Sept. 16 2019 07:24 AM

Universities join to tackle irrigation issues at the Colorado research center.

Photo: Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences

In Fort Collins, Colorado, 42 acres of uncultivated farmland, a couple of buildings and a small weather station will be transformed over the next several months into a bustling research center for irrigation, according to an article by Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

The Prospect site, named for the road it’s located on, is Colorado State University’s physical home for the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, a multi-university organization partnering with the agriculture industry to tackle the ballooning challenges of water scarcity. The CSU-led consortium was established last year through a $5 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The co-founding university partners are Texas A&M Agrilife Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State, and Fresno State, and they are joined by an expanding list of industry collaborators. ­­

“Forces of growth, demand for more water, declining groundwater, and climate change are all coming together to the point where irrigation is going to have to be more efficient, and more effective,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Center, which is the consortium’s administrative head.

The goal is simple: help farmers and landscapers do more with less, by combining the practical knowledge of industry with the academic expertise of universities.

“By 2050, the world’s human population is projected to number 9.7 billion people,” says A.J. Brown, assistant director of the Irrigation Innovation Consortium and a Ph.D. candidate in irrigation management at CSU. “We need to feed 2 billion more people with the same amount of land, with less water and less chemicals. This is a steep challenge for agriculture right now. And one thing we estimate is that our yield could be boosted by 30% through better irrigation practices.”

The Prospect site is being developed as a research farm to support the activities of the Irrigation Innovation Consortium. It will include a flux tower, a retention pond, pump stations, a center pivot with variable rate irrigation, and equipment for subsurface and drip irrigation, most of which will be operational by summer 2020. One end of the farm will have turf plots similar to those at partner universities, to support research across multiple locations.

This fall and winter, the consortium’s steering committee will use a competitive process to select new projects submitted to its open call for proposals. The consortium has added a streamlined industry pitch option to encourage technology companies, large and small, to bring forward specific issues or ideas they would like to see researched. For selected pitches, the consortium will build teams involving universities and industry to come up with rapid solutions and improve agricultural and other landscape irrigation systems.

“Basically, the consortium’s approach is to ferret out the best ideas, either from the public or private sector, build teams around those ideas, and try to address them,” says Waskom.

Industry pitches are due Sept. 30, and standard research proposals are due Oct. 16. Selected proposals will be announced Dec. 5 in conjunction with the Irrigation Association’s annual Irrigation Show in Las Vegas.