“Spotlight on Agriculture,” Episode 1 — Alabama Public Television

(guitar strums) – [Female Voiceover]
Alabama Public TV presents Spotlight on Agriculture. – Hello, I’m Steven Leath, president of Auburn University. Auburn was founded on the twin pillars of agriculture and engineering, and as an agricultural scientist myself, I’m pleased to welcome
you to this first episode in a documentary series on agriculture produced and hosted by
Alabama Public Television. Our world is growing at lightning speed. In fact, we have more than double the human population
in less than 50 years. With this many people sharing the planet, our natural resources
are feeling the strain, but these resources are vital to producing the food we eat, the clean water we drink, and the fiber and energy we need for comfortable, productive lives. This is a major challenge
in 21st century agriculture and is a challenge we are rising to meet through research innovation at Auburn. To feed the world, we must
protect the environment. We must be good stewards
of our natural resources. We must learn to produce more with less. You could say that in agriculture, every day should be earth day. For the next hour, you will see how we are applying innovative methods to eliminate pollution that is harmful to our food and water. You will see how we are
advancing farm practices to grow yields while shrinking
our environmental footprint. And you will see how we
are working to evolve everyone in these crucial endeavors, whether you work in agriculture or not. We are all part of this world. Let’s work together to protect it. From everyone at Auburn University and Alabama Public Television, thank you for joining us. We hope you enjoy our program. (acoustic music) – I was told once, and
it’s certainly evident, that somebody lives
downstream from everyone, so we wanna be cognizant of that and be as good a stewards
here in the city of Auburn as we can with our water resources. And so we’ve got great people on our staff like Dan Crowdus that
worked on this project and made it a success. (acoustic music) – So, the City of Auburn
partnered with Auburn University in what was ultimately a year
long design collaboration to design the intersection, which does include the three
green infrastructure practices of the permeable
interlocking concrete pavers, the silva cell suspended
pavement application, and then also the original
green infrastructure, our urban tree canopy. (acoustic music) – Not only is this an intersection where people gather to learn more about what’s happening
in their town this day or to celebrate victories or just to come together as a community from Auburn University
and the city of Auburn, it’s also an intersection of water. At the top of Toomer’s Corner, we start to shed water in
three different directions. We have a stream, Parkerson Mill Creek, that flows through campus, Saugahatchee Creek that
flows to the north of town, and then Town Creek that flows
through the city of Auburn. This intersection has
always been important, and over the past 20 years, as innovations and stormwater
and water management have improved and technologies
have become affordable and we see a real commitment
to quality of life as it connects to how we manage our water, we’ve seen a lot of
improvement in investment from both the city of Auburn
and Auburn University. (rain splattering) In the Southeast, we get
frequent, intense rainfalls. 20 years ago when those rains would come, those rain drops would
hit a very hard surface and travel quickly to
the nearest storm drain. Imagine yourself as a raindrop, and when you hit the ground,
you meet a speck of oil. That raindrop in that speck of oil travel together to a storm drain. Storm drains are something
that we walk over and walk by every day and
probably don’t think much about. In fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone with a leaf blower just blowing leaves and trash
and whatever was in the way of the street and the gutter
right into that storm drain. The secret is that storm
drain does not treat water. Most of the time, in
Alabama, that storm drain goes directly to a stream. It’s like a super highway from the street to the storm drain to the stream. So you as the raindrop in
that little speck of oil, you’re not alone. You have millions of friends
that have fallen with you and have picked up oil,
and gas, cigarette butts, fast food wrappers. Whatever you see on the street, it has a high likelihood
of being picked up and washed right into that gutter, which then ends up in
your stream, in your river and probably your drinking water source for half of Alabama. There is very little opportunity for an important piece
of the hydrologic cycle, and that’s infiltration. 20 years ago at Toomer’s Corner, this was a flat, hard
surface that did not allow for infiltration, so we were short-cutting the hydrologic cycle. Water hits the ground,
water runs off very quickly. Now, at Toomer’s Corner,
we see technologies like permeable interlocking
concrete pavers and flow-through tree cells
that reconnect infiltration so that when water hits the ground, there’s an opportunity for it to soak in instead of immediately run off. And that soaking in
part plays huge benefits to downstream streams and water resources, both for slowing the water
down and for cleaning it up. Storm water management
doesn’t have to be standalone. In fact, I think what you’ll see as we walk through Auburn
University’s campus and talk about the city of Auburn is it integrates community wellbeing, both quality of life and aesthetics. A lot of research has shown
that people are healthier and happier in green environments and also protecting and being proactive with our water resources. The more that we can have clean water as it leaves and goes
into streams and rivers, the less we have to treat
it for our drinking water. Overall, this Toomer’s
Corner intersection, it was dreamed for public safety, bringing people together
as a meeting place, and making it accessible, and that inclusion of storm water into it means that it’s about
many different things that benefit people every day without them really knowing it, but
