New Mexico State University is positioning itself as a leader in agricultural sustainability as a team of researchers embark on new projects to study groundbreaking water-saving technology.
The two studies, which align with the university’s strategic goal to advance research activity to address global challenges, are the result of new partnerships with two agrotechnology companies based in Israel, Tal-Ya Agriculture Solution and N-Drip.
Under the partnerships, researchers from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and College of Engineering formed an interdisciplinary group to study the companies’ signature water-saving systems: Tal-Ya’s Mitra and N-Drip’s Gravity Micro Irrigation. Manoj Shukla, professor of plant and environmental sciences, is serving as the director of the two studies, which launched in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with support from NMSU’s Center of Excellence in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems and the Nakayama Endowed Professorship.
“Water use for agriculture is a key component of our research as we try to mitigate concerns about drought and water scarcity, and insulate New Mexico from these vulnerabilities of the future,” NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said.
Earlier this year, the researchers established demonstration fields at NMSU’s Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center in Doña Ana County to evaluate both systems on chile and pecan crops for potential use in New Mexico over the next two to three years, depending on funding.
“The College of ACES is exploring cutting-edge technology that could be applicable to New Mexico. That’s why we are working with these companies in Israel, a country that has semiarid lands similar to New Mexico,” ACES Dean Rolando A. Flores said. “We are not reinventing the wheel, but we are applying the best technology that may help farmers in our state better manage water. Water is a precious resource, and we want to take the lead in water sustainability.”
The Mitra system is a patent-based, recyclable platform that facilitates an ideal microclimate around plants’ roots. The polypropylene system covers plants’ root systems, directing water and fertilizer to the roots and protecting soil from weeds and extreme temperatures. At Leyendecker, researchers placed the covers around the trunks of several young pecan trees and chile plants.
The system’s benefits include increases in crop yield and decreases in water and fertilizer usage, said Oded Distel, CEO of Tal-Ya, which translates to “Heavenly Dew” in English.
“Our system directs water to the root zone by way of gravity,” Distel said. “In most cases, because of evaporation, we lose quite a lot of water, especially in dry areas such as New Mexico and Israel. But our Mitra covers block the process of evaporation, and the water goes back down to the roots through the process of condensation.”
The Mitra covers, Distel added, creates a “very dynamic, favorable microclimate” that helps improve soil health,
“Under our system, the soil is full of moisture and aerated with a lot of oxygen and microorganisms that are flourishing there,” he said. “Another advantage is that nothing grows underneath the cover. So, there is no competition for young trees, meaning farmers can cut dramatically on the usage of fertilizers and herbicides – which is very positive for the environment.”
NMSU is currently the only university in the United States collaborating with Tal-Ya.
Israeli water expert Uri Shani developed the N-Drip Gravity Micro Irrigation system as an alternative to flood irrigation, which presents a host of disadvantages, including water waste and lower yields. Based on innovative technology, the N-Drip system provides precise irrigation using only gravitational force for power and tolerates natural water without the use of pressure-based filters.
According to Uri Segev, director of business development for N-Drip, the system’s benefits include an increase in crop yields and decreases in water and fertilizer usage. The system also reduces labor costs and soil contamination.
“Many New Mexico farmers use flood irrigation, which is the least efficient irrigation system around – but is the cheapest,” Segev said. “We believe the N-Drip system can save up to 50 percent in water usage, which is huge for an area that has suffered from water allocation and reduction year after year.”
At Leyendecker, researchers are using the N-Drip system on chile crops. NMSU is one of two entities in New Mexico that are currently using the system, and outside of New Mexico, researchers in Arizona and California are also using the system for educational purposes.
Shukla said early findings from the studies are promising and suggest the systems could benefit farmers throughout New Mexico, but he cautioned that more research is needed.
“We look forward to continuing this research and working in partnership with these companies, whose technologies have the potential to manage water-scarcity problems in New Mexico and across the world,” Shukla said.