Irrigation Innovation Consortium funds 3 water for food faculty fellow projects

Funded research aims to optimize irrigation technology systems and maximize efficiency

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Irrigation Innovation Consortium recently announced funding for seven research projects in 2021, three of which are led by Faculty Fellows of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI). The IIC is a university and industry collaboration that accelerates the development and adoption of water- and energy-efficient irrigation technology. DWFI and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln jointly are a founding member of the consortium and DWFI Director of Research Christopher Neale serves on its Executive Committee.

“The IIC brings together university and industry partners to accelerate the development and adoption of new irrigation technologies,” said Neale. “The IIC is a great partner in helping DWFI achieve its mission of global food security without compromising the use of water to meet other vital needs.”

Projects selected include:

Towards Pivot Automation with Proximal Sensing for Maize and Soybean in the Great Plains

Goal: Developing thresholds that trigger irrigation events configured for the sub-humid climate of the eastern Great Plains, evaluating an existing patented system, evaluating the accuracy of irrigation sensors and comparing crop health and water stress of maize and soybean.

Principal Investigator: Derek Heeren, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Co-Principal Investigators: Christopher M. U. Neale, Director of Research, DWFI; Yufeng Ge, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, UNL; Geng Bai, Research Assistant Professor, UNL

Collaborators: Nate Dorsey, Manager of Agriculture Technology, Valmont Industries; Susan O’Shaughnessy, Research Agricultural Engineer, USDA ARS; Wayne E. Woldt, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, UNL; John A. Kastl, Senior Director of Innovation and Intellectual Property, Valmont Industries; Daran Rudnick, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Assistant Professor, UNL; Steven R. Evett, Research Soil Scientist, USDA ARS; Trenton Franz, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, UNL; Sandeep Bhatti, Ph.D. Student, UNL; Steve R. Melvin, Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension; Troy Ingram, Assistant Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension

Industry Partner: Valmont

Location: Nebraska

Budget: $50,061.00 (Total investment, with match: $113,355.00)

Cash Match: $57,994.00

In-Kind Match: $5,300.00

Improved irrigation scheduling combining soil water supply and atmospheric evaporative demand

Goal: Quantify and compare the water efficiency (i.e. yield per applied irrigation) of the SDD algorithm vs. other common irrigation practices at two study sites in Nebraska using randomized trial with three replicates

Principal Investigator: Trenton Franz, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, UNL

Industry Partners: Aspiring Universe Corporation, Arable Labs, Inc., HydroInnova LLC, Corteva, PlanetLabs Inc., UNL, Biological Systems Engineering and School of Natural Resources

Project Team Co-Investigators: Derek Heeren, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor, UNL; Daran Rudnick, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Assistant Professor, UNL

Team Members: Sibo Wang, Chief Research Officer, Aspiring Universe Corporation; Loreli Carranza, Field Scientist, Arable Labs, Inc; Darin Desilets, Owner, HydroInnova LLC; Justin Gibson, Data Scientist, Corteva; Rasmus Houborg, Principal Geospatial Fusion Engineer/Scientist, PlanetLabs Inc; Olufemi Abimbola, Postdoctoral Associate, UNL

Subcontractor: Aspiring Universe Corporation

Advisor: Kaiyu Guan, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Location: Nebraska

Budget: $83,333.33 (Total investment, with match: $257,777.33)

Connecting Field-Scale Performance to Watershed Health: The Added Power of Sharing Data

Goal: Improving algorithms that estimate water delivery through the growing season using electrical power consumption data for systems that experience static or dynamic aquifer levels through the growing season and communicating the results to irrigators and water managers. The information generated from this research is providing irrigators and watershed managers knowledge of real-time water use to support optimal data-based management decisions.

Principal Investigator: Dayle McDermitt, DWFI Faculty Fellow, Adjunct Professor, UNL, Nebraska Water Balance Alliance (NEWBA)

Project Team Members: Billy Tiller, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, GiSC; Mark Cox, Chief Technical Officer, GiSC; Amy Harsch, Project Facilitator, NEWBA; Jim Schneider, Senior Scientist/Groundwater, Olsson; Erin Haacker, Assistant Professor of Hydrology, UNL; Bradley Dowell, Graduate Student, UNL.

Industry Partners: Grower Information Services Cooperative, NEWBA, Olsson, Midwest Electric, Dawson Public Power, Paulman Farms, Twin Platte Natural Resource District, UNL, Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences

Location: Nebraska

Budget: $113,083.33 (Total investment, with match: $256,983.51)

Cash Match: $102,950.18

In-Kind Match: $40,950.00

Launched in 2018 with a $5 million contribution from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, the IIC leverages public-private partnerships to maximize impacts from investment in irrigation research. By 2023, with matching support for every FFAR dollar, an investment of at least $10 million will have supported IIC-related projects and activities. This year, the consortium awarded a total of $533,126 in FFAR funding to selected projects. Through collaboration with partnering institutions and industry, these teams are bringing an additional $979,424 in match to support their innovative research and outreach efforts.

As freshwater resources become ever more precious globally, research in irrigation technology is critically needed to optimize systems and maximize efficiency. Water use efficiency is necessary to ensure resiliency in agricultural and landscape systems. Through the consortium, industry and the public sector co-develop, test, prototype and improve equipment, technology and decision-support systems. IIC-funded research is equipping today’s turf managers, farmers, and water district managers with cutting-edge, more user-friendly tools and technologies that have the potential to transform how water is used and managed in the future.

“We believe that a growing network and increased collaboration is necessary for innovation,” said Tim Martin, executive director of IIC.

Projects were selected through a competitive review process that weighed and prioritized projects according to their innovation, scientific merit, inter-institutional collaboration, outreach plans, and potential for impact.

Learn more about DWFI at

About the Irrigation Innovation Consortium

The Irrigation Innovation Consortium is headquartered at Colorado State University and includes four other U.S. land-grant university partners: DWFI/University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, and California State University-Fresno. The consortium’s founding and sustaining industry partners are: FFAR, Aqua Engineering, Irrigation Association, JAIN Irrigation, LI-COR, Lindsay Corporation, Northern Water, Valmont, Hunter Industries, Toro, Rubicon, Colorado Corn Growers Association, The Climate Corporation and Senninger Irrigation Inc.

Learn more about the Irrigation Innovation Consortium at


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