MSU opens Ag Water Research Center, seeks grower participation

MSU Ag Water Research Center
(From left) Martin Locke, director of the Agricultural Research Service National Sedimentation Laboratory; Jeff Johnson, head of the Mississippi State University Delta Research and Extension Center; and Greg Bohach, vice president for the MSU Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, pose by the sign for the newly created Agricultural Water Research Center near Stoneville, Miss.

The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service have joined together to open a new research center focused on water management in the Mississippi Delta.

The Agricultural Water Research Center, housed on the MAFES West Farm near Stoneville, will serve growers in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri region, said Jeff Johnson, head of the Mississippi State University Delta Research and Extension Center.

Collaborations in the Lower Mississippi River Basin will include researchers from MAFES, several USDA-ARS research units, the University of Mississippi, the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University, Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri.

Plans for establishing the facility began in 2014 after several meetings with researchers, regional farmers and stakeholders to discuss water-related research in the Lower Mississippi River region. They identified several issues and needs related to water management, including management practices, irrigation technologies, agronomic practices, simulation models, economic analysis, hydrology and climate.

One of the center’s goals is to expand the scope of the present-day RISER program within Mississippi and throughout the region.

The Row-Crop Irrigation Science and Extension Research (RISER) program was developed as a science-based approach to evaluating irrigation best management practices in the Delta.

The RISER program is designed to assist producers in reducing water use while maintaining yield and profitability. Growers participating in it agree to allow a MSU researcher to manage the irrigation decisions on one field while the producer manages the control.

Since 2013, the RISER program has involved more than 60 producer fields covering all major soil types in the Delta. While maintaining yield, participants reduced water use by 25 percent over the controls.

These results demonstrate the potential for computerized hole selection (PHAUCET or Pipe Planner), surge irrigation and soil moisture sensors to improve water-use efficiency and producer profitability.

With observations from 20 locations, RISER soybean trial yields were equivalent to the fields managed by the producer. Water use was reduced by 21 percent and water-use efficiency improved by 36 percent. Producer profitability was increased by $13 per acre.

Similarly, RISER corn trials consisted of 16 locations. Trial results demonstrate the utility of irrigation timing tools, such as moisture sensors. Using moisture sensors to trigger irrigation allowed the MSU researcher to reduce water use by 3.9 acre-inches, a 41 percent reduction compared to the producer. Corn yields were increased by 7 bushels and overall profitability was increased by $27 per acre.

Johnson said support from former Sen. Thad Cochran, the Delta Council and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation was essential in pushing this project forward.

Mark Henry, Extension Research, is seeking growers interested in participating in the RISER program on their farm. Contact him at 662-820-6093.

Mississippi State University contributed this article.

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