With help from TA grants, Louisiana districts expand irrigation monitoring

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Louisiana conservation districts are using NACD technical assistance (TA) grant funding to hire technicians to monitor and test pumping plants, irrigation and pasture practices.

In the Ouachita River Basin, many farmers rely on their own pumping plants for row crop irrigation needs, taking a toll on the Sparta Aquifer. The 2018 grant allowed Morehouse Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to hire two college students to conduct irrigation efficiency tests and monitor irrigation water demand on the aquifer in that area.

A 2019 TA grant has extended the positions for Zeb Morgan, a student at Louisiana Tech University and Kaylah Hobbs, a student at the University of Arkansas.

“Because of staffing shortages for several years, that work just simply was not getting done. These two technicians hit the ground running and they started getting these efficiency tests done,” Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Office of Soil and Water Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Specialist Joey Breaux said.

This past year, Morgan and Hobbs assisted with efficiency tests on more than 250 pumping plants and provided technical assistance for irrigation land leveling, irrigation pipeline, grade stabilization structures, and pasture condition scoring. The work is saving groundwater and saving farmers the expense of additional energy and fuel, Breaux said.

For the Acadia SWCD and St. Landry SWCD, TA grant funding helped hire Michaela Lee, a recent graduate of McNeese State University and Tyler Briggs, a student at Louisiana State University-Eunice. Their positions also were extended with 2019 grant funding.

Their work assists with the Rice Stewardship Initiative and focuses on key practices such as pumping plant efficiency tests, irrigation pipeline, pasture and grazing management and school- and community-oriented conservation outreach.

The efforts also allow for – after the rattoon or second rice crop – cattle grazing or crawfish aquaculture through the following spring, serving as a feeding and resting habitat for aquatic wildlife.

“We didn’t even think of the possibility of these [positions] two years ago. We’ve funded four rock-star technicians,” Breaux said. “I’ve seen the impressions they’re making and the work they’re getting done. They have really come through in a big way.”

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