IIC seeks proposals for 2021 projects!

Calling industry, academic, and other partners

IIC funds collaborative research that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of water and energy-efficient irrigation technologies, tools, and practices. Click the button to download or on the accordion below to view.

Please check back in coming months for our next call.

2021 Irrigation Innovation Consortium (IIC) Request for Proposals (RFP)

Summary. The IIC seeks proposals for precompetitive, collaborative research that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of water and energy-efficient irrigation technologies, tools, and practices. Project teams should include partners from industry and from one or more IIC member universities (Colorado State, Kansas State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, California State University-Fresno, and Texas A&M University).

About the IIC. The IIC is an alliance between the irrigation industry and university researchers formed to collaboratively address short- and long-term needs of the agriculture and landscape irrigation industry. This partnership strategically capitalizes on existing strengths to develop powerful synergies between public and private entities working on advancing irrigation science and technology, providing opportunities for joint collaboration in demonstrations, technology transfer, tailored workshops, certifications, and student training.

Available funds. The IIC has $600,000 available to support research projects through this competitive call for proposals. The IIC has typically funded projects in the $50,000-$100,000 range but will consider proposals with smaller or larger funding requests. Funds for this research are provided to the IIC by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).

Pre-competitive research. As envisioned by FFAR and IIC, pre-competitive research allows pooling of resources and data for public benefit. The design, goals, and outcomes of pre-competitive research have potential to positively impact multiple parties and/or society at large. Data and resulting publications from this research will be open and accessible. Commercial endeavors resulting from the application of these data and research results can be proprietary.

About this call for proposals. Research projects funded through this RFP will support IIC’s goal of equipping the irrigation industry and irrigation end users with cutting-edge tools and strategies. The IIC aims to catalyze high-impact outcomes, such as, but not limited to: optimizing water and energy use and decision making in agriculture, turf, and landscape applications, and improving or sustaining profitability for irrigation system users and manufacturers.

Proposal requirements. Project proposals must address one or more of the IIC’s priority topics:

  • Water and energy efficiency
  • Remote sensing and big data applications for improving irrigation water management
  • System integration and management
  • Acceleration of technology development and/or adoption.

Projects must also:

  • have scientific merit
  • involve an integrated team of industry and academic (and possibly other) partners
  • involve at least one IIC partner university
  • demonstrate innovation in precompetitive research
  • have clear potential for impact
  • meet other requirements as outlined in this RFP.

IIC funding requests, inclusive of allowable indirect costs, must be accompanied by a total non-federal match of 1.25x, where x is the amount of IIC funding requested. Project teams of industry, academic, and other partners are responsible for identifying and providing supporting letters of match commitment as part of a complete proposal. Matching support can be comprised of both cash and in-kind resources. Cash match must represent at least 50% of the IIC funding requested (0.5x). See IIC’s matching requirement guidelines in Appendix B, below.

Indirect costs are capped at 10% of the total funds requested, for an effective Facilities and Administrative (F&A) rate of 11.11%.

Proposal teams will be led by one designated Principal Investigator (PI) who may be affiliated with a university, with industry, or another organization. IIC is seeking and will give preference to projects that:

  • Lead to creative and collaborative co-development, testing, prototyping, and/or improvement of innovative equipment, technology, and information systems
  • Demonstrate potential to be transformative for the irrigation industry, irrigation end users, and/or society
  • Have their overall match include more cash (vs. in-kind) support
  • For larger projects in particular (>$100,000 requested from IIC): demonstrate a committed match from their partners that exceeds the 1:1.25 minimum non-federal match requirement. There is no upper limit on match.
  • Involve multiple industry, academic, non-profit organizations, and/or other IIC partners
  • Include an outreach, educational, or technology transfer component.

Project selection process. IIC funding will be awarded using a competitive selection process led by the IIC’s Research Steering Committee (RSC). The RSC will review how well proposals correspond to the required and suggested components as described above. The RSC will make recommendations to the IIC’s Executive Committee, which is responsible for project selection.

Project duration. The IIC will consider projects with a duration up to a maximum of 21 months.

Funding disbursement. On behalf of the IIC, Colorado State University will establish sub-awards with institutions of team members expecting to spend IIC funds to support their project work. Team members will be reimbursed for project-related expenditures invoiced on a regular (monthly or quarterly) basis, depending on the rate of spending activity. In the case of multi-year projects, teams will be required to submit an annual, detailed progress report for IIC’s review and approval to allow spending to continue.

Deliverables. Projects will be required to submit brief quarterly reports describing project progress. Annual reports will be due on the last day of a project year. Project completion reports are to be submitted within 60 days of the project’s final end date. These reports will describe the main findings and project accomplishments, including training provided, publications, impacts, and outcomes, progress related to collaboration and spending, and description and justification of any anticipated change to a project’s scope of work. PIs will be required to provide a presentation, virtually or in-person, to the IIC extended community that summarizes and showcases completed project results and outcomes. As appropriate, project team members may be encouraged to support IIC’s outreach goals and mission by contributing to or editing written content, serving on panels, and/or participating in filmed interviews about their IIC-supported work.

