Monday, July 22, 2024

MSU Master Irrigator Program Equips Growers

⋅ BY BONNIE COBLENTZ ⋅
MSU EXTENSION SERVICE

Participants of Mississippi State University’s first Mississippi Master Irrigator course complete in-person training. From left are Hayes Girod, Ethan Adkins, Nico Quintana Ashwell and Jeremy Jack. Photo courtesy Laura H. Smith.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is taking irrigation education a step further by offering Master Irrigator status to those who complete a course of training.

There is no cost to growers to participate in this training, which includes eight hours of online classes and 16 hours of in-person training. Drew Gholson, MSU Extension irrigation specialist and coordinator of the National Center for Alluvial Aquifer Research, said the goal is for participants to put into practice the skills acquired in the program.

“Once someone has completed this training, they will go off and implement this on their farm or on the acres they consult with,” Gholson said.

MSU is continuously involved in research projects aimed at improving irrigation efficiency. Their findings are passed on to the public through on-farm, one-on-one consultations, short courses and demonstrations. Creating a Master Irrigator designation formalizes this expertise in irrigation and water management.

“We’ve researched and learned about several tools that work to make irrigation more efficient, and as an institution, we’ve promoted the adoption of these practices,” Gholson said. “But to save money and become more efficient with water use, growers must understand and properly implement these tools on their farms.

“We’re trying to fill that gap of training,” he said.

Online Lessons

The Master Irrigator program was launched in the fall of 2023 after being in development for several years. Mississippi joins Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado as states that have  launched a formal irrigation training program. Several others are in the process of creating their own state programs.

“These states have worked together to create these programs, but it is important to keep a regional and state-specific focus that is applicable to our growers,” Gholson said.

Mississippi’s program is unlike the others as it is a hybrid that combines online classes with in-person training. Unlike the other Master programs, such as Master Gardeners offered through the MSU Extension Service, the irrigation program does not have a volunteer component.

Dillon Russell coordinates MSU Extension’s Master Irrigator program from the MSU Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. He said the online portion covers fundamental irrigation principles, terminology and an introduction to soil moisture sensors and soil-water relationship.

There are also videos that introduce participants to non-Extension resources available to them, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District.

In-Person Training

“The in-person part of the training is both in a classroom and outdoors and is meant to be more hands-on and interactive,” Russell said. “We introduce new topics and dive deeper into some of the topics we covered online.”

At the two-day session, presenters talk about the different types of soil moisture sensors, how to install them and how to interpret the data; how to set up a field in the web-based application, Pipe Planner; pump efficiency testing; soil health management; and the economics of irrigated agriculture.

The Master Irrigator class will be offered each year. It starts in October when the online modules are open, and participants have until Jan. 31 to complete them. The in-person session is held in February. This year, 38 people completed the inaugural class.

Those who finish the program receive a certificate of completion, and some companies give a discount on soil moisture sensors and other instruments to those who complete the course. Those enrolled in some Natural Resources Conservation Service programs can meet program requirements by submitting this certificate.

Work is being done to expand the financial incentives tied to the Master Irrigator program. Learn more about MSU’s research in irrigation efficiency, water conservation and the Master Irrigator program at http://ncaar.msstate.edu. 

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