Faculty Research Highlight: Dr. Sharon Benes, Fresno State

Project: Irrigation and soil management tools for saline-irrigated alfalfa
ARI funding: $179,074, over two years; match funding, $232,580

Sharon Benes
The co-principal investigators on this project include Daniel Putnam (UC Davis), Hossein Zakeri (Chico State), and Robert Hutmacher (UC Davis).

As water for irrigation becomes scarcer, one strategy to extend available water is to reserve high-quality irrigation water for salt-sensitive high-value crops like vegetables, tree crops and wine/table grapes.

Water with higher salt content is likely to be used for forages, such as alfalfa, that are used to support the dairy industry. Saline irrigation can have negative effects on both the soil and the crop. Dr. Benes' research project addresses soil impacts through saline management tools and crop sensitivity through plant breeding.

Released alfalfa varieties and selections still under development will be screened for salinity tolerance with varieties developed by her industry partners, Alforex Seeds, Forage Genetics International, and S&W Seeds.

Detailed data regarding the amount of water applied and soil salt content at various depths will be obtained to validate and improve the CSUID-II salinity management software model. Since soils irrigated with saline water must be flushed periodically to remove salts, it is imperative that management models perform accurately to minimize negative impacts on soil and plant health.

Dr. Benes states that often the limits of developing useful management tools are the lack of input data to test and refine these models. Ultimately, her and her colleagues' goal is to provide real-time salinity management for saline-irrigated alfalfa fields.