Financial Policy. The PI is ultimately responsible for their IIC-funded project, matching commitment, and budget. If the budget is overspent or expenditures are improperly charged, the PI and his/her department, college, or organization is responsible for providing funds to cover the unauthorized spending. Failure to provide required deliverables will disqualify PIs or team members from receiving additional project funding.

Required documentation (for teams selected to submit full proposals only, see timeline below):

Working with each of their project’s institutional partners that expect to receive IIC funds, project PIs will gather and submit the following documentation to IIC:

  • Final project description, approach and methods
  • a budget using an Excel budget template (to be provided by IIC)
  • a budget justification as a .pdf or Word document
  • a scope of work as a .pdf or Word document that describes the anticipated activities of each institutional partner/team member
  • CVs of all participating major team collaborators
  • signed letter(s) of support from any industry partner(s)
  • donor letter(s) that clearly describe(s) the amount and kind (cash or in-kind) of matching support committed to this project
  • signed certification of matching funds form (to be provided by IIC
  • signed public reporting acknowledgment form (to be provided by IIC)
Date or deadlineApplication StepRelated info
October 15, 2020Call for proposals announcedView or download this RFP and related materials at: http://irrigationinnovation.org/proposals/
November 23, 2020Letters of Intent (LOI) duePlease follow the Letter of Intent instructions carefully (see Appendix A).
December 8, 2020IIC Research Steering Committee completes LOI reviews and selects teams for interviews
December 10-18, 2020
specific dates TBD
Interviews conductedTeams will be provided info via email to set expectations of what to prepare, the interview format, etc.
January 8, 2021Invitations to selected teams for full proposals
February 15, 2021Full proposals due for selected teamsSee RFP text for documentation required for full proposal.
February 28, 2021Successful projects announced
April 1, 2021Expected award start date

Appendix A: 2021 IIC RFP Letter of Intent (LOI) Instructions

Due date: November 23, 2020 at midnight Mountain Time.

How to submit: Please email your LOI to IIC Executive Director Timothy Martin, copying IIC Operations Manager Amy Kremen.

LOI formatting guidelines: 

  • Font size must be at least 12 point
  • Margins must be at least one inch in all directions
  • Line spacing must not exceed six lines of text per vertical inch
  • Page size must be letter (i.e., 8.5 inches × 11 inches)

Without exceeding four (4) pages, LOIs should provide the following information:

A. Descriptive, short title

B. Project team

  1. Principal investigator (PI): name, title, institution/organization and department, email and phone number
  2. Co-Investigators and key team members: name, title, institution/organization and department, email and phone number

C. Priority research topic(s). Identify and briefly describe which IIC priority research topic area(s) the proposed project addresses. The four priority topics are:

  • Water and energy efficiency;
  • Remote sensing and big data applications for improving irrigation water management;
  • System integration and management;
  • Acceleration of technology development and/or adoption.

D. Project Description

  1. Project goal and objectives (be specific and concise, using bullets)
  2. Anticipated project duration (in months, limit of 21 months) based on an anticipated start date of April 1, 2021
  3. Project approach and methods
  4. Provide clear description of your team’s integrated approach and methods, noting how this work will be conducted over the anticipated project duration, and describing how collaboration and communication among team members will be assured.
  5. Describe the innovative and pre-competitive nature of the proposed research.
  6. Describe how the proposed project will positively impact the irrigation industry, irrigation end users, and/or society.
  7. Describe the outreach-related, educational, or technology transfer component(s) of the proposed project.

E. Budget

a. Anticipated requested IIC funding amount ($)

b.  Anticipated total match (minimum 1.25 x IIC requested funding, above)

  • Cash match amount, description, and source(s)
  • In-kind match $ value, description and source(s)

APPENDIX B: IIC Matching Funds Guidelines

IIC supported research projects require a 1 to 1.25 IIC-to-awardee match of non-federal sources of cash plus in-kind support. Matching funds must be applied to/used for specific project costs incurred during the project performance period.

This match ratio is approved by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), which provides the funding IIC uses to support competitively awarded research projects. This match ratio enables IIC to use additional FFAR funding (separate from funds used for research projects) to support project administration, engagement with project teams, and communications and other outreach efforts related to IIC-supported research projects.


“Cash” match is a contribution from the awardee’s cash outlay, including outlay from non-federal third-party organizations. Examples of acceptable “cash” match include:

  • New equipment, salaries for project personnel effort on the proposed project, tuition remission, related project travel costs, and costs for supplies directly associated with and necessary for the proposed project, including purchased software licenses.

Please note: IIC requires that at least 50% of the IIC funding consists of cash match. For example, if a project request for IIC funding support is $100,000, the awardee must bring a minimum cash match of $50,000 as part of the total project 1:1.25 match value of $125,000.


In-kind match is the value of non-cash contributions of goods and services to a proposed project. Contributions offered as in-kind match must have a cash equivalent value, be reasonable and necessary, and directly benefit the proposed project. Examples of in-kind match include:

  • Used equipment, donated software licenses, supplies, non-expendable property, volunteered professional time or service(s), donated use of facilities by a third party.

