UNR technology research aims to help Nevada alfalfa production


PhD student Uriel Cholula-Rivera and undergraduate student Jackson Zolmer connect an infrared thermometer measuring plant canopy temperature to a data logger as part of the irrigation research conducted at the experimental station from the university on Valley Road in Reno. Photo: Claudene Wharton

As smoke from wildfires continues to fill the skies and drought grips the West, farmers are trying to cope with dwindling water supplies and doing what they can to keep operations going. profitable.

Researchers at the University of Nevada at Reno are using new technology to try to equip growers with a “smart” irrigation schedule, computer-generated models that would tell them how much water to irrigate based on certain conditions.

The work is led by Assistant Professor of Agriculture Alejandro Andrade-Rodriguez at the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources as part of the research of the College’s experimental station.

Andrade-Rodriguez aims to use various new technologies to develop an “intelligent” deficit irrigation scheduling system capable of identifying irrigation management decisions (when and how much to irrigate) that can help growers achieve maximum yield. which can be obtained with the conditions and the water available this season.

He is focusing his research on alfalfa at the moment, alfalfa being a widely cultivated crop in Nevada. He says that although alfalfa uses a relatively large amount of water, due to its deep roots, growing time, and extensive ground cover, it is also a good candidate for strategy application. deficit irrigation, that is, using less water than what would be considered complete irrigation while trying to maintain yield and quality. His research focuses on finding new ways to increase the yield obtained per unit of water used.

Last fall, Andrade-Rodriguez and students from his Water and Irrigation Management Laboratory planted 18 alfalfa plots at the Experimental Laboratory at the Valley Road Experimentation Station in Reno. They planted two cultivars of alfalfa, one presented as drought tolerant, ladak II, and the other presented as high yielding stratica. Nine plots of each variety were planted, three plots of each using three different watering regimes: full irrigation (100%), moderate deficit irrigation (80%), and moderate deficit irrigation (60%), where 100% represents complete replenishment of soil water. depletion to field capacity during each irrigation.

The quantities of irrigation necessary for the implementation of these treatments are calculated using hourly data collected by soil moisture detection stations compatible with the “Internet of Things” (IoT), then applied with precision by a drip irrigation system.

The degree of stress caused by irrigation treatments is monitored using infrared thermometers measuring the temperature of the plant canopy, which is an indicator of plant stress. In addition, every two weeks, plant height and ground cover (how much soil is covered by plants) are also measured, and above-ground biomass samples are collected.

“We will use this data to obtain an alfalfa crop growth model fitted to the conditions of northern Nevada,” said Andrade-Rodriguez. “We will then use a computer program and the alfalfa model to analyze different irrigation scenarios and identify the best scenarios for irrigation scheduling, deciding when and how much to irrigate. “

Associate Professor of Agriculture Juan Solomon, who participated in the design and implementation of the research, will also help analyze the quality and nutritional content of the samples obtained from each of the treatments.

Andrade-Rodriguez has already developed a new class for undergraduate and graduate students, Applied Programming for the Agriculture Sciences, to introduce them to the basics of programming and developing algorithms for use in agriculture.

“Computers are transforming our daily lives,” he said, “including the way we produce food and fodder. “

Andrade-Rodriguez is also interested in the differences they find between high yielding cultivars and drought tolerant cultivars. He said trial plots at the Valley Road Field Lab in Reno will continue until next year. He plans to plant a similar trial in Fallon, Nevada next year, using a sprinkler irrigation system, and also wants to trial in Diamond Valley, Nevada, using a center-pivot irrigation system.

“The goal is to have crop models that can help us provide irrigation management recommendations for our Nevada growers facing reductions in their water budgets,” he said. “The code for our computer programs will be readily available to other researchers, and then maybe others can duplicate what we’re doing here and create crop models and computer programs for other arid and semi-arid areas. -arides facing similar problems. “

Andrade-Rodriguez’s research is just a few of the work the College is doing to help Nevada forage producers.

Claudene Wharton is Senior Marketing Specialist at the University of Nevada. Go
here for the full story and info on other efforts during this year’s drought via Nevada TODAY.


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