E3 innovators roundtable: Shaping the outlook on irrigation

Learn more about some of the winners of this year’s Irrigation Association E3 program and what the future holds for these irrigation professionals.
BY LUKE REYNOLDS
E3-innovators-roundtable-Shaping-the-outlook-on-irrigation

Hear from some of the recipients of the Irrigation Association’s 2023 E3 program on why the irrigation industry has inspired these aspiring professionals. The program is sponsored by The Toro Company and the Carolinas Irrigation Association.

The Irrigation Association created the E3 program to focus on providing irrigation students (E3 learners) and faculty members (E3 leaders) with exposure, experience and education that revolves around the irrigation industry. The program shows that the “three e’s” are the best way to actively engage the next generation of irrigators.

The sponsorships included an education and travel award to attend the 2023 Irrigation Show and Education Week Nov. 27-Dec. 1 in San Antonio, Texas.

Daniel Lopez, Cal Poly Pomona

How does winning this scholarship impact your educational and career goals in irrigation or related fields?

Winning this scholarship helps improve my education in irrigation for landscape design. It will help aid in creating water efficient and cost-effective landscapes, which in turn creates a positive impact in the ecological systems that are present.

What inspired your interest in irrigation, and what specific area within this field are you most passionate about?

What inspired me was my landscape architecture studio course which introduced responsible planting design and water efficient concepts to follow with it. This sparked my interest in water conservation and responsibility. I am most passionate about irrigation regarding landscape designs and want to be able to include irrigation in any project moving forward.

Looking forward, what are your long-term professional ambitions in the world of irrigation or water management?

I want to be the lead for my company in irrigation design and would like to consult other firms to create water-efficient landscapes.

In what ways do you hope to innovate or contribute to the field of irrigation through your studies and future career?

I want to merge concepts of landscape design to center around irrigation to improve ideas of resiliency and sustainability.

Debashree Halder Tuli, Colorado State University

How does winning this scholarship impact your educational and career goals in irrigation or related fields?

Winning this scholarship is a tremendous opportunity that will greatly impact my educational and career goals in irrigation and related fields. It provides me with the chance to gain practical experience and exposure to a diverse range of technologies used in the irrigation industry. This firsthand experience will not only enhance my existing knowledge but also allow me to develop a deeper understanding of irrigational efficiency. Furthermore, this scholarship will enable me to build a strong network with innovative developers and industry professionals, which will be invaluable as I embark on my career in serving communities through advancements in irrigation.

What inspired your interest in irrigation, and what specific area within this field are you most passionate about?

My interest in irrigation was sparked by witnessing the hardships faced by people suffering from water crises, particularly in my home country of Bangladesh. Having experienced water scarcity firsthand, I became determined to make a difference in water conservation, with a specific focus on the agricultural sector. Agriculture accounts for the largest share of water consumption worldwide, and it is crucial to reduce this demand. Additionally, the alarming rate of groundwater depletion further motivated me to work on sustainable water management practices. It is within the agricultural sector that I am most passionate about, as I believe that by addressing water usage in this field, we can significantly contribute to alleviating water crises globally.

Looking forward, what are your long-term professional ambitions in the world of irrigation or water management?

In the long term, my professional ambitions in the field of irrigation and water management encompass several goals. Firstly, I aim to contribute to the development of accurate methods for estimating the actual water requirements of plants through advanced heat flux analysis. This knowledge will enable more precise irrigation practices, leading to enhanced water efficiency. Additionally, I aspire to be at the forefront of developing efficient and cost-effective irrigation machines that can optimize water usage in agricultural settings. Moreover, I envision a shift from reliance on groundwater withdrawal to utilizing sustainable surface water sources, thereby mitigating the depletion of groundwater reserves. Ultimately, my overarching ambition is to reduce water crises and create a more sustainable future for generations to come.

In what ways do you hope to innovate or contribute to the field of irrigation through your studies and future career?