that secret’s there, and it’s doing a lot of good. Besides the interlocking concrete pavers and the flow-through cells, we’ll also take a look
today at stream restoration. What happens when all of that storm water hits the stream and the stream can’t manage that energy, and it falls apart? So, we’ll take a look
at improving streams, which is just another step in the huge web of water management. Beyond that, we’ll take
a look at big scale and small scale water resource
and storm water management practices that build on collecting water and allowing it to spread out and soak in. A lot of what we’ve learned
from agriculture conservation has been transformed and
adapted to urban environments, so we’re building on what
we’ve done in the past and trying to make it work well for these (chuckles) really
high-intensity rain events that hit these hard surfaces. (rain splatters) We are at the CASIC facility, which is located in Auburn
University’s Research Park. Auburn University has made a commitment to be not just an institution
that teaches about innovation but actually practices it. Here at the CASIC building
and the other facilities within Research Park, storm water management practices, as a group known as green infrastructure or low-impact development, are part of the requirements. These low-impact development practices, or again, also known as
green infrastructure, are designed so that they
catch that first flush of storm water. When you think about when it rains, that first inch of water
that hits the ground and washes off carries with
it most of the pollutants. So, if we design a
feature to catch and hold that first flush of storm water, we can go a long way to improving water before it gets to our streams. (acoustic music) The practice I’d like to
discuss is a bioretention cell. A bioretention cell is
a type of low-impact development practice,
and it has been designed here at the edge of the parking lot for as storm water washes
over the parking lot, runs across this lip, you’ll notice there’s not a curving gutter but the water has direct access to what you would think is just a landscaped area. This landscape area has
been especially designed to catch and hold that
first inch of storm water so that it transports it safely off of the parking lot and
then into a holding area that, at big rains, almost
looks like a swimming pool. It fills up and then slowly soaks in. The benefits of bioretention cells are exactly what I just mentioned. It’s landscaping. As this building was being
planned and designed, the landscape and how
to manage storm water was also a part of that planning. Professors from horticulture,
biosystems engineering, and landscape architecture all worked together to
make recommendations based on their research
from Auburn University, and what they were seeing
as trends around the nation for better ways to handle water and improve local water quality. The planning looks at the
footprint of impervious surfaces. Again, those surfaces that
don’t allow storm water to soak into the ground. Understanding how much water is coming and how fast it’s coming at you means that we can create these landscapes that work for us. Getting the right soils, the right slopes, and the right vegetation. This landscape, if designed
and maintained properly, will manage itself and become
more resilient over time. There’s no practice that
is maintenance free, so knowing that we have to
plan in for maintenance, whether it’s removing the top surface of the bioretention cell to really keep that nutrient removal up to speed or replanting plants if they die back, but it’s all very similar
to what we would expect in typical landscaping anyway. The CASIC facility also
makes use of pervious pavers similar to what we see at Toomer’s Corner. Putting together these different systems means that we get improvement in different ways for storm water runoff. Those aren’t the only two green infrastructure practices, though. There’s also constructed
storm water wetlands, green roofs, rainwater harvesting. In fact, when I think about large scale and small scale projects,
a home owner can implement a rain garden, which is very
similar to bioretention, right in your own back yard
or in your own front yard. You can put in a cistern or a rain barrel and catch and harvest rain water to then use for your garden
or even for washing your car. (acoustic music) I’m at Town Creek Park in Auburn, Alabama, and I’d like to talk a little bit more about a partnership
between the city of Auburn, Auburn University, the Department of Environmental Management, and the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2008, all of these groups and many more undertook a planning effort
to design and understand how to improve a stream that had, throughout many, many years, let’s say 50 or 60 years, had become down cut. It had eroded to where it
was probably 6 foot deep or more in places. This project, the Stream
Restoration Project, took that stream that was very deep and looked at a blueprint
of more natural streams that were stable and full of life and full of the right
kind of stream side forest that we want, and it copied that. We created a new channel on a flood plain that the City of Auburn Parks
and Recreation Department allowed us to pretty
much paint our own canvas for this stream. And we came in and did many
of the different practices we talked about before. Putting in structures to help deflect and redirect energy in that
very shallow stream bottom so that when we get big storm events because there’s neighborhoods
and a museum upstream of us. So, we know we’re going to
get a lot of storm water. That storm water stages up and flows over the flood plain slowing down. This project is now nine years old, and most people who come out here don’t even realize what
it was at one point, which was a very deep in size stream that was not as biologically
healthy as it is now. And what this means is we’ve
got this nice, native forest that supports a nice, native understory. It would be fantastic if that was the full and end of the story, but with any project as I’ve mentioned before
and again and again, there’s always maintenance. Here at this stream
project and many projects all across town and
probably in your landscape, there are invasive species