Note that If a software publisher provides a discount on a license to a grantee, the amount discounted is considered to be an in-kind contribution, and the remaining balance which is paid by the grantee would be considered to be cash match.

Please note: There is no upper limit on valid in-kind support once the minimum required cash match has been met as described in the “cash” match section above. For example, if a project request for IIC funding support is $100,000, in-kind support can be $75,000 or greater, meeting or exceeding the total project match of $125,000.

The PI and their team are responsible for securing committed match share for their proposed project as part of submitting a complete proposal. Once matching support is committed to a proposed IIC project, the same funds must not be offered as a match for another proposal or award. For more information, please read FFAR’s detailed matching requirement guidelines.


IIC is focused on supporting cutting edge technologies and optimization strategies to enhance irrigation energy and water efficiency as well as similar and parallel efforts in the irrigated landscape industry. Fundamentally, as pressures continue to grow on water supplies, irrigation water and energy conservation and efficiency are key to sustaining the productivity of our farms and landscapes. To address the research needs of both the agriculture and the landscape sectors, the consortium has access to university and federal experimental farms and fields and cooperating growers, which emphasize regional crop demands and irrigation methods. The Consortium will leverage existing university capacity and infrastructure to cost-effectively integrate with new and existing cutting-edge technologies, and demonstrate water and electrical energy improvements, cost-savings, and crop management, while maintaining or increasing productivity across a variety of regionally grown crops.

While our governance model emphasizes that strategic research direction will be set by the Executive Committee, the founding university partners have prioritized focus areas generally, as:

  • Water and Energy Efficiency
  • Remote Sensing and Big Data Applications (aka IoT) for Improving Irrigation Water Management
  • System Integration and Management
  • Irrigation Technology Acceleration and Technology Transfer

Specific projects and other focus areas will be developed in concert with industry partners and the Executive Committee as the Consortium gets underway. Research without robust two-way communication with end users seldom reaches the market in a meaningful or timely way. Our research program will include stakeholder engagement, demonstration and training components from inception to ensure we are on-track and accountable to the public. We envision a variety of mechanisms for this engagement but will focus initially on technology demonstrations and training at our respective university experimental sites and will develop coordinated distance education and certification programs as we become established.

Research Theme 1: Water and Energy Efficiency 

As much as half of the water used for agriculture and landscape irrigation is lost to improper irrigation system design, installation, maintenance, or operation. Therefore, research investment in water-efficient irrigation, irrigation on demand, and irrigation using impaired waters are areas that will enable better management and planning around scarce freshwater resources. Improved water-use efficiency depends on real-time data that will provide for better management practices in conjunction with new technology. Yet companies generally promote irrigation technology as if it inherently brings all the benefits. A high-tech irrigation system that is not well managed can be as wasteful as a poorly managed traditional system (Perry et al., 2009). When poorly managed, water, energy, and economic losses can be the result of investments made by irrigators, thus decreasing the economic water productivity index and the overall sustainability (Battilani, 2012). Conversely, a well-managed, poor performing irrigation system can never achieve the desired results.

Water-efficient methods and better irrigation scheduling can also integrate water and nutrient management, thus minimizing agrochemical runoff and excessive leaching problems. Additionally, the embedded energy in fertilizers may be ten-times or more of the pumping energy lost through deep-percolation. Various models of water efficiency and environmental benefits have been developed, yet they are under-utilized in irrigation scheduling; at most, they help retrospectively to evaluate seasonal approaches (FAO, 2012). Additional investment in research and technology development in these spaces could prove invaluable in providing farmers with education that could assist with more effective management of water demand.

The measurement of applied irrigation water is one of the major links in efforts to improve irrigation management to achieve effective water management.

Any effort to improve water use efficiency must include accurate assessment of the actual and attainable efficiencies. Additionally, accurate quantification of water balances and irrigation return flows can be critical to implementing improved water management at a system level. This information is fundamental for making rational improvements aimed at raising the overall efficiency to the attainable level (Hsiao et al., 2007). Improved flow measurement technology will prove invaluable as we seek to provide additional information that will assist farmers in using their water resources with more precision. But such information is rarely available to farmers on usable time-scales.

Irrigation practitioners often lack adequate assistance to develop and adopt better approaches for environmental sustainability, while also maintaining their financial and social objectives (Pereira et al., 2012). For example, sub-surface moisture sensors can improve knowledge about a crop’s need for water. But the technology has limitations, so farmers need technical advice to interpret the measurements and trends; for example, ‘soil humidity sensors are still neither easy to handle nor reliable’ (WssTP, 2012). Moreover, these sensors are not well adapted to all soil types, and as a point-source measurement may not be scalable to represent heterogeneous spatial variability. Installation and maintenance of soil moisture sensors typically requires the training of specialized technical staff, and soil disturbance is inevitable for most systems. Similar limitations are true for the canopy sensors, whose proper application is limited to some crops and during specific growing stages, periods of day and climatic conditions. Further, the potential multitude of data inputs must be synthesized into decisions that are actionable.

