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Monday, October 18, 2021

UC Davis researchers win USDA research award

This November, UC Davis professors Patrick Brown, Jan Hopmans and Ken Shackel, along with retired UC Cooperative Extension Specialist Larry Schwankl, received the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s 2014 Experiment Station Section Excellence in Multistate Research Award. This award acknowledges universities’ multistate research projects.

These researchers received this honor for their work in the project “Microirrigation for Sustainable Water Use.”

The project, which includes research on micro-irrigation, irrigation scheduling and fertilization, works toward increasing water efficiency.

Contributions from these UC Davis researchers have included the development of sensors and irrigation technologies to increase water irrigation efficiency, as well as methods of relaying water conservation knowledge to others.

“Over the years members of the group have jointly contributed [to] irrigation sessions at academic conferences, cooperated in writing irrigation textbooks and recently developed an award-winning website for maintenance of micro-irrigation systems,” Shackel said. “It is probably surprising to some how maintenance of micro-irrigation systems could be the subject of academic research, but interactions between water chemistry, microbiology, insects and irrigation system design can get pretty complex, so it takes a lot of expertise to address these issues in a coherent way.”

The researchers found out that they had been nominated for this award about a year ago but were informed in June that they had received this honor.

The researchers have also worked closely on conservation projects with the Almond Board of California, a service organization for California almonds that works towards researching and promoting almond nutrition, food safety, environmental research and production research.

Robert Curtis, who is associate director of agricultural affairs for the Almond Board, said that the research of these UC Davis professors has contributed to California Almond’s status as one of the most efficient water conservers.

“Their work has contributed significantly to doubling per acre almond yields and increasing water use efficiency 33 percent over the last 20 years,” Curtis said. “All of their efforts equate to very sustainable bottom line: Efficient almond production with water and nutrient stewardship, particularly in this time of drought.”

Hopmans emphasizes that the California drought has made it more vital than ever to find efficient ways to conserve water.

“Studying water use and availability in California at UC Davis is special, as California’s population is continuing to grow, yet water availability is likely to continue to decrease,” Hopmans said.

According to Hopmans, students must recognize the importance of conserving water so that future generations will still have access to quality drinking water as well as water in natural ecosystems.

Shackel says there is still plenty of research left to do in the water conservation field, citing water management as just one aspect of possible research.

“Micro-irrigation is clearly the most efficient way to get the most out of the water we have, but the best irrigation approach will probably depend on local soil and other environmental conditions,” he said. “This is another area where we need a much deeper understanding of how plants interact with soil, water and climate.”

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