Kansas Water Technology Farms provide comprehensive view of what works and why in irrigation

For the past six years while working for K-State Research and Extension (KSRE), Jonathan Aguilar has held numerous field days, conducted a range of research projects, and published a series of articles on water resource management. But he didn’t feel he had a comprehensive view of what worked and what didn’t when it comes to irrigation technology in western Kansas until Water Technology Farms came about.

In 2015, the Kansas Water Office, K-State Research and Extension and local producers came together to discuss what producers needed around water management and what producers could potentially do on their farms together with the state and the university. From these conversations, a bottom up approach to demonstration, research and education began – the Kansas Water Technology Farms.

2019 Water Technology Farm locations. Photo credit: Kansas Water Office

It started out as three producers in western Kansas, but it has now become a network of 15 farms across the state which has led KSRE and others to get a clear view of irrigation BMPs in different areas of the state.  For example, Aguilar notes how the bubbler sprinkler package works well on one participating farm with flat topography, whereas for another participating producer with varied topography this same bubbler package doesn’t work as well.  Moreover, bubbler as well as mobile drip irrigation packages work best when producers plant in circles – which is acceptable for some producers, but not others.

“We go to their farm, monitor their fields, and use our research-grade equipment to see if the technology is really working in the field,” notes Aguilar.

The research conducted on each of the participating farms also helps Aguilar and others understand what works on a larger-scale operation, which complement the work Aguilar and others do on small research plots. Moreover, participating farms can openly share their data and the data from other operations with other producers, creating a strong farmer to farmer network around conservation.

“I was really excited to work with the producers. These producers are really stepping up and sharing their books, management and fields to educate others on the technologies they are testing. Also – extension professionals are usually reaching out to producers, but in this situation, these producers are already volunteering themselves to participate,” notes Aguilar. Several private industries and commodity partners saw this partnership and gladly contributed to these efforts.

Now that the Water Technology Farms has expanded to eastern parts of the state, participating farms are looking not only at irrigation, but also at cover crops and nutrient management BMP’s for their area and for their management.

According to Aguilar, the education aspect of the Water Technology Farms is particularly exciting. Participating producers are able to share their experiences with other producers, and K-State and the Kansas Water Office are able to leverage the research results with a larger audience, showing the benefits of this collaborative effort near and far. They are reaching not only the producers, but also the general public, students, policy makers, water managers, and other educators.

“We are not just talking about this farm or that farm – we are talking about multiple farms throughout Kansas which gives us a clearer vision of what works where and why. And since it is farmer-led, this research is conducted in a way that works for them.”

Jonathan Aguilar, K-State Research and Extension

Dr. Jonathan Aguilar earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural engineering from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB). He gained his professional AE licensure in the Philippines after passing the board exam with national honors. He worked at UPLB as University Researcher II and handled several water resource related projects with UPLB Foundation Inc., Department of Agriculture and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He came to K-State where he received his doctorate in in 2009. His research activities include remote sensing of crop residue and spatiotemporal analysis of crop diversity indices for the contiguous U.S.

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