that are able to come in, and they can create a monoculture. That is just one species grows really fast and out-competes all the other species. So, from time to time, we’ve come in, and we’ve done pivot poles, we’ve taken out popcorn trees, we work really hard to
maintain and manage the kudzu. Kudzu’s probably the invasive plant people are most familiar with. What we’d like to see is a stream system that, over time, grows stronger, is resilient, and supports
a healthy ecosystem that we’d like to see here
in this part of the world. This project is not unique in Alabama. It’s unique in that we got to plant it and work with a lot of community
members here in Auburn, but all throughout the state of Alabama, there are similar projects in the coast and
Birmingham and Huntsville. This is a new opportunity to
take a stream and a system that may have been
degraded from past neglect or past mistakes and transform it to a more healthy, vibrant,
resilient ecosystem. The state of Alabama is
blessed with water resources. You’ll hear over and
over again that we’ve got more than 132,000 miles
of streams and rivers. Not to mention our wetland resources, our coastal resources,
and our reservoir systems throughout the state. These have to be
protected and managed well so that we can maintain a
high quality of life for us but very importantly for
what is living in the stream. Fresh water biodiversity in Alabama isn’t something that you
probably talk about at dinner, but it is something we should
all be really proud of. Alabama streams have more fish species, crayfish species, mussels, things you’ve never even thought about like caddisflies than just about any other state. We have a real opportunity
and stewardship responsibility to protect these streams. What we do at Auburn University through our research and our teaching and our extension system is look at how we can piece together all
the different sciences from all across campus for research and understanding the processes, research and understanding the solutions, and then research and
understanding how we’ve done. Have we done a good job with
managing our storm water? With utilizing cover crops? With variable rate
irrigation and efficiency? Because all of that translates, at least for me at the end of the day, into healthy stream
systems, healthy wetlands, and reservoirs that are important for recreation, an economic driver, and also just that important
thing of drinking water. Everyone cares about drinking water, and the more and more it’s on the news of people concerned about
the quality of their water. Well, it starts with us, and we can all do very
small things every day to protect water. We can pick up trash, we can make sure that our car is not leaking oil or gas, we can pull invasive species
from the sides of streams and replace them with native plants. And if you want to know
about what native plants, you can absolutely get in touch with us. We’ve got lists and lists of native plants that we like to see growing on streams. So, learning more about
what makes a stream healthy, Alabama Water Watch. It is an amazing program
with a cadre of volunteers that take the time to get to know your river and stream resources and how they can continue to monitor and understand how they are behaving. Are they improving? Are they getting worse? And what can we do to
make sure that we support these really important stream
systems through the state? (acoustic music) – Yeah, so, since being with Water Watch for eight years and
really paying attention to what’s going on in our
state with water quality, I’d say, you know, we
have had some changes. Things are a lot better than they were, you know, 20 years ago or, you know, even farther back before
the Clean Water Act. But I would say when you’re
looking at water quality, you always have new challenges. So, even though maybe some of our problems that may have been related
to agriculture in the past aren’t as big of an issue, we have growing populations
and we have storm water issues and, you know, all kind
of things related to even urban areas. So, when you’re working with water or really any environmental field, your work is never done. There’s always something new. So, you know, as a response to that, Water Watch is always
trying to pay attention to those trends and try
to provide our volunteers with better ways to understand new threats and how to use their data
to address those things. One thing that makes Alabama Water Watch really unique and really special compared to even other states’ volunteer monitoring programs is that you don’t have to
have a lab to do your testing. We do have a lab at the
Water Resources Center at Auburn, but most of our volunteers, they either take their chemistry kits and they collect the water samples and analyze those at the creek site. So, when they go back to their homes, they actually have a data
sheet that’s complete with their pH, their oxygen
readings, their temperature. So, then they take that data, and most people choose
to enter that online through our data entry portal, it comes to us, then the data goes through a process where it’s, you know, checked to make sure there aren’t any big errors, and once we’ve done that, the data’s posted online so that anyone, even people who aren’t monitors, can log on, they can create chats, they can create maps that help them to understand our data. So, as a result, it’s a
resource for the general public, but we also frequently get requests from agencies, from municipalities, from other universities,
from organizations for us to send them,
you know, raw data sets so they can use in projects that are aimed at improving water quality. For our bacteriological monitoring, our volunteers go out to the stream, and they collect their
sample at the stream. And it’s mixed into this
special media that we use that they then take back to their homes or, you know, we do have
some local volunteers who come to our lab to do this. But you put those in a petri dish, and then they have to be
incubated for about 48 hours. So, you can have a fancy incubator, but most of our volunteers have made their own incubators using old coolers or old ice chests and a night light. So, all of our stuff is made