Specific IIC focus areas on water efficiency could include:

  • Develop agricultural systems based web decision support tools and mobile applications that support water management decision making and risk assessment from field to regional scale. Several states have ET web/computer based irrigation scheduling programs. These excellent tools can help maximize irrigation management but are not widely used by farmers and consultants. Upgrading these web decision support tools and developing mobile apps will result in ET based scheduling being more readily adopted.
  • Research that supports the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) in helping irrigated farms and ranches weather drought though increased water use efficiency and improved soil management. https://www.drought.gov/drought/resources/national-drought-resilience-partnership
  • Develop and implement new, innovative cropping systems that integrate enhanced soil health strategies and irrigation management. Little work has been done on improving soil health on irrigated lands. New advanced soil health strategies, such as, reduced and no tillage, advanced crop rotations, the use of cover crops, etc. may result in improved overall water use efficiency and reduce irrigation demand. Significantly improving soil/water holding capacity can provide a wide range of alternative strategies for water and energy management.
  • Establish a network of research and production farms that allows on-farm technology evaluation and provides in-field training and education.
  • Develop databases on water-based production functions of various crops with new management techniques and drought resistant crop genetics. Production functions are very useful as farmers and policy makers need to determine the impact on crop productivity of reduced irrigation availability as irrigators move to limited irrigation water applications.
  • Develop research and training in subsurface drip irrigation and work with industry to test new technologies to increase drip and micro-irrigation efficiency and uniformity. Additionally, focus research on polymers or other materials that are biodegradable after extended use.
  • Develop tools and information to guide water and agriculture policy and socioeconomic analysis and decision-making. New water management technologies will be costly to implement and will have an impact on farm profitability. It is critical that economic analyses of new practices and potential policies be developed as part of determining Best Management Practices. Providing growers with a clear understanding of return on investments (ROI) is a proven vehicle for adoption.

Landscape Irrigation Efficiency 

Landscapes, which include turf and ornamentals managed on home and commercial properties, golf courses and sports turf are commonly irrigated in many parts of the US. The benefits are many, including aesthetics, cooling, dust suppression, and exercise (Hoyle, 2017). The time of unlimited water usage in landscape irrigation has passed and sagacious strategies are needed to explore and better understand water use behaviors. As landscape architects and urban planners move towards utilizing more native plants and/or drought tolerant species, new methods of delivering and managing water are also needed. It is envisioned that water use in the future will be more supplemental than today’s standards require. Additionally, the expanded use of gray water, rainwater, storm water, raw water and treated effluents will displace historical use of potable water for irrigation. These “new” sources of water will require advance irrigation technology to safely and efficiently be used in the landscape. The partnership between the Consortium members will provide a strong catalyst for technology development and transfer to urban water users. Further, it is recognized that agricultural water sources are under tremendous pressure due to growing urban areas. All improvements to the management of landscape irrigation systems afford some relief on the transfer of agricultural water supplies. The IIC will consider and evaluate the potential to view irrigated landscapes overall as adding flexibility and resiliency into the overall water system.

Water conservation program success and effectiveness depends on the ability to influence changes in individual water use behaviors (Hurd, 2006; Sauri, 2013). What motivates individual water use must be understood in order to develop educational programs that promote water savings and research-based irrigation improvement technologies. Homeowners with in-ground irrigation systems typically use more water than those without automated systems (Bremer et al., 2012; Warner et al., 2017). Clearly, the ease of in-ground systems lead to using more water as compared with hose-end irrigation systems. Many homeowners lack understanding about plant water use and efficient water application (Bremer et al., 2012). All too often, the homeowner increases runtimes during periods of heat stress and brown turf. Hand in hand with the lack of water use understanding is untrained and uncertified landscape contractors who either do not understand proper design and install, or simply are not required to meet required standards.

Irrigated landscapes can be designed and managed during drought circumstances to provide much needed resiliency in municipal drought response. This seldom-used resiliency will be researched from the technical and sociological perspectives in multiple western states. For example, assuming that turf grasses and trees and shrubs are irrigated on completely separate laterals, a suitable drought response mechanism would be to irrigate trees and shrubs but allow turf to go dormant thereby dramatically reducing outdoor water. The potential for implementing this concept will be evaluated and modeled for effectiveness.

Municipal staffs, landscape contractors, golf course superintendents, and recreational sports turf managers need to be trained in the new water management technologies such as irrigation scheduling, rain and soil moisture sensors, and precision irrigation that demonstrate the need for city codes and design standards that require the use of particular water saving devices. This could include hands-on training, demonstrations, and comparisons of irrigation methods/components for irrigation professionals and end users. IIC will develop focused, non-credit extension courses and training/irrigation audit workshops on suitable landscape irrigation practices. Continued evaluation of programs will be conducted to better understand training mechanism and determine if behavior changes have occurred.

