Younsuk Dong

Addressing Irrigation Innovation in Agriculture

Michigan’s agricultural landscape, while fertile and diverse, grapples with unique challenges including climate variability and evolving concerns around irrigation water use. Irrigation plays an important role in Michigan agriculture. Although only seven percent of Michigan’s farmland is irrigated, this irrigated acreage accounts for more than 40% of the state’s cropland income. In addition, agricultural irrigation accounted for 39% of Michigan’s consumptive water use (125 billion gallons) in 2020. Given the impacts of climate change such as temperature variability and erratic precipitation, it is more important than ever that farmers have the tools to make informed decisions about irrigation water use.

Dr. Younsuk Dong, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering is working to ensure a more resilient and sustainable future for Michigan’s agricultural producers. He leads the MSU Irrigation Program, focusing on assisting farmers in improving irrigation efficiency while conserving freshwater and energy.

Dong’s expertise lies in the development and implementation of cutting-edge technologies aimed at revolutionizing irrigation practices and enhancing water sustainability in agriculture. His approach encompasses several key areas, including: 1. the development of affordable, easy-to-use AI-based irrigation sensor technology to improve irrigation water use efficiency and disease management; 2. monitoring in-field soil and environmental conditions using IoT (Internet of Things)-based sensor technology, and 3. computational modeling to understand the fate, transport and transformation of water and nutrients in soil.

Dong’s lab created LOCOMOS (Low-Cost Sensor Monitoring System), a sensor monitoring technology that helps farmers make better decisions on irrigation and fungicide application.

Dong received funding from multiple sources to utilize LOCOMOS technology with 30 growers on more than 50,000 acres and multiples crops with irrigation and plant disease management. More than 100 LOCOMOS stations were installed across Michigan to help farmers improve water use efficiency and plant disease management. Daily irrigation and fungicide recommendations were provided through the LOCOMOS website and smartphone app.

A recent on-farm irrigation demonstration study found that LOCOMOS helped save up to two inches of water application in corn, soybean, and potato fields, while maintaining the same yield as the farmer’s existing irrigation strategies. This project demonstrates a potential water savings of up to 14.9 billion gallons of freshwater, representing about 12% of Michigan’s total agricultural water use.

Dong at an irrigation outreach event.

Dong’s work includes an extensive outreach component. He provides education and training programs to farmers, agricultural professionals, and policymakers. On-farm demonstrations highlight significant water savings without compromising crop yields.

Dong recognizes the importance of collaborations in advancing agricultural technology and has forged partnerships with various organizations, including government agencies, commodity groups, and industry stakeholders.

Dong has developed productive partnerships with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, commodity groups (Michigan Soybean, Potato, Blueberry, Asparagus, Christmas Tree), Michigan State Horticultural Society, and the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission. Dong also works with the irrigation industry to understand and identify the needs of the stakeholders. These collaborations facilitate innovative research and effective dissemination of information.

Michigan’s agricultural landscape faces unique challenges, particularly regarding irrigation and water sustainability. By directly addressing these issues, Dong is helping to provide farmers with the tools and information needed to navigate climate variability and optimize water usage.

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