Water management research honored

Texas A&M AgriLife-led team recognized for innovative irrigation system work with Blue Legacy Award.
EDITED BY ANNE BLANKENBILLER
Texas AgriLife Award

A group of Texas A&M AgriLife water researchers, known as the Amarillo Water Management Team, was recently honored with the Blue Legacy Award in the agriculture category for their innovative work in developing a center pivot automation and control system.

Blue Legacy Awards were created to honor groups whose practices enhance water conservation while maintaining or improving profitability. The three award categories — agricultural, manufacturing and municipal — are sponsored by the Texas Water Development Board’s Water Conservation Advisory Council.

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District nominated the Bushland-based team consisting of Thomas Marek, Texas A&M AgriLife Research senior research engineer, Amarillo, and Dana Porter, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program leader, Lubbock, both in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Jiang Hu, Ph.D., co-director of graduate programs in the Texas A&M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bryan-College Station; Gary Marek, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service agricultural engineer, Bushland; and Qingwu Xue, Ph.D., AgriLife Research crop stress physiologist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Amarillo.

The award was presented during a March 18 virtual ceremony that will be aired in conjunction with the Texas Section American Water Works Association’s Texas Water 2021 Conference, March 29-April 1. Porter accepted the award on behalf of the research team.

The Water Conservation Advisory Council promotes Blue Legacy Award winners as credible spokespersons, sharing their success stories and encouraging others in the industry to improve their water conservation practices. The awards spread the message that efficient use of our shared water resources is critical to ensuring a prosperous future for Texas.

The team created a novel, next-generation, center-pivot automation and control system, or CPACS, by developing innovative hardware, software and logic technologies. CPACS integrates three important components:

– Center Pivot Control System: High accuracy GPS data guides the center pivot speed and location controls.

– Weather, Crop and Soil Moisture Data: This data allows the computer software to best prescribe the right amount of water at the right time. It integrates real-time soil moisture monitoring, near real-time and short-term evapotranspiration rates, and precipitation forecasting. Crop models with crop type and growth stage also help the system know how much water the plants need at different times during the growing season.

– Soil Moisture Sensor Placement: Though soil moisture sensing is not a new technique in the agricultural world, the technology has not always been optimized on a location-specific basis. This methodology recommends sensor placement based on local soil conditions, crop root zone depth, as well as sensor and communications reliability. This assists in balancing data reliability and cost- effectiveness.

The Amarillo Water Management Team has demonstrated the effectiveness of water-saving technologies and found ways to optimize equipment already on the market. The team has U.S. and international patents pending, and they are ready to work with the irrigation industry to license the CPACS.

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