2015 IAREC Annual Report



Here is our 2015 IAREC Annual Report. It is the first of its kind; with one expected to follow for 2016. This report highlights the research, worldwide impact, and personnel at the WSU Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. A hard copy can be requested by sending an email to prosser.iarec@wsu.edu. Please include your full mailing address.

A special thank you goes out for all the support we receive from our funding agencies, collaborators, and stakeholders.


WSU Prosser IAREC 2015 Graduates

WSU Prosser IAREC 2015 Graduates

Name Degree Advisor Department
Diana Zapata Masters Hoogenboom Biological Systems Engineering
Suraj Amata Ph.D. Karkee Biological Systems Engineering
Hossein Sadeghi Ph.D. Peters Biological Systems Engineering
Jason Stout Ph.D. Davenport Crop & Soil Sciences
Jennifer Trapp Ph.D. Miklas Crop & Soil Sciences
Oritsesaninormi Blessing Oraguzie Masters Miklas Crop & Soil Sciences
Herma Amalia Ph.D. Walsh Entomology
Natalie Boyle Ph.D. Walsh Entomology
Nathan Brugnone Masters Whiting Horticulture
Hui Yan Ph.D. Grove Plant Pathology
Leslie Holland Masters Grove Plant Pathology
Spencer Marshall Masters Rayapati Plant Pathology

WSU Prosser IAREC 2016 Graduates

WSU Prosser IAREC 2016 Graduates

Graduate Degree Advisor Department
Courtney Grula MS Doug Walsh Entomology
Eric Gale MS Michelle Moyer Horticulture
Jacqueline Gordon MS Matthew Whiting Horticulture
Joel Perez MS Markus Keller Horticulture
Spencer Marshall MS Naidu Rayapati Plant Pathology
Justin Ruiz MS Ag Joan Davenport Crop & Soil Sciences
Patrick Scharf MS Ag Manoj Karkee Biological Systems Eng
Bhanu Priya Donda PhD Naidu Rayapati Plant Pathology
Golnaz Badr PhD Gerrit Hoogenboom Biological Systems Eng
Jeff Bullock PhD Ken Eastwell Plant Pathology
Josephine Mgbechi-Ezeri PhD Nnadozie Oraguzie Horticulture
Yunxiang Ye PhD Qin Zhang Biological Systems Eng
Nadia Valverdi MS Matthew Whiting Horticulture


Idaho water settlement fuels growth of new irrigation method


John O’Connell, Capital Press
Published on October 13, 2016 10:30AM

MUD LAKE, Idaho — Growers on the Eastern Snake River Plain will remember 2016 as the year a tight water supply got even tighter.

Many were forced to reduce the amount of water they use for their crops, enter costly leases to offset their impact on a declining aquifer — or leave some of their land fallow.

But a few farmers, including Steve Shively, say they have found a way to stretch their water supply without sacrificing their crops.

The Mud Lake, Idaho, grower is a pioneer in the use of low elevation sprinkler application, known by the acronym LESA. It’s an irrigation method developed by University of Idaho and Washington State University researchers specifically for the Pacific Northwest.

Under the terms of a monumental 2015 water call settlement with senior surface water coalition members, irrigators who pump groundwater from the aquifer must reduce their water consumption by a total of 240,000 acre-feet per year.

One acre-foot covers an acre of land with water 1 foot deep — about 325,850 gallons of water.

For them, the massive settlement translates into a cutback in irrigation water by an average of 12 percent for every groundwater irrigator in the region. The exact amount varies by the farmer’s groundwater right priority dates.

At a time of basement-level commodity prices, the settlement was a potential double-whammy for many farmers: Less irrigation water would mean lower yields for crops that were bringing lower prices.

Shively, however, said switching to the LESA irrigation method has simultaneously saved water and boosted his farm’s yields.

“Our farm is required to reduce by 7 percent, and we feel like we can easily save 25 percent,” Shively said. “We are not worried about making our water savings on this settlement, while at the same time, we’re seeing as good or better yields than we were previously.”

How it works

The heart of the system is low-pressure nozzles that dangle from long hoses attached to the pivot. The hoses are 54 inches apart instead of the standard 108 inches.

Spraying just 12 to 18 inches from the ground provides ample water coverage while reducing drift and evaporation, especially once the crop canopy grows enough to contain the spray.

Shively first tested LESA on a single pivot span over alfalfa last season.

During Shively’s trial year, second-cutting alfalfa under the LESA span yielded three-quarters of a ton per acre more than the conventional pivot setup.

Furthermore, soil remained moist more than 5 feet deep under the LESA span, compared with just 18 inches for the conventional irrigation setup.

Shively also believes LESA, which doesn’t moisten the crowns of grain, has kept stripe rust in check and prevented water weight from tipping stalks.

LESA spreads

This season, Shively converted four full pivots to LESA. The results have far exceeded his expectations.

