IA celebrates 2023 scholarship winners

Learn about the winners of the IA's 2023 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program and what they hope and aspire to do in the irrigation industry.
BY LUKE REYNOLDS
2023 Scholarship Program Website Posts2

Learn more about some of the 18 recipients of the Irrigation Association’s 2023 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program sponsored by Rain Bird, given to college students studying and pursuing careers in the irrigation field.

The scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, were awarded to students who have shown a passion and interest in sustainability, stewardship and use of water, and the essential contributions irrigated landscapes and irrigated agriculture have in improving the quality of life through a reliable global food supply and vital green spaces.

Since the program’s start in 2016, 115 students have been awarded scholarships.

Cameron Lowrey

Undergraduate student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California

2023 Anthony W. “Tony” LeFetra Scholar, a special designation awarded to two of the top recipients each year.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I am from El Dorado, Arkansas. Outside of school, I enjoy working on a drinking water infrastructure project through Engineers without Borders, hiking and dancing.

What inspired you to pursue agriculture as your course of study?

When I was a senior in high school, I took AP Human Geography. In that course, I learned about food deserts, city planning and the effects of a growing population on limited resources. I became interested in a nontraditional approach to agriculture, an approach that would work with limited space and that would give back to the local community and environment. I found that studying agriculture would allow me to work in a field that addressed such issues raised in my human geography class.

Is there a course or part of your studies that has been particularly interesting and exciting?

The most exciting part of my courses is that they are hands-on. For almost every major class, I have gotten to do a hands-on project. Some of the projects that were interesting to me were: testing the distribution uniformity of bucket drip irrigation systems for the developing world, coding a robot to automatically detect common pasture weeds and building a biochar generator.

What does smart irrigation mean to you?

As the world becomes increasingly tech-savvy, there are more ways to optimize water usage in irrigation systems. It involves the integration of sensors, weather data, soil moisture data and other environmental factors to automate and optimize irrigation practices. To me, this doesn’t mean that less water will be used to grow crops, but that the right amount of water will be used at the right time to grow the most productive crops.

What advancements in irrigation technology are you particularly excited about?

I am particularly excited about the advancements of precision irrigation systems and their versatility in non-traditional farming applications, such as indoor/vertical farming. I am also excited about remote monitoring and control systems, allowing growers to make adjustments to their irrigation scheme from anywhere, improving efficiency and reducing costs.

What are your ultimate career goals in the irrigation industry?

One of my career goals is to enhance agricultural productivity in indoor/vertical farming applications by researching different optimal growing/irrigating conditions for various high-reward crops. Another career goal is to educate others on the importance of implementing smart irrigation techniques, specifically in rural areas of the majority world.

Here are some quotes from other scholarship winners for 2023:

Adrian Gomez – Oklahoma State University – “My short-term intent is to study abroad this summer in Malawi, Africa and attain a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture with a focus on Urban Horticulture and Entomology. If time and resources allow, my long-term intent is to pursue an additional Bachelor of Science in the agriculture field and a master’s degree in horticulture.”

Darren Baty – California State University, Fresno – “Everything revolves around the dependency of adequate water supplies. Water is the source of life and everything that lives, so learning about water use efficiency within an ever-growing population with increase in demand is pertinent to the health and wellbeing of future generations.”

Emily Hanson – University of Nebraska, Lincoln – “Working on my studies has helped me learn more about the different applications that can be done with a pivot other than just applying water. Long term, I hope to continue my family’s farm and continue to use irrigation on our fields.”

Idalia Navarro – California State University, Fresno – “While pursuing my plant science degree at Fresno State, I learned that 70% of California farmers lacked knowledge of proper irrigation management. From that moment, I knew to focus my studies on water management because without water, there’s no growth, and without growth, there’s no life.”

Josie Prince – Clemson University – “Fields related to irrigation have only just recently piqued my interest now that I have had a few classes that are related to it. In terms of long-term goals, I could see myself somewhere in the future dealing with landscaping or becoming a lead designer for an irrigation team. I find irrigation jobs to be full of opportunities, as well as experience-rich.”

Lauren Fuhrman – Kansas State University – “After graduation, I plan to start a community garden and small farm that not only provides affordable, safe, locally grown produce to the community in a low-barrier food bank manner, but also empowers people to grow their own food, and become closer to the land and more connected to their diets. I want to garden/farm in a sustainable way that benefits both the land and the community using food forests and other permaculture methods combined with accessibility concepts.”

Loretta Klecker – Michigan State University – “In the future, I hope to build my own nursery/retail greenhouse business from the ground up. Taking the irrigation knowledge that I’m currently learning in my irrigation courses, I would also like to include some kind of irrigation system while designing the greenhouses and outside areas of this business. I am really enjoying my irrigation classes and I’ve learned the importance of designing with irrigation in mind, as to avoid needless complications while designing an irrigation system.”

Margaret Usher – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo – “My career goals lie in making an impact in California’s irrigation field to provide a sustainable water supply to farmers. With a productive education at Cal Poly, I know that this is an achievable goal.”

Matthew Frazier – San Jose State University – “My calling in life has come to be water and working closely with leadership in water as a consultant and eventually an educator myself. Earning a master’s degree in mass communications is relevant in that it affords me the education and insight into communications on a broader spectrum, bringing in thousands and sharing with them the messages of conservation and management of water and all this entails.”

Miller Hayes – University of Georgia – “Upon graduation, I hope to continue working with irrigation scheduling as a crop consultant. Being around farmers and established consultants, I have recognized that proper irrigation management and scheduling is one of the most important factors not only environmentally but also potentially a yield-limiting factor in cotton if it is overused.”

Nathan James – Colorado State University – “I learned of ways to apply my educational knowledge through the principles of drip irrigation and boom irrigation while growing chrysanthemums for Andy Mast Greenhouses primarily. After graduation, I intend to work for a nursery and apply a wide assortment of learned irrigation principles to the horticultural industry at large.”

Read more about scholarships.

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