Thursday, December 19, 2013
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Louisiana: AgCenter Ramps Up Research on Efficient Use of Water

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A team of water resource experts will be based at the LSU AgCenter Red River Research Station to help farmers manage irrigation and maintain the quality of water associated with agricultural activities.

“We’re refocusing the efforts of the Red River Research Station to address statewide water resource issues, and we will be hiring four new faculty members,” said Patrick Colyer, LSU AgCenter director of the Northwest Region.

The issue of runoff water and pollution from excess nutrients at poultry operations is being studied at the Hill Farm Research Station in nearby Claiborne Parish, and Colyer said the new team at the Red River Research Station will collaborate with scientists at the Hill Farm Station.

The new positions will include an irrigation engineer, a soil and water quality expert, a crop production scientist with an emphasis on irrigation, and a water policy economist.

The irrigation engineer will study different methods and equipment for irrigation, while the crop production scientist will study the best timing and amounts for irrigation. The soil and water quality expert will study ways of reducing pesticide and fertilizer carried away by drainage water.

Colyer said the policy analyst is needed to make sure state and federal water resource guidelines are being followed. The economist also will study the costs and benefits of irrigation, he said.

In addition, Colyer said entomologist Steve Micinski, who has been conducting research on insect management on cotton, will have a partial assignment to work on the giant salvinia weed problem plaguing lakes in both north and south Louisiana.

The salvinia weevil is being used successfully to control the invasive aquatic species. The current population of weevils cannot survive sub-freezing temperatures, however, and new collections of the insect have to be reintroduced to affected lakes after cold winters. Colyer said one of Micinski’s assignments will include selecting those weevils that can endure cold temperatures and improve control of salvinia.

Colyer said aquifers in north Louisiana are declining for several reasons, including the heavy use of water by oil and gas operations, increased crop irrigation, and use by residents who rely on well water at their households.

Colyer said the new water resource personnel will be tasked with helping farmers make wise decisions in relation to water use.

Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor, said the water resource group is based at the Red River Research Station because the facility has a self-contained watershed that allows monitoring of runoff water, making it a natural setting for research. “Nearly all of the drainage on the station flows into a catch basin.”

Leonard said the new faculty members will have statewide extension appointments to study water issues. Existing faculty at the station will transition into research and outreach projects to support overall efforts of soil and water conservation. In addition, the new faculty members will collaborate with faculty at LSU-Shreveport, where the Red River Watershed Management Institute is based.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently classified 21 parishes in Louisiana as disaster areas because of drought. In addition, parts of southwest Louisiana are threatened by saltwater intrusion into irrigation networks.

The value of supplemental water for irrigation is being recognized for crop production, and wells are being drilled at a rapid pace in northeast Louisiana.

“Water is going to be one of the most precious commodities this state has,” Leonard said. “How we use the resource is going to be one of the most important issues facing this state for the foreseeable future.”

The amount of food needed to meet population increases will have to be doubled by 2050, he said, making efficient use of water even more critical.

“The research and outreach efforts by the LSU AgCenter are very timely and will be necessary to meet the challenges of safe and abundant food,” he said.

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