so that citizens can do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money mailing, you know, samples because we want to
empower all the citizens to take part in this. One of the challenges for any organization doing environmental work
is to make sure that we’re, you know, taking
advantage of new technologies that help us to get our message out and help us to help our volunteers do a better job of monitoring. So, we’re trying to do that. We just recently released an app that our certified monitors can use to upload their data and send
us their site information, and we also produced a few Youtube videos that are instructional. So, if you come to one of our workshops, you’re getting ready
to go out in the field, you wanna review how to
your dissolved oxygen test, you can go online and you can check out our Youtube channels. So, we keep, you know, trying to do that. Other challenges to keep
our program going strong, you know, the equipment that
our volunteers have to use, it’s not super expensive,
but it’s not cheap for a normal citizen. So, this year, we’ve
had a great opportunity to partner with the
College of Ag at Auburn. They chose us as their
Tiger Giving Day project, and so as a result, we were able to raise over $10,000 that’s being
used to put chemistry kits and bacteria monitoring equipment into our volunteers’ hands. And we’re excited to
see some of these folks who may not have not
been able to get involved otherwise have that support. We would love for you, anyone who’s interested in, you know, going out to the creek
and collecting water or going out to the bay and, you know, helping us to provide
this service to Alabama. We’d love for you to get involved, and it’s really simple. You can go on our website. You can find our workshops
that we have listed. You can sign up for one. Most of the time, there’s no cost, even though it’s a very valuable workshop. And if there’s not one that works for you, you can just contact us, and we’ll do our best to
connect you with a trainer. Teachers can come our 4-H
Water Watch workshops. They can get continuing education units and get started with that program, too. So, call us anytime. Email us. We’d love to help you out. (acoustic music) – When Alabama Water Watch
started in the early 90s, we had the opportunity to work with a U.S.A. funded project. And that one opened,
you know, opportunities to do this similar work
in other countries. We started a big program
in the Philippines. We started another program in Ecuador, and we moved from there
into other countries. Mexico just came about 2005, but it’s a great program over there. They having, you know, getting people to do the same thing that people do here. They go and monitor their streams, their lakes, their ponds, and over there, they have about, you know, almost half of
the country are doing it in wonderful another way. It has been interesting
that it has been a model for other states. We had, I guess we were lucky that nothing was in Alabama before we started. So, the program worked out
pretty good with the citizens, and other states have been calling to us to see, you know, what are we doing that here we are 25 years later. We have a great program
going on in Seattle. We just got a call from,
you know, Tennessee. Some people from Tennessee are gonna come and be trained here. Last week, there was a
workshop in Mississippi. So, we have collaboration
with all the states around and, you know, whoever calls. The data that the Alabama Water Watch has been collecting and accumulating is getting close to 100,000 records, and this involves water chemistry. It’s basic water chemistry, but some sites, they have data for 20 consecutive years. So, there are no other, you know, data that is that, you know, continuous. So, it’s very useful for state agencies, for different groups
that are looking at how, you know, the water is. So, the data has been used greatly. (acoustic music) – I remember learning
not long after I started that because of the Alabama
Water Watch program, certain streams were discovered to be seriously polluted by businesses or whatever and even streams polluted by
deteriorating sewer systems such as underneath the
grounds of Auburn University. And when, I know I remember learning that the government got involved in the cleanup of the stream that was so seriously
polluted by industry. And this was thrilling to me that just regular old people
could make a difference, go out once a month and do some testing. And wow, you know, stuff happens. Change happens. (acoustic music) – Since I’ve been a water monitor, I have found myself in
charge of water monitoring for the lake, and I have
hosted classes at my house for both chemical monitoring
and bacteria monitoring. And I’ve had an instructor
come from Auburn to do the instructing. And we now have numerous
monitors on the lake for doing both chemistry
and bacteria testing. We have 12 doing chemical testing and 14 now to do bacteria testing. What we have noticed this year for the first time in a long time is we are finding some E. coli this year. We found a lot of it in the spring, not so much during the summer, but I did find a little more last week. There can be many causes. One is that we are the last
lake in the chain of six, so bacteria could be coming
from the lake above us or it could be from local
problems on our own lake. Many times, it’s due to the influx we have of Canada geese, and we have numerous other wildlife in the area, too. So, there could be many causes of that. (acoustic music) – 30 years ago, the Clean Water Act tried to tackle what they
call point source pollution, that coming from factories, smoke stacks, waste water treatment plants. There’s been huge progress in controlling that kind of pollution. The one thing that started
Water Watch, though, was that the so-called
non point source pollution that doesn’t come out of
a pipe was getting worse, and so they realized it takes changes in people’s ideas, their
attitudes, their skills, their behaviors. And that’s why we got our funding to try to do broad based public education, and we have seen that be very successful. We’ve seen a lot of water cleanup because of citizen action, so it came on strong. And it became a model
