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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Soil water retention technology to improve vegetable production among highly permeable soils under water scarcity and dry climate conditions In Iraq

PI: Mahdi Aoda (Baghdad University)
U.S. Partners: G. Phillip Robertson and Alvin J.M. Smucker (Michigan State University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016

2-455 Baghdad Crop Greenhouse

Indonesia Partnership Picture C

Crops are being grown in the Baghdad location under a variety of conditions (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).Arrangements were made with the Ministry of Agriculture to run the Najaf experiment in one of their research stations and use one of their plastic greenhouses (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).
The primary purpose of this project is to use a proven technology to double food production with a goal of reducing irrigation by 50% in arid regions of Iraq. Since water is the most limiting input to agricultural production, and its resources are declining, new approaches beyond additional irrigation are needed to retain more water in the root zones of plants. Water scarcity is becoming more acute in Iraq, primarily due to the high evapo-transpiration rates and the fact that previous international water sources are being retained in large dams and canal systems in Syria and Turkey. Surface flooding and canal irrigation continue to result in the lose of more water, promoting soil salinity. Therefore, new approaches for conserving irrigation water must be designed to minimize water losses during surface additions of water and increase soil water holding capacity in the root zone. The rapidly expanding utilization of subsurface water and nutrient retaining membranes, combined with surface and subsurface drip irrigation tapes, minimize surface water losses and deep leaching losses of water and nutrients below the root zone.

Therefore, the main goals for this project are to conserve up to 60% of the irrigation water required to produce healthy vegetables locally and to consolidate and expand the research collaboration and student training activities involving Michigan State University and universities in Iraq. Water-saving and drought avoidance technologies have been highly successful with cucumbers, green peppers, and corn in Michigan, grass in Turkey, and cotton in Texas. Statistics show the 15-19% of Iraqi soils are sandy, often exposed to shifting sand dunes. Utilizing soil water retention technology in Iraq is essential for rehabilitating sandy soils for use in growing agricultural products, many of which are currently imported. The introduction and demonstration of these techniques to strategic sites across Iraq will contribute to long-term sustainable production with minimum irrigation water, which could help to improve the Iraqi economy.

Summary of Recent Activities
2-455_Y1Q3_Plants at production stage2-455 Najaf Field Trip
Tomato plants at production stage (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).Students and faculty visit the Najaf greenhouse as part of a field trip. (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).
The results from last year’s crop indicated that the SWRT (Sub-surface water retention technology) treatment was remarkable, requiring 60% less irrigation water and 50% less fertilizer, but producing an 89% higher yield than the control group. Another remarkable discovery of this project was that SWRT treatment resulted in a lower salt content by the end of the season. These findings have encouraged the project team to expand their experiments to another vegetable crop, the spicy pepper vegetable crop, which was planted in November of last year.

During the beginning of 2015, two field trips were conducted by the project team. One field trip was held for students of the Soil Science Department and agriculture faculty from Kufa University on March 25 and included the dean of the faculty as well as the head of the department along with other staff members. The other field day took place on April 9 and was for students of Baghdad University. These field trips will focus on the implementation and the successes of SWRT and how the techniques can be spread and shared throughout the region.

The team is planning to hold more field trips for graduate students, staff members, and farmers during the next season. The big event will be a project workshop held in Baghdad on May 4. High ranking decision makers from the ministries of Higher Education, Agriculture, and Water Resources, along with the Farmers’ Union and select NGOs in Iraq will attend. The project PI, Dr. Mohdi, will also visit the US partners in June. There, he will receive an update on the new commercial SWRT membrane installation machine (MIM) designed for fail-safe installation of SWRT membranes that double the soil water holding capacity in sand soils worldwide. He will also spend time in the field observing and filming the SWRT MIM implementation in Michigan.

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