The Amarillo Water Management Team has been selected as the winner of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Award – Collaboration. The award was presented Jan. 9 at the Texas A&M AgriLife annual conference in College Station.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Awards, established in 2018, recognize the achievements of those who have performed outstanding work that advances the agency’s mission.
The team recognized includes Thomas Marek, AgriLife Research senior research engineer, Amarillo; Dana Porter, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program leader in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Lubbock; Jiang Hu, Ph.D., co-director of graduate programs in the Texas A&M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College Station; Gary Marek, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service agricultural engineer, Bushland; and Qingwu Xue, Ph.D., AgriLife Research crop stress physiologist, Amarillo.
The team created a novel, next-generation, center-pivot automation and control system, or CPACS, by developing innovative hardware, software and logic technologies.
Concentrating limited water resources on fewer acres in the future will require intensive water management by producers, such as real-time irrigation management decisions with commensurate system control capabilities, the nomination stated.
It further stated the CPACS was designed with the flexibility to accommodate both current and future irrigation management needs. Anticipated benefits include increased efficiency with water conservation and optimal profitability for the producer.
The development of CPACS required integration of complementary, transdisciplinary expertise in both agricultural and electrical engineering, agronomy and crop modeling. The CPACS is used with commercially available center pivot irrigation machines but operates outside of manufacturers’ control systems. Inputs from commercially available soil water sensors are used to calculate soil profile water status throughout the field.
An advanced logic control program using artificial intelligence machine learning algorithms uses these values along with historical, current and forecasted weather and crop water-use data to schedule irrigation. The modular structure of the control software can also accommodate additional agronomic inputs such as soil fertility, nutrients, chemicals and UAV-based imagery data.
The development of CPACS required complementary expertise from several scientific disciplines and is an example of what can be accomplished through the collaborative efforts of a highly motivated research team, the nomination stated.
“This approach is visionary because it incorporates revolutionary new machine learning/artificial intelligence technology to an agricultural application, which will be the future of modern agriculture,” said Bob Avant, retired AgriLife Research director of corporate relations, College Station. “Managing ‘big data’ is becoming a significant challenge for agriculture and adopting these types of platforms will be critical in producing acceptable, actionable, operational decisions for agricultural operations.
“Farmers do not have time to be IT specialists; consequently, new systems must reduce management involvement to be widely accepted. This is precisely the product of this team’s work, and it is already drawing the attention of producers and irrigation technology companies.”
The effort has resulted in three Texas A&M international patent applications and one additional disclosure and has drawn the interest of groundwater districts, as well as manufacturers of sensors, controllers, and center pivot equipment.
The Texas A&M University System Water Seed Grant program was a catalyst for this integrated research and development team. The development effort was leveraged against a USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant soil sensor evaluation project that has led to the publication of scientific journal articles. It was also leveraged with support by the USDA-ARS Ogallala Aquifer Program and the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District.