IIC landscape irrigation improvement research focus will include:

  • Understanding the impact of droplet collisions on irrigation application efficiency
  • Frequent low-cost drone imagery as a means of monitoring both turf consumptive use, waste, and turf appearance/health in response to varying water applications primarily for research purposes or larger commercial sites, such as golf courses
  • Turf variety by deficit irrigation or long-term drought trials by all participating universities to explore drought response resiliency
  • Effects of pressure regulation and check-valves on water use efficiency

Energy Efficiency Proper optimization of irrigation energy management has the potential to provide demand response, load shifting, energy reductions, and improved efficiency to provide services to the grid that can promote greater reliability, lower costs, and increase the safety of the electrical grid. We propose to work with our partners to develop a system that allows farm managers to evaluate and optimize their energy use across the entire farm in response to energy efficiency program incentives. Currently, farm managers have some limited understanding at the field level, but typically do not engage their farm-scale scheduling to most effectively respond to market signals. We believe there is a need to develop energy efficiency BMP protocols for irrigation system design, installation, operation and maintenance. For addressing the needs of the agriculture sector, the Consortium will develop and pilot-test an innovative farm-scale management platform that will aggregate data from new and existing field-level operational systems and irrigation sensors and display it on a user-friendly mobile “dashboard.” The project will monitor real-time conditions across a farm and optimize system performance and reduce/optimize electrical energy and water use as appropriate while maintaining or improving crop yield.

Using farmer-defined and science-based parameters, this pre-commercial system(s) will automatically and intelligently optimize farm-wide electrical energy and water consumption to significantly optimize resource consumption associated with crop production. Growers will always retain the ability to over-ride recommendations due to external factors. When fully implemented, we anticipate that this system could reduce farm-wide water/energy consumption up to 20 percent while improving crop productivity and yield on significant acreage across the US. The dashboard will allow growers to measure their decision-making process against a science and engineering baseline to learn and adjust ongoing decision-making.

The Consortium has access to university based farmland and cooperating growers which emphasize regional cropping patterns and suitable irrigation methods, in agricultural and urban landscapes. The team will leverage existing infrastructure to cost-effectively develop the concept, integrate with new and existing cutting-edge field-level technologies, and demonstrate water and electrical energy reductions, cost-savings, and crop management, while maintaining or improving productivity across a variety of regionally grown crops on variety of irrigation systems.

This work will support US agriculture with a farm-scale tool to optimize water and energy use, allowing farmers to have more flexibility to conserve/shift energy at high peak use times. The optimized crop management decisions built into the platform will help farmers to pump less water, thereby reducing energy used for pumping and reducing GHG emissions.

Key Elements of the Farm Level Water and Energy Management include:

  • Auditing new or existing irrigation systems for baseline performance metrics,
  • Verifying pumping plants are operating at high efficiency (E.G. 60% OPE or higher),
  • Matching TDH requirements with irrigation system requirements,
  • Quantifying high distribution uniformity (DU) (E.G. 85% or higher),
  • Irrigation scheduling correctly determines amount and frequency of events for water availability and energy costs,
  • Continuous monitoring of plant health,
  • Establishing metrics to benchmark practice performance, costs and ROI,
  • System threshold parameters are established and maintained through corrective actions.
  • Dashboard information system provides actionable decisions in real-time.

Research Theme 2: Remote Sensing and Big Data Applications for Improving Irrigation Water Management 

As the world population grows and increased pressures on fresh water resources occur from competing uses, it has become imperative to carefully account for water availability in watersheds at all scales. Evapotranspiration (ET) from natural and agricultural vegetation is the main consumptive use of water in the hydrologic cycle, and estimating it correctly allows for improved estimates of runoff and recharge. In addition, ET data are used in irrigation water management at field and system scales and are important inputs to crop yield models. Several remote sensing techniques have been developed and matured over the last 20 years to estimate ET from multispectral and thermal infrared remote sensing. These include models that can be applied using imagery from satellite, airborne and UAV platforms. Models vary in complexity from simpler field-scale water balance models using reflectance-based crop coefficients estimated from remote sensing (Neale et al, 1989; Jayanthi et al., 2005), to more complex energy balance models such as the one layer (SEBAL by Bastiaanssen et al., 1998; METRIC by Allen et al., 2007) or two layer energy balance models such as the two-source energy balance model (Norman et al., 1995).

Some models are now being applied at continental and global scales such as the ALEXI model (Anderson et al, 2007; Anderson et al, 2011), the SSEBop model (Senay et al., 2013) based on the Simplified Surface Energy Balance (SSEB) approach (Senay et al., 2011); EEFlux based on the METRIC model (Allen et al, 2007), and MOD16 using MODIS satellite data (Mu et al, 2011). Some of these modeling approaches and products provide an opportunity for use in irrigation water demand estimation and irrigation scheduling at field scales, especially if ET can be generated on a daily basis at higher pixel resolutions to capture variability in individual fields and provide input to sub-field scales, water balance calculations, and irrigation scheduling models. Without timely and accurate information on actual crop consumptive water use, ground water pumping and recharge, piezometric elevations, and basin inflows and outflows, it is virtually impossible to construct a reasonable water balance estimate or to identify options for more efficiently managing the resource at the basin scale. This is an area of research that needs to be further explored by the Consortium.