He planted two pivots — one conventional and one using LESA — a day apart and under identical conditions, using the soft white spring wheat variety WB 6430.

The LESA pivot used about 4 inches less water but yielded about 115 bushels per acre, compared with 75 bushels per acre under the conventional pivot.

“The pivot without LESA, we struggled to keep it wet,” Shively said. “We couldn’t turn the pivot off.”

In another field, Shively planted hard red winter wheat and used a LESA setup. It yielded 125 bushels per acre and used 10.5 inches of water.

In 2014 using a conventional pivot, the same field yielded 10 fewer bushels per acre but needed 8 more inches of water per acre.

Getting help

Growers throughout the region are starting to follow Shively’s lead.

The Idaho Falls office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has awarded $300,000 through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help area growers install 32 new LESA systems for use next season, many near Mud Lake.

NRCS District Conservationist Josh Miller said the agency received applications to convert 60 pivots and hopes to obtain funding for an additional sign-up in November.

Miller said the grant, conducted in partnership with Rocky Mountain Power, pays up to $7,000 to convert a single pivot and is capped at $12,000 per applicant.

The sales staff at Golden West Irrigation in Rexburg, which has seen strong LESA sales this fall, estimates the cost of outfitting a pivot with LESA at $10,000 counting labor.

However, most growers, including Shively, opt to install LESA when their conventional pivot nozzles and fittings are worn, and updating a pivot with conventional equipment still costs up to $3,500, counting labor.

Grant recipients are required to use soil-moisture sensors in conjunction with LESA to avoid over-watering crops.

“With the groundwater issue, I think there are a lot of people interested in using these systems to meet those cutbacks,” Miller said.

To meet his reduction, one of the grant recipients, Lane Hutchings of Monteview, Idaho, has already dried 50 acres he’d been irrigating with labor-intensive handlines and a portable mainline.

While meeting with an irrigation equipment salesman about purchasing his first LESA package, the malt barley and alfalfa grower said he’s optimistic LESA will provide a painless way for him to further reduce his well water consumption.

“I think (LESA) will be on everybody’s pivots here before long,” Hutchings said.

Bonneville Power Administration also offers a grant to help growers convert to LESA, based on the potential power savings.

LESA’s evolution

UI Extension irrigation specialist Howard Neibling and Troy Peters, his WSU counterpart, tested the first LESA pivot spans in Wells, Nev., in 2013, with funding from the BPA.

They sought to tweak a common Texas irrigation method for more arid conditions. Texas-style low elevation precision application uses long hoses to position low-emitting drip nozzles beneath crop canopies. Neibling and Peters chose adjustable nozzles, as they planned to use a spray setting to get crops germinated, before switching to a drip setting.

However, they forgot to tell the grower to adjust the nozzles. Serendipitously, the spray setting provided ideal coverage and moisture penetration, while reducing water use by 15 percent, and modern LESA was born.

The following year, they expanded the LESA trials to a few sites in Idaho and Washington.

“We got a good data set in Arco, Idaho, showing over 20 percent water savings,” Neibling said. “We were saving a remarkable amount of water on hot, windy days — like close to half.”

Anheuser-Busch funded LESA trials on three pivots in Idaho this season to test the technology on malting barley. Growers reported barley plants were less prone to tipping, but the thick barley stands blocked spray. The problem was remedied by reducing the distance between the pivot drops.

Neibling said some potato growers worried LESA nozzles could damage vines or spread diseases, but Arco seed potato farmer Mike Telford reported no problems with LESA.

Joe Jepsen, a Rexburg, Idaho, potato farmer, also experienced no problems in spuds with a LESA trial this season. While some spud growers with lighter soils have complained LESA washes away dirt and exposes tubers to light, Jepsen said his soil was heavy enough to avoid trouble.

“We had a lot of wind this year, and we could definitely see the evaporation loss, and with the LESA system there was not that loss,” Jepsen said, adding that he’ll study LESA for three years before expanding its use on his farm. “I think we can make our (settlement) cutbacks with LESA and still grow a good crop.”

He’s still compiling data on LESA use in spuds and wheat, but he said there was a water savings and spud quality was much improved under LESA.

Neibling believes LESA still needs more testing on hilly terrain and clay soils, and he acknowledges it may be a poor fit for fields that have runoff issues, but he estimates it could be effectively used on about half of Idaho fields.

LESA in California

Last season, University of California crop advisor Steve Orloff tested LESA on spans of three pivots irrigating alfalfa in Northern California’s Siskiyou County. In parts of the region, including the Scott Valley, agricultural water use is under scrutiny due to mounting interest in the interconnection between groundwater and surface water.

Based on the results of his 2015 trials, Orloff said eight commercial alfalfa growers in the region had full pivots of LESA to start this season. He suspects more pivots were converted during the season, and he envisions more LESA systems will be installed as growers replace worn pivot equipment.

He estimates LESA reduced water waste by 15 percent in the California trials, even working well on a sloping field with heavy soil.

