Dr. Sharon Benes, Fresno State University - Irrigation and soil management tools for saline-irrigated alfalfa.

Dr. Sharon Benes smiling in a field pulling agriculture from the soil

Co-investigators: Daniel Putnam (UC Davis), Hossein Zakeri (CSU Chico), and Robert Hutmacher (UC Davis).

ARI funding commitment: $179,074 over two years; match funding $232,580.

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. Sharon’s 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 is the lack of input data to test and refine these models. Ultimately, their goal is to provide real-time salinity management for saline-irrigated