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'Smart' irrigation techniques slowly catch on in Louisiana

LSU AgCenter

Three new water experts have joined the research staff at LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station in Bossier City.

Economist Naveen Adusumilli is crunching the numbers on how smart irrigation techniques can benefit Louisiana farmers. He wants them to rethink how they irrigate their land and introduce them to soil moisture sensors and bookkeeping strategies that would reduce the amount of water they use on their crops and put more money in their wallet.

“We have a lot of crop acres in Caddo Parish. We’re talking a million acres of soybeans and about 500,000 acres of corn in the state. Probably millions of dollars -- just from crop production -- could be saved, absolutely,” Adusumilli said.

Adusumilli and his colleagues are setting up a demonstration plot at the Red River Research Station. After they’ve gathered reliable data, they plan to hold workshops next year to showcase how the sensors work to reduce runoff and prevent excess watering.

As more Louisiana farmers switch to using surface water they find themselves in competition for this valuable resource, according to Adusumilli, who previously worked at a Washington, D.C., advocacy firm studying economic effects of the Clean Water Act.

“Louisiana is way behind and we have a lot of catching up to do. Louisiana had a lot of water in the past, but it isn’t the case. There wasn’t a need in the past to adopt these practices because there was groundwater and surface waters,” Adusumilli said.

Residential irrigation system installers also are interested in smart technology. John Kavanaugh is president of the Louisiana Irrigation Association.  He’s owned a landscaping and irrigation company in Ruston for 40 years. He says technology used on farms eventually trickles down to the homeowner.

“We’re in a yard right now as we speak on the north side of Ruston installing a system that will have a rain sensor and a monitoring ability on it. If it starts raining at midnight, that sprinkler system is not going to switch on at 4 a.m. That person doesn’t get out of bed to cut it off in-between,” Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh estimates about three-quarters of the irrigation systems he installs now have a smart technology feature that gathers weather data to ensure they will not go on in the rain. He says high-tech sensors that read soil moisture are slower to catch on, and that’s because water has never been scarce. But depleted aquifers are causing more farmers and homeowners to change their ways.

“It’s easy, I think, being a Louisianan to take water for granted. We’re known as the Bayou State. For years and years, our chamber of commerces and industrial boards advertised plenty of water. That was an invitation for industry and commerce to come into our state,” Kavanaugh said.

In residential yards, he preaches water conservation because, he says, the big boo-hoo is seeing a sprinkler system turn on in the rain.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.
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