agriculture

Preparing Agricultural Leaders for Drought

Article by Kim Colavito Markesich

Originally published by Naturally.UConn.edu

 

water meter install
Water meter installation. Photo: Angie Harris

While Connecticut residents live in a state with ample water resources, we are beginning to notice some changes in precipitation trends.

“Connecticut is very fortunate as we’re actually quite water rich,” says Angie Harris, research assistant in UConn Extension. “We are getting rainfall, but there’s a shift in what we are beginning to experience, and what scientists expect to continue, which is more intense rain events less frequently. This type of rainfall can lead to drought conditions for agricultural producers.”

In 2015, Connecticut requested over $8 million dollars in federal emergency loans to be made available for crop losses due to moderate drought conditions across the state.

Mike O’Neill, associate dean and associate director of UConn Extension, and Harris are working on a two-year water conservation project funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Funding is provided through a $400,000 NRCS grant matched one to one by the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

The UConn team is partnering with NRCS to promote conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The project goal focuses on agricultural water security by helping farmers prepare for drought, improve their irrigation efficiency and establish water conservation practices.

“In the past, NRCS did everything themselves,” O’Neill explains. “But now they are outsourcing some of that work because they realize we have partnerships in the community that can be effective in helping people implement agricultural conservation practices. I think this is a very innovative act on the part of the NRCS.”

Twelve pilot sites across the state have been identified to include a variety of agricultural operations including greenhouses, nurseries, vegetable growers and dairy and livestock farms.

“We’re really trying to target new and beginning agricultural operations because we feel they run the greatest risk of failure as a result of drought,” O’Neill says. “We look at what these operations can do in advance to make them more secure when a drought hits. If you can prepare farmers in advance, then when drought occurs, they’re not dealing with mitigation or lost crops, they will be able to weather the drought and be successful.”

The first step in the project involved review of the operations, followed by a site visit. Then the team installed a water meter at each site. The meter information is easily managed by farmers through an innovative text messaging data collection method developed by Nicholas Hanna, computer programmer with the College’s Office of Communications. The program allows operators to check their meter reading once weekly, quickly send the results via text messaging and receive a confirmation of their submission.

The readings are entered into a database associated with their number and farm name. By season’s end, the team will chart water usage tied to climate variables such as precipitation and wind, and will then review current watering practices and help owners develop strategies that manage water usage and prepare for drought conditions.

The NRCS will also use this data to help farmers access water saving strategies and equipment.

“In the end, we will be directing them to NRCS for financial assistance to implement conservation practices,” says Harris. The NRCS financial assistance programs are designed to help agricultural producers maintain and improve their water program in areas such as soil management and irrigation efficiency.

Some seventy-five agricultural producers have expressed interest in the program thus far, with the number growing weekly. To join the program, farmers complete a water use survey available online. A member of the team will conduct a field site visit. “If farmers are interested in getting a meter, we want to hear from them,” says O’Neill.

“We have a really great team working on this project,” he says. The group includes Rosa Raudales, assistant professor and horticulture extension specialist in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture; Mike Dietz, extension educator in water resources, low impact development and storm water management; and Ben Campbell, former assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, currently an assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In another aspect of the project, the team is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Office of Policy and Management to explore water needs for agriculture in Connecticut. This understanding could inform policy decisions for future agricultural development within the state.

“This is a teachable moment for us,” O’Neill says. “We feel like these agricultural producers are scientists. We have an opportunity to help farmers conserve water, increase profitability and preserve the environment. They treat their business as a science, and we are trying to work with them to help them enhance their science capabilities and make better choices.”

Online Course Catalog of Extension Programs

course catalog imageThere are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.

Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.

As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment.

View the course catalog online at http://s.uconn.edu/courses.

Biosecurity Workshop Provides Healthy Discussion

Richard Horwitz
Dr. Richard Horwitz. Photo: Joyce Meader

How would a dairy or livestock business survive if a Foreign Animal Disease arrived in the United States? Using Foot and Mouth Disease as an example, participants of UConn Extension’s Biosecurity Workshop heard from Dr. Richard Horwitz about the New England Secure Milk Supply’s steps to maintain a permit to ship milk when the disease has not reached your farm: Secure the Perimeter, Clean and Disinfect sources of the virus, and daily Monitor for the disease. Dr. Cantor, New England Emergency Coordinator for USDA APHIS, related the threat that other countries have experienced and how a two week delay in notification increased the severity of the control measures drastically.

It is not if, but when the disease is transported into our country again. The last occurrence was in 1929 in San Francisco, but world travel by farm visitors and importation of animals is so much more common now. Dr. Andrew, UConn Dairy Specialist, presented the map of the UConn dairy and livestock barns, and the many visitors and vehicles travel between barns and from the community. The group provided their recommendations for the Line of Separation to establish the safe zone on the farm, and the outside to keep out sources of infection. And finally, Dr. Lis, CT Department of Agriculture, requested that all dairy farms submit to her department a self-assessment of their farm readiness to remain disease free in the case of an outbreak. Knowing the commitment of each farm to disease prevention will help in the decision to allow milk pick up during the outbreak. The farmers and the staff from the University, state departments of agriculture, and USDA APHIS left the workshop ready to continue this discussion at local farm meetings, more aware of the challenges that will be faced by our important food producers and government decision makers when a foreign animal disease arrives uninvited.

Submitted by: Joyce Meader, Dairy/ Livestock Educator, UConn Extension (7/15/16)

For more information contact: 1-860-774-9600 Ext 17 Joyce.Meader@uconn.edu