Shannon Fisher ’13, Jorge Rodriguez, professor of mechanical and bioengineering, Carson Joye ’15, Elizabeth Zanin ’17, Zach Hadock ’17, Chris Lane ’18, Zack Thomson ’18, Lucas Staccioli ’16, Bill O’Connell ’16 and George Rawls ’17 all traveled to Germany on a study abroad trip focused on studying sustainable energy and exploring German culture.
Clemson irrigation specialist Jose Payero is installing weather stations and soil-moisture sensors at farms across South Carolina and developing the online platform that will allow farmers to use the collected data to conserve water and energy.
Payero received a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install weather stations at farms in each county of the state. He aims to arm farmers with data that will allow them to make more informed irrigation decisions based on rain forecasts, soil type and crop yield expectations. The sensors and weather stations connect wirelessly to transmitters that will send data to a password-protected website Payero is developing for farmer access. Data from the sensors also could be sent to an automated irrigation system Payero is developing that would activate if soil moisture dips below desired levels.
Over-irrigation can be costly and cause soil erosion, chemical runoff and nutrient leaching, while under-irrigation stresses crops and reduces yield. Periods of drought, meanwhile, have made water availability scarcer, while persuading more farmers to invest in irrigation systems, said Payero, who works at the University’s Edisto Research and Education Center (REC) in Blackville.“Water is one of our most important issues going forward,” he said. “The population is growing. The demand for food is rising. But we are not making more land, so we need to make our land more productive while protecting our water resources.
“It is not unreasonable to expect that society will continue to demand farmers produce more crops with less water, especially in areas where water resources are scarce and where competition is increasing between irrigation and alternative water users like environmental, municipal and industrial use,” Payero said. “Farmers will only be able to respond to this challenge if they are equipped with the knowledge and the tools to make better water management decisions.”
Bamberg County farmer Richard Rentz approached Payero at a field day in the fall at the Edisto REC to request installation of a weather station on his property. “Right now, we’re just shooting in the dark on our irrigation,” said Rentz, who irrigates roughly 150 acres of a 700-acre farm. “I’d like to save a little water, save a little power and save some money. It’s a significant expense.”
The Edisto REC is developing and demonstrating a variety of new technologies aimed at conserving water and other farm inputs, like fertilizers, to both increase crop yields and minimize the effect of production practices on the environment. These technologies include irrigation scheduling using weather data, irrigation automation, sensor-based irrigation, subsurface drip irrigation and variable-rate irrigation. Application of these technologies could save the state an estimated $7 million annually just in pumping costs while significantly reducing water application.
“Dr. Payero’s project is a critical piece of research for agriculture and water-use management. Water for irrigation is an extremely important component of South Carolina’s agriculture industry, especially in the eastern portion of the state,” said Jeffery Allen, director of the S.C. Water Resources Center. “Using these sensors and data-collection stations will help us understand how water moves through these systems and how farmers can best manage their crops now and into the future.”
President Clements visited the University’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science on Hobcaw Barony near Georgetown in October for the dedication of the John Bunyan Harris III Student Center.
The student center provides affordable short-term housing for graduate students studying or conducting research at the institute. The cottage is a gift from John Harris Jr. in memory of his son, a 1974 Clemson graduate in economics who died in 2006.
Students spoke to the gathering inside the cottage that sleeps eight and has a kitchen adjoining a spacious great room opening on to a screened porch. Wildlife biology graduate student Nikki Roach recalled the cramped conditions that existed when she came to Baruch before to research marsh birds. Forestry undergraduate Trey Bailey III spoke of the opportunities to study with Baruch coastal forest scientists because the cottage provided a place to stay.
Clemson research at Baruch focuses on the environmental impacts of population growth, climate change and rising sea levels on South Carolina’s coast. The goal is to provide commercial developers and municipal officials with science-based information to protect the area’s fragile ecosystems from saltwater intrusion and pollution from stormwater runoff as forested wetlands are converted to neighborhoods and shopping centers.
In 1964, a foundation was created to honor Belle Baruch, the daughter of financier Bernard Baruch. She consolidated 14 individual plantations into Hobcaw Barony, a 16,000-acre wildlife refuge. The foundation invited South Carolina colleges and universities to establish research and teaching programs focused on forestry, marine biology, wildlife and natural resources protection. Clemson’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science began in 1968 as the Baruch Institute of Forest Science with Clemson’s first professor on site.