GARDEN CITY – A Kansas State University agricultural engineer who has put mobile drip irrigation on a fast track for conserving water in western Kansas has received a national award for the innovation.

Isaya Kisekka was named a New Innovator by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The award, valued at $300,000, is intended to support faculty members in the first three years of their careers.

“The unique thing about funding from FFAR is that it is not tied to a particular project, but rather will complement our already ongoing research and outreach on limited irrigation,” Kisekka said.

That means that the research team, based in Garden City, can continue important work in advanced irrigation scheduling; mobile drip irrigation; and developing a decision support tool for limited irrigation.

“Management strategies and technologies developed out of these projects will help in sustaining irrigated agriculture with limited water,” Kisekka said. “Through limited irrigation, we will be able to produce grain and forages for the cattle feeding and dairy industries that produce a large economic impact for western Kansas and the entire state in general.”

Kisekka added that the team hopes to enhance crop water use efficiency through mobile drip irrigation, research that is being conducted by doctoral student Tobias Oker.

Mobile drip irrigation capitalizes on small, polyurethane tubing with emitters – or small holes – spaced about six inches apart that carry water from a traditional center pivot sprinkler along the ground. Water is spread gently at ground level, as opposed to being sprayed above the crop or within the crop canopy.

Kisekka is working with private companies to develop and evaluate the technology.

Earlier this year, he reported that mobile drip irrigation reduces soil water evaporation, which may ultimately help farmers increase water productivity, or economic yield per unit of crop water use.

“Mobile drip irrigation has the potential to be applied on most of the row crops we grow in this region,” Kisekka said. “One of the advantages of mobile drip irrigation is that it is retro-fitted into an existing system, so the initial cost is not prohibitive. The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of a primary center pivot system. Many producers already have a (center pivot) system.”

The $300,000 award from FFAR will be matched by Kansas State University in the form of existing personnel and resources, which means the actual boost to Kisekka’s research program is $600,000.

“Our goal is to find solutions that will help producers maximize profits while minimizing risks with limited irrigation,” Kisekka said. “Our research is conducted at a range of scales, from plot to field to regional, and includes field experiments and computer simulation.”

The research may be especially relevant for the declining Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest, which underlies an area of about 174,000 square miles in western Kansas and portions of eight states. The Ogallala Aquifer underlies about 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States.