Another area of great research and development potential is the harnessing of data from sensors that are now becoming lower cost with longer battery life and available through different irrigation equipment vendors and agricultural support industries. These include in-field sensors to provide soil water content values (wireless or non), low cost precipitation and weather information, NDVI sensors for monitoring crop growth and nitrogen content of crop canopies, water flow and energy meters to monitor irrigation application amounts and energy use on center pivot or drip systems. In addition, sensors are available to measure water flow in canals, contributing to the automation of canal-fed surface irrigation systems.

Coupling these data streams with remote sensing evapotranspiration estimates will provide information to keep irrigation scheduling models on track and provide spatial estimates for variable rate irrigation systems on center pivots (Barker et al., 2017) and drip irrigation systems as well as managing water demand on laterals and tertiaries in surface irrigation systems. In addition, some of these in-field sensors can be mounted on agricultural tractors and implements as well as mechanized irrigation systems such as center pivots, providing valuable spatial data to better capture in-field variability for precision application of water and fertilizer. Electrical conductivity soil mapping and yield monitors on harvesters are an example of spatial data generating systems useful for capturing in-field soil water content and fertility variability used for zoning production fields for precision application of water and fertilizer. A new technology called cosmic ray soil moisture probes offers another dimension for capturing spatial variability of soil water holding capacity in agricultural fields and needs to be further explored.

We envision that the Consortium can enhance research towards the “farm of the future”, where multiple sensors and data streams, decision support systems, and models keep track of in-field crop growth and water use for precision application of water and fertilizers, thus decreasing energy use and conserving water. This technology can be transferred to the farmer through on-line tools and cell phone applications for monitoring, simulation and prediction, and immediate control. For instance, a suite of in-field and remote sensors generate a very large amount of data that can be integrated (on a server or cloud) to generate better products than what would be provided by a one or few sensors’ data alone. In the cloud, the data are stored, processed, analyzed, and reduced into user-friendly information and guidelines to improve and enhance the decision-making process. For example, multiple water management scenarios can be run on the cloud by a Decision Support System (DSS) and viable and sustainable alternatives can be presented to users in a way that makes it easier to visualize and interpret results and alternatives.

More effective water management will also require a shift to an industrial control process, in which real-time information is constantly used to allow farmers/growers/producers and water managers to make appropriate decisions. This will call for increased investment in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) which could lead to: reduced diversions, maintenance of in-stream flows in the rivers, provision of more flexibility in water delivery to farmers, reduction of pumping costs, conservation of water in aquifers, removal of the mystery of many operational details, more seamless training of new employees, and the establishment of clear and measurable performance guidelines for canal/pipeline operators and groundwater managers. Each of these improvements would lead to the more efficient use of water in Irrigation. Research focus areas could include:

  • Daily satellite-based evapotranspiration estimates coupled with real-time automated weather and energy balance flux stations
  • Online tools and Apps for irrigation water management
  • Airborne and UAV remote sensing platforms and applications for agricultural and urban water management
  • Integration of in-field and landscape sensors for improved water management
  • Flow and energy metering for system control
  • Creating a centralized database system for irrigation research
  • Develop methods to incorporate weather and water supply forecasts into irrigation scheduling
  • Provide producers with economic analyses of costs and return on investment for remote sensing driven management and the use of data driven decision tools.

Research Theme 3: System Integration and Management 

In order to foster and sustain the accelerated adoption of improved irrigation technologies and management systems, four factors must be addressed: the development of improved (a) technology, (b) crop-growth environment, (c) management strategies, and (d) increased adoption of those technologies and strategies as they become cost-effective at the producer level. In the IIC’s early phases, we will take crop-growth environment to be a given, modified only by longer-term changes in climate and shorter-term synoptic weather cycles (e. g., La Niña/El Niño); or, from another perspective, we may consider improvements in crop-growth environment (e. g., high-tunnel vegetable production) to be merely another component of improved technology. From either perspective, our guiding premise may then be stated as:

Increasing WUE = Technology x Management x Adoption

Our Research Themes 1 and 2 focus on the first two factors individually. That is, we will develop improved hardware for water extraction, distribution, and application; improved hardware for collecting and transmitting soil, water, weather, and plant-status data; improved algorithms for data interpretation, presentation, user interaction, and use; and improved methods of managing water dynamics within individual components of the farming system. We expect the third factor, increased adoption, to be pursued through technology-transfer activities associated with each research project. Research Themes 1 and 2, therefore, approach our goal from a reductionist perspective, generating individual tools, components, and processes that can be shown to increase WUE under controlled conditions. Figure 1 below illustrates how individual irrigation technologies and management decisions are embedded in a complex web of causality, human agency, and feedback.

