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UGA Extension helps Georgia improve water usage efficiency

By Nan Bostick, Decatur County UGA Extension Agent

For the past three decades, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling over control of water resources in what has become known as the “tri-state water wars. Judge Paul Kelly of New Mexico, a Supreme Court-appointed expert known as a “special master,” recently ruled in favor of Georgia in the ongoing Florida vs. Georgia court case.

According to Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, the original Special Master said Georgia did not monitor its water usage very well, but this year, the statements say a different story. Now, Georgia has been noted for tracking water usage well, thanks to new programs and personnel added to the water resource education programming.

“UGA is a leader in the development of innovative irrigation efficiency tools, techniques and technologies and UGA Extension works diligently with Georgia’s ag community to deploy these innovations across the state, particularly in southwest Georgia, which has become the focal point of the court case,” Johnson said.

To help improve water use efficiency in Georgia’s agriculture, UGA Extension created the Agricultural Water Efficiency Team (AgWET), which includes 16 UGA faculty from various disciplines in partnership with Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District experts, 14 UGA Extension agents, four crop consultants and 53 farmers. Four farmers from Decatur County are participating, as well as the Decatur County ANR Extension Agent. This program helps farmers better schedule irrigation and increases their water-use efficiency through the use of soil-moisture sensors and smartphone apps.

“While the AgWET project cannot claim all the credit, soil moisture sensor vendors operating in Georgia report a substantial uptick in system sales following the start of the AgWET project,” Calvin Perry, superintendent of UGA’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park in Camilla, Georgia said. “One vendor had a 536% increase in sales and another saw a 370% increase.”

“Ag water conservation and water use efficiency are what we’re all about and why Stripling Park was created.”

At Stripling Irrigation Research Park, more than 10 scientists conduct water-related research on crops like cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans, sweet corn and vegetables, including collaborative projects with manufacturers of pivots, sprinklers and sensors.

Technology created at UGA has also helped improve water use efficiency in Georgia. With funding from the Georgia Cotton Commission and the Georgia Peanut Commission, UGA researchers developed a low-cost, wireless soil-moisture sensing system. UGA Smart Sensor Array uses a dense network of smart sensor nodes to accurately determine soil moisture variability.

UGA Extension specialists have also reported a notable increase in the use of mobile apps for soil moisture sensor and scheduling. UGA CAES researcher George Vellidis developed apps for advanced irrigation scheduling for use by farmers, agents and others in the industry.

UGA’s SmartIrrigation App can be used in corn, cotton and soybean fields. A version of the app will soon be available for pecan growers. To date, the app has been downloaded nearly 3,000 times. UGA scientists also cooperated on the creation of USDA’s IrrigatorPro app.

Additionally, to help Georgia understand how to use urban and rural water more efficiently, UGA Extension welcomed eight water educators who were formerly part of the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission in 2017. Their positions were transferred to UGA Extension by then Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

These educators support farmers, green industry representatives and homeowners by performing water audits and providing a mobile irrigation lab that makes on-farm visits to check the performance of center-pivot irrigation systems. In north Georgia, the Extension water educators help farmers implement natural resource conservation best management practices, teach clients how to maintain drip irrigation, and share information about homeowner irrigation systems. With all of these programs, like AgWET, the water educators, and the collaborations with the UGA specialists, Georgia is learning how to use water more efficiently.

This information was gathered from “UGA Extension helps Georgia improve water usage efficiency”. If you have any additional questions, please give the Decatur County Extension office a call at 229-248-3033.