New Water Research and Extension Center to enhance sustainability of agriculture water supplies

Agricultural and rural community efforts to manage existing water supplies more efficiently are getting a 21st century boost from Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

The new DASNR Water Research and Extension Center will focus efforts for sustaining Oklahoma’s agriculture water supply, which is crucial to the state’s economy and the health and well-being of residents and the environment, said Robert E. Whitson, vice president, dean and director of the division.

“Decisions made by Oklahoma producers, agricultural processors and value-added industries about their water use and management have never been more key than today, with demand for water increasing from multiple users and interest groups,” he said.

Water issues in agriculture have been identified as high-priority areas of emphasis for all three aspects of the division, which is comprised of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and two statewide agencies: the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

“DASNR has more investment in water research, education and public service than any other entity in the state,” Whitson said. “Although many priority areas have been and are being addressed through a number of division programs, the center establishes a central clearing point from which we can more effectively direct our available resources.”

Division officials cite a number of key areas that illustrate the need to enhance the development, delivery and accessibility of science-based information related to water management issues.

First, rising input costs for crop and animal production demonstrate the need for the implementation of water conservation measures.

“These include improved soil management practices, irrigation methods, efficiency of farm water storage and transport of water, as well as an overall economic assessment of agricultural enterprises to allow owners and operators to manage existing water supplies more prudently,” Whitson said.

Second, genes have been identified that are being incorporated into existing plant varieties to make them more drought and stress tolerant.

“Plant breeding has been going on for thousands of years; today, advances in science are allowing us to develop improved varieties more quickly and efficiently than ever,” said Bob Westerman, DASNR assistant vice president for program support and former head of the OSU department of plant and soil sciences.

Third, development of management practices to use municipal waste and wastewater effluent in agricultural production systems is underway. In fact, DASNR’s Agricultural Experiment Station system is leading by example.

“Our South Central Research Station is in the process of developing a partnership with the city of Chickasha to make use of effluent as a water irrigation source for nonfood cellulosic biofuels research,” Westerman said.

Dave Engle will serve as center director, effective Aug. 1. A former OSU Regents professor in the department of plant and soil sciences, Engle currently serves as chair of Iowa State University’s department of natural resource ecology and management.

“We’re very pleased to have Dave Engle return home to DASNR, where he served with distinction as a faculty member for 24 years,” Whitson said. “His administrative experience, leadership and extensive knowledge relative to land-use ecology will serve Oklahoma well.”

Whitson said an emphasis of the center will be to facilitate the development of work groups, project teams and educational programs that meet and sustain Oklahoma’s agriculture water needs.

“Not only will the center provide an effective means to identify priority issues, it will enhance the development of grants, contracts and cooperative agreements with local communities, government agencies, private industry, and tribal nations; all of which are important to developing solutions to agricultural water issues in the state,” he said.

Center personnel will consist of new and current faculty members drawn from DASNR academic departments and appropriate OSU Cooperative Extension area specialists and county educators, as well as all four Extension district directors.

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