Through my studies and future career, I aim to make tangible contributions to the field of irrigation by leveraging my expertise and research findings. My previous research has provided insight into cost-effective methods for conserving water in rice fields. Building on this, I intend to further explore alternative irrigation water sources rather than solely relying on groundwater. Additionally, my current research focuses on understanding aerodynamics and utilizing remote sensing techniques to accurately estimate plant heat flux. By combining this knowledge with my background in water quality analysis, I aspire to develop innovative approaches that reduce water consumption in agricultural practices. I believe that blending these diverse areas of expertise will enable me to make meaningful contributions to water conservation and irrigation efficiency.

Erica Rains, Carteret Community College

What inspired my interest in irrigation and what area am I most passionate about?

My interest in irrigation started last Spring at NCLC. It was my second year participating in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition and I was not planning to participate in an irrigation event. I hadn’t — at the time — completed any irrigation classes and I felt it would be better to wait until after I had some irrigation exposure. While driving down to Mississippi State with my instructor and classmates, we discovered that one student had a conflicting schedule and had to drop irrigation troubleshooting. My instructor decided to place me in the event last minute so we could still compete. I had received some study material from my friend; I went to the irrigation workshop the next day, studied that afternoon with my partner, and then took the irrigation test. We passed and made it into the event. It was a bit of a surprise. Something with irrigation just clicked with me. While, unfortunately, we didn’t knock it out of the park in the event (we plan to change that in Utah this Spring), I still walked away happy I had discovered a passion for irrigation. I have dabbled with designing but I thoroughly enjoy installing, troubleshooting and repairing systems.

Ikenna Onyekwelu, Kansas State University

How does winning this scholarship impact your educational and career goals in irrigation or related fields?

A lot! First, it ushers me into a new opportunity to engage with specialists working towards advancing irrigation technology to optimize water use efficiency in the face of climate change. For someone like me, who happens to find himself at the intersection of crop physiological modeling and irrigation water productivity, this program is essentially important and will provide the firsthand opportunity to the latest tools and techniques for improving irrigation efficiency under future climate change and depleting water resources. Also, attending this program is a great way to spur new ideas and network with fellow graduate students, professionals, experts and industry leaders for future collaboration.

What inspired your interest in irrigation, and what specific area within this field are you most passionate about?

Irrigation is the largest consumptive water use in the world, accounting for up to 80% of freshwater withdrawal. With increasing warming due to increase in greenhouse gases, crop water demand is likely to increase irrigation water use. Such an uncertain future of water use requires irrigation water use stewards to develop responsible use of water by designing new efficient technologies, either virtually or on-farm. Being a good water steward is the core of what I do and ultimately inspired my interest. As a crop modeler and a Ph.D. student, my research interest and passion are connecting agricultural systems with irrigation water management and atmospheric systems to find trade-offs that balance agronomic and hydrologic considerations towards improving the resilience of farmers and agricultural production in general.

Looking forward, what are your long-term professional ambitions in the world of irrigation or water management?

Looking forward, my long-term professional ambition is to work as a research scientist or professor at the intersection of improving irrigation water management and crop simulation models to better capture in-season water needs of specialty and cash crops under climate change. I also hope to train a generation of irrigation specialists and stewards, deployed with the knowledge of managing water resources through a data-driven approach.

In what ways do you hope to innovate or contribute to the field of irrigation through your studies and future career?

My PhD research focuses on the application of mathematical and process-based crop models for crop yield predictions, farmers’ net return, and irrigation water management in an agricultural watershed under current and future climate change. This research incorporates spatial varying inputs into a point-scale crop model to account for spatial soil and weather heterogeneity at a fine spatial resolution. Looking forward, I hope to expand this research by leveraging the spatially varying inputs to create an in-field management zone dashboard to aid farmers in optimizing irrigation water use, ensuring that the right amount of water is reaching the root zone at the right time.

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