A sustained, multi-state effort is needed to develop and foster the adoption of integrated irrigation systems for at least the following reasons:

  • Technology integration is complicated. Although the individual technologies required to implement precision irrigation are (for the most part) widely available and reasonably well understood, integrating those technologies in an automated decision framework to optimize net returns is a daunting and region-specific challenge (Porter et al., 2017), especially in view of the spatial and temporal uncertainties in weather, hydrology, cropping systems, and commodity In general, scientists and engineers in one state tend to have a limited field of vision with respect to social, hydrological, economic, and political dynamics impinging on water resources, so a multi-state interdisciplinary project team will greatly enhance the prospects for successful integration of technology across the fuller irrigation market. IIC plans to create and sustain a trans-regional research program to integrate advanced technologies and testing integrated products at the pilot and commercial scale.
  • Precision agriculture increases some production risks. Purely abiotic systems tend to be less sensitive to thresholds than living systems, like production agriculture, in which critical thresholds are at play nearly every single day and across many dimensions (nutrients, water, weather, plant growth stages, etc.). All along the way, from pre-plant to final harvest, previously undetected decision errors may suddenly manifest themselves in significant to catastrophic losses. As a consequence, producers are constantly acting to insure against such errors, often (a) by using more inputs than are thought to be strictly necessary at a given time or (b) by beginning certain activities before those activities are thought to be strictly needed. Fine-tuning irrigation systems implies a level of certainty on the part of technology designers that producers simply may not find credible (Kounduri et al., 2006; Baerenklau, 2005). Therefore, advanced irrigation systems – especially those that are hyper-automated – need to be evaluated and successfully demonstrated across a wide range of conditions and settings to increase producer confidence and support the emergence of a profitable market for those advanced technologies. The IIC will build a trans-regional framework for estimating, communicating, and reducing uncertainty with respect to the reliability, robustness, and site-specific appropriateness of precision-irrigation systems.
  • An advanced irrigation system that is not properly managed can be as wasteful and unproductive as a poorly managed, traditional system (Perry et al., 2009; Battilani, 2012). Research Theme 3, therefore, takes WUE from a systems-oriented perspective, recognizing that the tools, components, and processes generated by Themes 1 and 2 must be integrated (a) with one another, (b) with the larger farming enterprise, and (c) with the farm’s adaptive decision-making system for their full WUE value to be realized. There are three key factors in precision water management. ET modeling for consumptive use, flow measurement in the field, and sensing data (crop, soil, remote) are needed to balance water demand.

We propose, as initial examples, the following project types:

  • Integrate water-efficient application methods (e. g., LEPA, LESA, SDI) with improved irrigation-scheduling techniques using real-time monitoring and forecasting models of crop growth stage, nutrient status, and soil moisture. Various models of water efficiency and environmental benefits have been developed, yet they are underused in irrigation scheduling; at most, they help retrospectively to evaluate seasonal approaches (FAO, 2012). Additional investment in technology integration in these spaces could prove invaluable in providing farmers with additional information that could assist with their more effective management of water demand.
  • Develop and evaluate decision-support tools and mobile apps that support water management decision-making and risk assessment at multiple scales. Several states have developed excellent irrigation-scheduling applications, some with web interfaces that can inform irrigation management but are not widely used by farmers and consultants. Identifying barriers to the adoption of those decision-support tools, devising strategies to overcome those barriers, and developing mobile applications will result in ET-based scheduling being more readily adopted.
  • Develop tools and information to guide water and agriculture policy and economic analysis and decision-making. New water management technologies will be costly to implement and will have an impact on farm profitability. It is critical that economic analyses of new practices and potential policies be developed as part of determining Best Management Practices.
  • Integrate into existing irrigation systems spatially-varying, precision-irrigation technologies that match water application within a field to soil intake rate, water holding capacity, root zone depth and crop needs. This approach has been touted to encourage healthy root development, reduce waste of nutrients, chemicals, and water, and maximize input use within every zone on every field (Monaghan et al., 2013). Because of the extreme heterogeneity between and within farms and individual fields, precision irrigation technology uses spatially distributed sensors and advanced controllers to optimize water application. The inherent complexity of the decision matrix for successful use of precision irrigation systems requires that engineers, agronomists, plant physiologists and economists work together to develop profitable systems that save water and optimize net returns. Demonstrating how these systems can help producers achieve triple bottom line benefits is key.

Research Theme 4: Irrigation Technology Acceleration 

The advancement of new technology in irrigated agricultural and landscape holds the promise for significant improvements in critical resource management (water and energy). There are several likely sources for new technologies — faculty researchers, students, and from the innovation community at large. Some of these efforts may develop from original discovery or, just as likely, adaptation from other industries or applications.

It is from original thought to commercialization that many potentially game changing technologies fail to reach market potential. It is often described as the “valley of death”, where critical early stage funding is not available to move the project forward. We propose a separate program to competitively provide critical “seed” funding to help move the most promising new ideas in irrigation technology forward. It is anticipated that modest funding support would range from $10,000 to $25,000 per project (double with 1:1 non-Federal match). The technologies identified with high impact potential would be moved forward for further testing and field demonstration.