that caught the attention of some international organizations. Shortly after that, we had
grants to travel the world. Water Watch went into a global setting. We call it Global Water Watch. We’ve been in 12 countries, and we’ve traveled the world
with a lot of citizen action and groups forming looking to Alabamians as their model to do it right. And at our 25th anniversary, we found out that we have had about 300 active groups. They have monitored over 800 water bodies on 2,500 sites around the state and submitted over 100,000 data records all voluntarily. So, our state agencies and others are telling us it’s extremely valuable what they would have to pay
to produce the same results. Also, because our testing
is done with EPA protocols, we have the credibility, the reputation for producing valid data that can be used for water resource management. I think that citizen
volunteer water monitoring will serve Alabama well into the future because the budgets are tight with state governments,
federal governments. And Alabamians have a sense of it’s our water, let’s
take care of it ourselves. So, I think that by
being those eyes and ears on the water by observing, by monitoring, by seeing trends, we always ask is our water getting
better or worse and why? That basic question kind
of drives all monitors, and if they perceive a problem then they know what to
do, who to report it to, who to work with to get things fixed. (acoustic music) – So, my lab studies the
history of water systems. These systems have been
changed over decades, but we didn’t really monitor these systems until quite recently, so we need data. We need to go back in
time and get those pieces of information that are missing. So my lab collects
sediment cores, mud cores from the bottoms of these systems, and we measure things going back in time to reconstruct the ecology and the way that these systems have changed to identify the past to
manage for the future. We have no idea what happened in the past. The EPA was not established until the 70s. We did not really place
importance on water quality until then as well. But most of these systems changed in the 30s, in the 40s, and in the 50s, and we need to know that information. So my lab tries to provide what’s missing, and we do that through analyzing materials that have built up over time to figure out what has caused change in these systems. This is a sediment core from Jordan Lake that you see behind me. And there’s a slight color change here in the bottom of this core, and that color change represents the river transitioning into the lake. And it represents 1928
when they finished the dam that was built behind me. And this material has been
traveling down this river system for decades and is storing. And we will take this core back to my lab, and we will section it and go back in time and try and figure out
what is causing change to this system and how
can we alter the materials coming into this system to
better manage it for the future? Alabama is a surface water state, so we are dependent upon
our rivers, our streams, our reservoirs. We need that water for the future, so to understand and go back
in time like my lab does, we can figure out and identify the drivers of what causes that water to be polluted, how that water changes in the past to figure out, to understand, to manage what that water could do in the future and how we can ensure that it’s available and clean and usable
for generations to come. (acoustic music) So, the students behind
me are sectioning the core that we collected from Jordan Lake just a few weeks ago. And in my hand, I hold the
64 to 66 centimeter section of this core, and we will
take these sediments, we will dry them in a freeze dryer system and grind them up and do
multiple analyses on them. We will date these sediments to determine what period of time they
were deposited in the lake and what that time corresponds to in the history of the land use around it, the agricultural systems around it, the development around the lake. And then we can measure
various constituents of the sediment such
as nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon. Heavy metal analysis will conduct. We can look at tiny fragments of charcoal and reconstruct forest
fires or prescribed burning that occurred in the
water shed of this system. And then we’ll also extract
photosynthetic pigments such as chlorophylls or
carotenoids like beta carotene and be able to tell you what type of algae lived in the lake during the time period that this was deposited in the system. We’re taking these tools, and we are applying them to multiple areas throughout the state of Alabama. We’re doing other reservoirs in our lab on the Coosa River as well as we’re doing coastal bays, Wolf Bay and Perdido Bay. We’re collecting sediment
cores in those areas to look at how development
and and coastal development and navigation has impacted sediment input and accumulation of materials. And we’re also looking at a subset of Alabama’s only natural lake’s area, which is in the Conecuh National Forest, and we’re looking at how forest dynamics have changed throughout
thousand year time periods and how human impacts have
changed those directions and impacted the system as well as just what is the natural
history of our state and how has it changed over time? All of these projects
have one central goal and that is clean water for the people and the ecosystems of Alabama. And we will take these
data, and we will add them to other projects. We will add them to monitoring projects, and we will add them to people who are modeling the
future of water in Alabama to make this complete
picture of where’s the water, how’s the water responding to
the pressures of modern day, and how we can preserve it
for the people of Alabama and the ecosystems of
Alabama moving forward. So, here, we have
analyzed a sediment sample from one of the cores
that we have collected using high-performance
liquid chromatography, which is the machine behind me. And what we do is we extract
photosynthetic pigments, things like chlorophyll or
beta carotene, carotenoids, these molecules that harvest light. And we separate them out, and we can analyze them
using this machine. And this is a sample that we’ve run. And each of these lines