“I don’t know of anyone who has been dissatisfied with it,” Orloff said.

Peters, the WSU irrigation researcher, believes LESA has been quickest to catch on in Eastern Idaho due to the settlement, but he said several growers in Eastern Washington and Oregon have experimented with a single span on their pivots.

He said growers have had luck with LESA in mint, corn, potatoes, wheat, barley and alfalfa. Peters explained LESA yield boosts should be expected only in crops that were water stressed under conventional pivots, but he noted the approach can always help growers save on input costs.

“I think it’s a winner technology,” Peters said. “It saves water, it saves energy, it makes it so the grower can be more profitable, and it’s good for the environment.

“I hope more people will take a serious look at it.”

Southbound stopover by monarch butterfly a big surprise


By Linda Weiford, WSU News

tagged-monarch-webPROSSER, Wash. – When a butterfly dines in a homeowner’s garden, that’s not unusual. But when some internal compass guides that winged visitor into the yard of Kathy Keatley Garvey in northern California, it’s downright remarkable.

“‘What are the odds? What are the odds?’ kept going through my mind. I was totally amazed to see it,” recalled Keatley Garvey of the recent afternoon she spotted the monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower outside her home in Vacaville.

Affixed to the elegant orange and black insect’s wing was an adhesive tag the size of a small fingernail that read: Monarch@wsu.edu A6093.

Kathy Keatley Garvey, a WSU graduate and insect lover/photographer. (Photo by James J. Garvey)

This monarch was from Keatley Garvey’s alma mater, Washington State University, located some 800 miles away. What’s more, two years earlier she had written a story about a monarch study underway at WSU.


Now, one of the study’s subjects was perched on a blossom just four feet away.

“I wanted to do a happy dance or a pirouette,” said Keatley Garvey, a science writer for the University of California-Davis’ department of entomology and nematology who also happens to be an insect photographer and author of the popular blog, “Bug Squad.”

Ever so quietly, she raised her macro zoom-lens camera to her eye and began to shoot.

Researcher wowed

Later that day, WSU entomologist David James read Keatley Garvey’s email saying that A6093 had lingered in her yard all afternoon.

He recalled how, on Oct. 17, 2014, she had featured his research in a blog article encouraging readers to be on the lookout for tagged monarchs. The story explained that James was spearheading a study in which volunteers were tagging and releasing Pacific Northwest monarchs to track their mysterious migratory paths. (See http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=15624)

David James

“I immediately recognized Kathy’s name and it took a few seconds for it to sink in,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest surprises of my research career.”

That’s because, of the 3,000 butterflies tagged and released by volunteers during August and September, monarch A6093 was among them. It had fluttered its way into the yard of a science writer and bug lover who had graduated from WSU and who, decades later, wrote about his research.

A6093 had been released seven days earlier from Ashland, Ore., James determined. The male monarch stopped by Keatley Garvey’s garden to consume enough calories to power the rest of its flight to the California coast to overwinter, he explained.

Weighing less than a dime, “it flew almost 41 miles each day to get to Kathy’s house,” he said.

Fly away home

WSU’s Monarch A6093 feasting in Keatley Garvey’s garden after flying more than 285 miles. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two decades ago, roughly a million western monarchs migrated to their California wintering grounds each year. That number has plunged by 70-90 percent, said James.

By tracking their movements, he hopes to better understand where and why their journey unexpectedly ends. This, in turn, could help revive one of nature’s greatest migrations.
Hopefully, Monarch A6093 made it another 100 miles or so to a roosting grove of eucalyptus trees along the Pacific coast. Come March, it will lift off northward. And maybe, just maybe, it will refuel in Keatley Garvey’s garden once again.

David James, WSU Prosser research/extension center, 509-786-9280, david_james@wsu.edu
Kathy Keatley Garvey, kegarvey@ucdavis.edu
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209, linda.weiford@wsu.edu


Why does this butterfly have a sticker on it?


buterfly-sticker-pic_ABC, KXTV Article

Here is something you don’t see every day: a Monarch Butterfly with a sticker on its wing.

Vacaville butterfly watcher Kathy Keatley Garvey took a picture in her backyard of a butterfly with a sticker on it. The sticker has a code and a website.

“The tagging is an attempt to track their migration,” said Art Shapiro, UC Davis Professor of Evolution and Ecology.

Right now is monarch butterfly migration season, Shapiro said. Researchers at Washington State University put stickers on thousands of monarchs. Some of those butterflies are making their way through the valley.

“These are western monarchs and we are figuring out the path they take to California to over winter,” said WSU spokesperson Linda Weiford.

WSU has been tagging monarchs for years. Professor David James and other researchers have released nearly 3,000 monarchs in Washington and Oregon this year.

The stickers do not hurt or effect the butterfly’s ability to fly, researchers said. If you do see a monarch with a sticker on it, take a picture of it and send it to monarch@wsu.edu.

-John Bartell, KXTV