vegetable garden crop

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the investment of $26.6 million by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) into 45 projects that will spur innovative conservation initiatives on both rural and urban farms across the country. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) received nearly $1 million of this funding to conduct a three-year research project focusing on developing optimal irrigation strategies in farmlands throughout Hawaiʻi, Guam and American Samoa.

Forty-five projects were selected from three focus areas—improving water quality, advancing the conservation finance aspect of environmental markets and boosting the number of historically underserved, new and beginning and military veteran producers. The WRRC project aims to benefit the historically underserved population by conserving limited water resources and enhancing farm productivity across diverse climates in the Pacific Islands.

To help accomplish this task, WRRC will modify a highly successful online tool that was developed for California and expand on it for climates, soil types and crops in the Pacific Islands. By the end of the project WRRC aims to have:

  1. developed a weather-based irrigation scheduling system that improves water use efficiency for selected vegetable crops
  2. designed an online tool to enable real-time irrigation scheduling on a field-by-field basis
  3. implemented an outreach program targeting farmers and other agriculture professionals to enhance their awareness to adopt an irrigation management strategy

The funding was provided through USDA’s conservation innovation grants program which fosters innovation in conservation tools and strategies, and is designed to engage farmers in on-the-ground conservation activities that accelerate transfer and adoption of these approaches.

Sayed M. Bateni, WRRC assistant researcher and an assistant professor with the UH Mānoa Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is leading the project. “This project highly affects the agronomy and economy of farms in Hawaiʻi, Guam and American Samoa, and is critical both to crop health and water use efficiency.”

“Irrigation scheduling will help to determine the exact amount of water to irrigate and the exact timing on when to water,” said Bateni. “This offers several advantages, including enabling farmers to schedule the watering which minimizes crop water stress, maximizes the yield and helps the farmers by reducing the cost of water and labor through less irrigation. Finally, it lowers the cost of fertilizers by keeping surface runoff and deep percolation to a minimum, and increases net returns by increasing crop yields and crop quality.”

More about the USDA conservation innovation grants program

“The conservation innovation grants program is a highly competitive conservation grant program that helps put the very best conservation tools to work on privately held farms and forests, for maximum environmental impact,” said Vilsack. “This investment will offer farmers, ranchers and forest landowners new ways to protect their natural resources and new revenue streams to keep their operations viable, building on the record amount of conservation work that has already been done under this administration. Demand for this type of support outpaces what USDA can provide alone, but outside partners are willing to make additional investments because they see the good it can do for the environment and for their communities.”

For a full listing of the 2016 selected projects, go to the USDA website.

—By Cindy Knapman