission in delivering new technology to producers and irrigation professionals,” said Greg Lewis, executive director for corporate and foundation relations at CSU, who is an advisor to the IIC.

Award recipients were selected through a competitive review process that weighed and prioritized projects according to innovation, scientific merit, inter-institution collaboration, the potential for impact, and plans for outreach. Several CSU researchers including Allan Andales, A.J. Brown, Jose Chavez, and Yaling Qian participated in the selection process.

Selected Projects

Integration of Precision Mobile Drip and Variable Rate Irrigation Technologies for Specialty Crop Vegetable Production

  • Principal Investigator: Charles Rush, Texas A&M University; Industry Partners: Dragon Line, Valmont, and Dynamax Inc.
  • Rush’s team is integrating existing irrigation technologies (Mobile Drip Irrigation and Irrigation Scheduling Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) into a new system for improved irrigation water management to facilitate diversification and sustainability of center pivot irrigation cropping systems throughout the High Plains.
  • Budget: $128,333.33 (Total investment, with match: $393,394.44)

Towards Pivot Automation with Proximal Sensing for Maize and Soybean in the Great Plains

  • PI: Derek Heeren, University of Nebraska- Lincoln; Industry Partner: Valmont
  • Heeren’s team is developing thresholds that trigger irrigation events configured for the sub-humid climate of the eastern Great Plains, evaluating an existing patented system, and evaluating the accuracy of irrigation sensors and comparing crop health and water stress of maize and soybean.
  • Budget: $50,061.00 (Total investment, with match: $113,355)

Improved irrigation scheduling combining soil water supply and atmospheric evaporative demand

  • PI: Trenton Franz, University of Nebraska- Lincoln; Industry Partners: Aspiring Universe Corp., Arable Labs, HydroInnova LLC, Corteva and PlanetLabs Inc.
  • Franz’s team is quantifying and comparing the water use efficiency of several common irrigation practices at two study sites in Nebraska.
  • Budget: $83,333.33 (Total investment, with match: $257,777.33)

Connecting Field-Scale Performance to Watershed Health: The Added Power of Sharing Data

  • PI: Dayle McDermitt, Nebraska Water Balance Alliance; Industry Partners: Grower Information Services Cooperative and Olsson.
  • McDermitt’s team is improving algorithms that estimate water delivery through the growing season using electrical power consumption data for systems that experience static or dynamic aquifer levels, communicating the results to irrigators and water managers. The information generated from this research is providing irrigators and watershed managers real-time water use knowledge to support optimal data-based management decisions.
  • Budget: $113,083.33 (Total investment, with match: $256,983.51)

Quantifying Irrigation Water Savings from Multiple Agrivoltaics Configurations

  • PI: Jordan Macknick, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Industry Partner: Jack’s Solar Garden
  • Macknick’s team is demonstrating and quantifying the potential irrigation savings and cost tradeoffs under and around solar panels using different vegetation types at a farm located in Colorado. In current systems, the deployment of solar panels and agriculture compete for land resources. However, co-locating agriculture and solar panel systems could improve the efficiencies of both.
  • Budget: $60,090.57 (Total investment, with match: $153,265.57)

Closing the Loop on Sustainable Plasticulture

  • PI: Charles Hillyer, California State University-Fresno; Industry Partners: Jain Irrigation and DOW Chemical
  • Hillyer’s team is investigating the economic and technical feasibility of using recycled plastic materials from thin-walled drip tape in thick-walled drip lines, to benefit long term investments of perennial plantings such as fruit and nut trees.
  • Budget: $75,582.66 (Total investment, with match: $190,132.00)

Precision Irrigation on Golf Course Fairways Using Soil Moisture Sensor and Mapping Technologies

  • PI: Chase Straw, California State University-Fresno; Industry Partners: The Toro Company, United States Golf Association
  • Straw’s team is demonstrating the benefits of using precision irrigation practices on golf courses, thereby reducing inputs, economic costs, and environmental impacts, and surveying golf course superintendents nationwide to better understand their willingness to engage and approach to pursuing precision water management.
  • Budget: $100,000.00 (Total investment, with match: $225,000.00)

About the consortium

The Irrigation Innovation Consortium, which is headquartered at Colorado State University, includes four other U.S. land-grant universities: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, and California State University-Fresno. The consortium’s founding and sustaining industry partners are Aqua Engineering, Irrigation Association, JAIN Irrigation, LI-COR, Lindsay Corp., Northern Water, Valmont, Hunter Industries, Toro, Rubicon, Colorado Corn Growers Association, and Senniger Irrigation Inc.

To learn more about the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, visit the IIC website: