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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
 

Indonesia Partnership Picture B

Indonesia Partnership Picture C

During field visits sandy soil samples were taken for lab analysis (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_Y1Q3_Peer tomato harvest
Tomato plants at production stage (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).PEER tomato harvest (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).
The results from last year’s crop indicated that the SWRT (Sub-surface water retention technology) treatment were remarkable, requiring 60% less irrigation water and 50% less fertilizer, but producing an 89% higher yield than the control group. In the November growing season for this year, the team expanded its crop variety to test the effects of the technology on a wider range of plant types in both its Baghdad and Najaf locations. The team also procured new instruments in the fourth quarter that are able to gather data much more accurately

The team plans to conduct two field days for undergraduate students and two field days for farmers and graduate students in the coming year. In March, the team will hold a workshop in collaboration with the Iraqi Society of Soil Science to discuss the applicability of this technology to sandy Iraqi soil and methods to spread the team’s methods to farmers across Iraq. While past efforts to arrange an exchange visit for Iraqi students to MSU have failed due to security concerns at the US embassy, Dr. Aoda has worked closely with the Iraqi government and will hopefully be able to send two PhD team members to visit US partner Dr. Smucker over the summer. Dr. Aoda and Dr. Smucker are also working closely together to publish a paper concerning SWRT techniques and their effectiveness of increasing crop production.