is a different pigment. It’s a different light-gathering molecule, and it indicates, typically,
each a different type of algae that has lived in the system. So, we can collectively
understand this data and tell you what type of algae, what type of sign of bacteria, possibly what type of
plants lived in the lake going back in time. (acoustic music) – The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is the combination of extension programs at Auburn University and
the Alabama A&M Universities coming together to deliver
research based information to the citizens of Alabama to help them improve their economy and quality of life. The Alabama Cooperative Extension service has an office in all 67 counties of the state of Alabama. Last year, 1.2 million Alabamians came to Extension for information to help them with their economy, make them some more money, and improve their quality of life. Last year, we had 188,000
youth involved in 4H, and that’s in over 500
of our school systems. Alabama’s blessed with lots of water. We’re blessed with lots of rainfall. We’re blessed with lots of rivers. The only problem is that
rainfall does not occur uniformly across the growing season. We need to make sure that we
can optimize the production of our agriculture through
wise use of our rainfall and the wise use of irrigation. Irrigation will help
stabilize those yields across the good years and the bad years so that we don’t have
the economic downturns that occur in a drought year. The other thing that’s extremely important is that we make sure
that we manage the runoff coming off of our fields, and so we need to make sure
that our soils are never bare, that our soils are always
covered with residue or something growing. In Alabama, we’re blessed
with even, warm weather here in November and December and January. We can grow cover crops
and things like that. And so it goes back to the old adage. Never leave it bare. – So the Water Resources Center, our mission is to support the research, water research, water
outreach, and water education. And when it comes to research, many of us focus on drought
and climate research. So we look at climate forecast and then predict what
it means to the farmers, what it means to the
Water Resources manager. And an example, many years back, we worked with the city of Auburn. And if you remember 2007, drought hit the state pretty hard, and
we were quite dry that year. And many municipalities
are the size of Auburn, and the smaller were running out of water. But we worked with the city of Auburn, and we looked at their water system, their supply, water supply and demand. And so just say that if they
had used climate forecast, they could have managed
their water supply better and could have saved money in the process. But that’s just an example
of the drought research we have done or climate
research we have done. We also work in irrigation area. Looked at if farmers would
draw water from their stream, how they would draw
water from their stream to make sure that they are
not impacting their stream. At the same time, they have water available for irrigation. And an example, you know, if you follow all the climate conditions,
look in Alabama. You will notice that
we get much of our rain in winter months, not as much rain in the summer months. So, idea that has been floating around for many years in Alabama is that if we would draw water
during the winter months and is stored in a pond like
this one right behind me then you can use that water for irrigation during summer months. So, we looked at we did some research, some modeling studies to
figure out how much water might be available for us to withdraw during winter months and how much acrage it would support during summer months. So, this research informed
us that, you know, on an average, you can withdraw enough water from a stream
during winter months to irrigate about 10% of your watershed. So, if you have cropland
and 10% of your watershed, your stream would supply enough water to irrigate that 10% of the watershed. The pond behind me is an irrigation pond. It was dug long time back
to support irrigation on this research in Extension
experimental station. This pond is actually not
as big as you might think. This was built many years back to supply irrigation to a very small area, but since then, you know, the irrigation had expanded on this experimental station. At the current time, this
very experimental station is, I guess, I believe
it’s supporting irrigation about 175 acres. But this pond needs to
be continuously filled from groundwater so
there’s a groundwater well that can pump water to
this irrigation pond and then this irrigation
pond supplies water for irrigation. But the hope is that
this pond also fills up during winter months and can, you know, supplement the water that we
receive from the groundwater. (acoustic music) – Here behind us is a irrigation project we’ve been working on
a for a couple years. Where we live in the
central part of Alabama, we don’t have a lot of subsurface water that we can tap into
with cost efficient wells to be able to irrigate through pivots. So, for us, we have to build reservoirs. And so these upland storage projects are basically ponds that
don’t have a blue line stream on a topo map that goes through the area. So, we go and we find
sites that are conducive for storing water but are close enough to a blue line stream where we can pump that excess winter water and
store it into these ponds and then have it for spring
and summer irrigation. For us, we’ve not had a lot of irrigation in central Alabama, and so for us, it would be beneficial to
have incentives and programs out there to help us to do that. And so while we’re in the
process of hoping that that legislation comes through, we’re doing these on
our own with some help through NRCS and other
government agencies. And this pond behind
us, once it’s finished, hopefully would have
about 75 to 100 acre feet of water in it and so which would give us the ability to maybe water, you know, 100 to 200 acres of cropland
here in central Alabama. And for us and for the future generations, water is obviously a really big issue, and so, you know, our concern is with different groups as