The funds can be applied to support activities across a wide range of product development needs (labor and materials). The areas of focus would include, but not limited to:

  • Proof of concept
  • Materials
  • Value engineering
  • Prototype development
  • Laboratory testing
  • Field testing
  • Other

Technology Testing and Demonstration 

Adoption of new market-ready irrigation technology can be accelerated through demonstration to irrigation practitioners in actual field conditions. There is an issue with promotion of irrigation equipment as if the “hard” technology alone can yield desired benefits, not the improved technology coupled with improved management. Irrigation equipment is sometimes promoted as if the technology alone brings benefits. Means to improve water use and energy efficiency needs to be a primary and overriding objective. Innovative technologies in irrigation can achieve their full potential only through appropriate and timely technical advice to producers. Irrigation practitioners often lack a knowledge-system for anticipating effects of specific irrigation practices or for retrospectively evaluating their resultant irrigation efficiency. Increased investment in on-farm or landscape irrigation technology demonstration can prove invaluable in informing practitioners of differing irrigation management options and how they will perform comparatively under specific environment conditions. The Consortium will provide third-party verification of technology claims and efficacy. Growers have indicated a significant interest in receiving unbiased evaluation service.

Tracking Technology Adoption 

The USDA Economic Research Service reported that in 2012, 50% of the total U.S. crop value was produced on irrigated lands representing 28% of the total cropland. Pressurized systems now make up some 76% of all U.S. irrigation systems, but there is a wide range of management and technology within that category (USDA, 2013). The 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey findings suggests that many water management measures and tools to support improved water management (e.g., plant-moisture sensors, soil moisture sensors, commercial scheduling, daily ET reports, simulation modeling) have not been widely applied. It would be useful to better understand the reasons for the relatively low adoption rates. While there is a positive trend towards modernized systems, the pace of change in the agricultural sector is related to labor, economics and land tenure rather than market pressures on water availability. There is a great need for an improved and expanded inventory of irrigation systems (method by regions, water source, crops, etc. with associated research and extension activities catalogued) which would work in conjunction with, and complement available NASS data. Additionally, irrigators are confronted with a bewildering array of commercial products and services and need a clearinghouse of information where they can understand the potential benefits of an individual or suite of technology and determine the potential return on investment. We see a need for an improved understanding of farmer acceptance (or rejection) of the latest methods and technology, which is important for developing effective technology transfer strategies. Benchmarks for technology effectiveness for achieving energy and water efficiencies and profitability are also needed for diverse cropping systems, both domestically and internationally. These data can help more effectively target technical and financial assistance programs conducted by NRCS, Extension and other outreach organizations. Further, the data will be useful in socioeconomic analyses of the barriers to producer adoption of irrigation technologies needed to support advanced systems.

Training and Certification 

A well-trained and technology-certified workforce is key in ensuring that there are knowledgeable professionals who can apply new technologies within the vast array of cropping and landscape systems. IIC will host in-person trainings, short courses and workshops at the host universities and will develop a platform for on-line distance education for irrigation practitioners and professionals that will have a global reach. Certification and continuing education credits will offered through our programs. Additionally, we expect the university partners will use the Consortium facilities and projects to help train undergraduate interns and graduate students. These students will have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience collaborating with our industry partners, and industry will benefit from trained students well-equipped to enter the workforce. We also see many opportunities for training international students and practitioners through the IIC.

Are project partnerships with individuals/groups not affiliated with academia or industry, such as water providers or utilities, water management districts and municipalities, etc. allowed?

Yes, these individuals/groups are eligible to apply as project PIs or project partners. Teams must ensure that match funding brought to projects by these individuals/groups comes from non-federal sources.

Can project partners and/or partnerships involve members or entities based outside the U.S. apply to this funding opportunity? Yes, project PIs, their team members, and other partners may be based outside of the U.S.; please note, however, that all projects must involve at least one of the five U.S.-based IIC partner universities (Colorado State, Kansas State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Texas A&M, or California State University-Fresno).

Can the IIC help prospective industry-based (or other) partners connect with potential academic research collaborators as part of building their project team?

Yes: Please contact IIC Executive Director Tim Martin, IIC Assistant Director AJ Brown, and/or IIC Principal Investigator Allan Andales for assistance (click on their names at the bottom of this webpage to send an email).

Can an individual be a PI on one IIC-supported project, and a co-PI on another/other IIC-supported project(s)?

Yes, this is ok.

On what kind of expenses can IIC funds be spent?

90% of the total funds requested must be used to cover direct costs related to the proposed research. A maximum of 10% of the total award may be used for indirect costs.

What kind(s) of industry partners can be involved? Does IIC give preference to projects with partners directly involved in the irrigation industry?

Industry partners do not have to be directly involved in the irrigation industry. As one example, project teams might collaborate with a technology company by using their online platforms.

Can project team members/investigators apply for patents related to their IIC-supported research?

Yes, team members/investigators may apply for patents related to the results of their precompetitively-oriented research, and are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  Please reach out to Tim Martin, AJ Brown, and/or Allan Andales for more details (click on their names at the bottom of this webpage to send an email).

Questions? Interested applicants can contact IIC Executive Director Tim Martin, IIC Assistant Director AJ Brown, or IIC Principal Investigator Allan Andales for additional details.