they pass new legislation that we won’t have the ability to do this in years to come or that my children won’t have the opportunity to do this. So, we’re really aggressively working to try to create as much
water storage capacity as we can and be as
environmentally friendly at the same time. Runoff is a big issue for us. Obviously, with our cover crops, we’re trying to manage erosion, and the heavier we make our soils with organic matter and
just living organisms, that helps to slow that process down. And so, for us, managing
water is a really big issue, so obviously, as you can see, it takes a lot for us to get it. It’s very expensive. Once we get it then we have
different technology out there with irrigation scheduling tools that help us with censoring in the ground and different things
that help us to come up with a schedule or calendar
of when we need to water so we’re doing it the most
efficient way that we can. Anything that’s renewable,
obviously, or sustainable has to be managed and maintained, and so, for us, water’s obviously one of our biggest commodities
that we have the least of when we want it. And so, it always comes. It’s never not come, but it doesn’t come
exactly when we want it. So, you know, obviously, irrigation is a tool for us to
hopefully be able to manage through those seasons
when water is not coming when we want it to. And so, obviously,
because it’s a resource, we need to manage it. And so, you know, from
the farming side of it as well as through the academic side, you see that if we don’t take care of it, it will some point one
day it will be gone. So, for the next generations, you know, my dad did a wonderful job
in preserving and maintaining and giving me the opportunity to be able to come in with fresh
ideas and new technology from a land grant school
like Auburn University to be able to implement those. And now, with my children come along and seeing the benefits of
the things that we’re doing, I would only hope that they could spend the next 30 or 40 years
and capitalize on it and even make it even more efficient because in this country,
we’re gonna have to find a way to feed the world. And by the time the population
explodes and takes place, we’re gonna need twice,
three times the yield off of half the acres we used to farm for that probably to happen. People gotta have a place to live. Water’s a key component
in that infrastructure, so we’re gonna be fighting one day to promise people that we’re
not gonna misuse this water and that we’re gonna use it to grow the most efficient, high-yielding,
safest crop possible and in this country. (acoustic music) – Well, a lot of people say, you know, “I’m not involved in agriculture. “I live in town. “I work in town. “I, you know, vacation in town. “Agriculture’s not a part of me.” Well, anyone that eats three meals a day, wears clothes, doesn’t run around naked participates in agriculture,
whether they know it or not. And, you know, you’ve got to have it. It’s one essential… I don’t think anybody
wants to get up every day and live on a pill or anything like that. So, it’s a total essential industry, and, you know, if that
industry can be cleaner and neater and, you know, people
are gonna live next to it, function next to it,
it’s important to them. I mean, everybody should
be concerned about it. Two real significant changes. One has been in the conservation tillage. Planting without a lot of
tillage work in the spring has helped save the soil. Each time you run a hare across the soil, you burn carbon, and by saving
that carbon in the soil, it’s easier. Soil slowly improves. Organic matter rises,
which helps hold nutrients in the soil and holds water, makes the crops a lot
more drought tolerant. And then, you know, and it’s worked out. It’s allowed us to grown
corn here much better because we can plant it early and get it made before we
get hot in the summertime. And that’s important because we have a tremendous poultry
industry here in the South and we can help supply them with corn. This year, you know, water
hasn’t been an issue. We actually had excessive
rain and damage by it, and the rise in the organic matter has made a big difference. We had one particular farm that, you know, had corn on it last year
because of the corn stalk residues this year and the
fibrous root system in the corn. You know, it was able to
withstand the heavier rain that’s on very, very heavy soil and not drown or be stunted. And that had an excellent cotton yield. So, these things that are happening are really helping in both directions. You know, lot of soils,
drought’s a problem, and lot of soils, excessive
water’s a problem. So, it kinda goes both ways. (acoustic music) – Alabama farmers not only
care about crop production. They care about environment. That’s the reason because
they are constantly looking at practices and
technology that allows them to increase efficiency, and it’s not only higher yields. It’s also how we can produce a crop by using environmentally sound practices. They are constantly looking at that option of cover crops, conservation tillage because they know they
can improve soil health, and by improving soil health, they can use probably less nutrients,
less fertilizer, less water, and that’s gonna result
into higher yields. They’re also looking
not only at irrigation. They are looking at irrigation strategies like variable rate irrigation
and censor technology that allows them to apply
the right irrigation rate at the right time at the right location. They’re also looking at how they can store water during the winter. The winters are the months during the time we have the higher amount of rainfall. They want to store that water and use that water for
irrigation during the summer. So, they are looking at crop production in a wholistic way. They are looking into the system approach, adopting different
strategies that allow them to increase efficiency, to
ensure that they are going to have this food on the table available for the consumers and show the consumers
yes, we are producing this under environmentally sound strategies. Those are Alabama farmers. (acoustic music) – Conservation tillage is basically where we maintain a maximum amount of residue on the soil surface
with minimal disturbance below ground so that way
we promote soil residue, the beneficial effects of soil residue to provide organic matter benefits and erosion control and so forth. From a conservation tillage standpoint, when you’re talking about irrigation or even any rainfall event or anything, you’re going to be increasing
the efficiency of that event, so therefore, you give some protection, you provide yourself some protection against short term drought stress. The reason is when you
have conservation tillage, you’re generally going to
improve your soil structure. Therefore, you decrease erosion, and any runoff that may be
occurring with that erosion is actually going to be
going into the soil profile where the plants can actually use it much more effectively. So, in that case, you know, that’s where the short term
drought stress comes in, and in the case of an irrigation event, maybe you could cut out an irrigation. Let’s say, your crop,
you needed to irrigate it six times over the growing season. Perhaps, you could irrigate it five times, so therefore, you save the money, you save the resource, and so forth. So, that’s how it improves efficiency. – When we first started out, we didn’t have much information on it, and it moved then, I guess, in probably about the mid 70s, mid 1970s, and we had several problems
that was developing. And that we did not
have, well rather we had problems with plant stands because the planters we had
available to us at the time would not cut through a
mulch and put the seed in contact with the soil, and so we wind up with poor plant stands. We also had along the same line issues with cover crops. We didn’t know which cover crops to use, so how much mulch to accumulate, when to take a cover crop out, when to plant it, or how to fertilize it. We also had issues with soil compaction. We had a service oil compaction in some of our deep south Alabama soils that created problems
we had to work around. And then we had fertilizer issues. Over the years, we had
always put fertilizer on the soil surface and then cut it in to the eight inch depth
with a moldboard plow. And now, we’ve changed
the conservation tillage where we don’t disturb the soil, we don’t disturb it very
deeply over a wide area, and so all the fertilizer’s on top. So, now all of our fertilizer curves and recommendations were based on a eight inch soil sampling depth where previous fertilizers had been mixed with the top age of the soil, and now, we’re putting
them on top of the soil and some of them don’t move
very deeply in the soil. So, we had work around all those concepts and how do we change it, how do we make recommendations, and how do the farmers apply to fertilizer were the issues we had
to work through on that. And then finally, we had
problems with wheat control. We didn’t have the herbicides
then that we have now. We had no herbicides that we could spray over the top of a soybean
crop, for example, and kill all the weeds
and not harm the soybeans. So, back then, we only had
two or three herbicides that we could use, and we only had one that we could use prior to planting, and that was paraquat. All those issues we had to work around to really get the growers
to accept the practice and to start using it. Now, the big changes over the years that has made a big difference, and one is planter development. The planters you see now will
cut through a heavy mulch and give us a good soil to seed contact that we need to get adequate stance. We’ve had great development
on terms of the herbicides, a bigger selection of usable herbicides, and at the same time,
the genetic engineers and the plant breeders
have done a excellent job of getting the genes in the
right place in the plants so we can use some of
these selective herbicides. So, that’s been the issues
that’s really helped us out, and the benefit in the end on this is a conceptation for the water quality and soil quality and soil health to keep our soil in the field, to keep our water in the field, and we keep our sediments
out of the rivers and creeks. I think that’s the key
issues we deal with here. Changes you see were developed
by the farmers themselves looking for ways to make it work. When they first started, when the growers first started
growing conservation tillage, they were not necessarily thinking about water quality or soil quality. They were thinking about profitability. They wanted to improve profits, so they were looking at different ways to make money or to increase profits, and there’s several ways you
can do it, increase profits. You can do it by increasing yields, or you can do it by
reducing production cost. The old tilling systems would take about seven or eight
trips across the field from the time you started
preparing the soil to the time you harvested it. Where as in a conservation tilling system, you only making two or three
trips across the field. And the equipment, that’s
why the farmers went to it, looking at the benefits
of production cost, reduced production cost. And then the conservation
was a side effect that they really appreciate, too. They wanna keep their
soil in their fields, and they wanna keep the
water in the fields. So that yes, they want the water quality and the soil conservation,
but the driving point was a more profitable way to grow a crop. – I think what we’re looking for in agriculture and the food sector are that next generation of scientists and that next generation of leaders who can help us innovate and solve some of the really pressing problems we face. You know, we often talk
about the growing population we have in this world. We’re gonna see easily within my lifetime population grow to nine
billion in this world, and we’re gonna have to think about how we provide food and
fiber to that population. Very likely on less land resources and land resources that may be degraded and less water and water resources that may not be as
robust as they are today. So, we’ve got some real challenges, and if you’re a type of student who wants to make a
difference in the world, I think we’ve got a place for you in the College of Agriculture. (acoustic music)

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