Modesto Junior College Irrigation in the News
RCD INTERNS PROVIDE FREE IRRIGATION SERVICE TO GROWERS
A unique partnership involving academia, a local conservation district, the Almond Board of California (ABC) and the industry it represents is equipping the next generation of water professionals to develop real-world skills while providing almond growers useful information about their orchards’ irrigation systems.
For several years, the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District (ESRCD) has offered farmers a free mobile irrigation lab service, one of the many voluntary technical assistance programs designed to help farmers meet their conservation and production goals. The mobile lab consists of an in-field irrigation system evaluation, which includes an assessment of distribution uniformity, pressures and application and flow rates. This information is then compiled in a report that provides site-specific recommendations for system improvements and best practices, a practical and cost-effective tool for farmers located in ESRCD territory.
In-class learning leads to in-field growth
This year, a team of four student interns headed-up ESRCD’s mobile irrigation lab service. Interestingly, though not coincidentally, they all had one connection in common — Steve Amador, former professor in the Agriculture & Environmental Sciences department at Modesto Junior College (MJC).
“I was asked to present at a Resource Conservation District board meeting a few years back. They had an open internship position and it fell together,” said Amador, who also served as the faculty advisor for the Irrigation Technology program at MJC. “They’ve been hiring MJC students ever since, and we have three working there now, along with an MJC graduate.”
The partnership between MJC and ESRCD seems like a perfect fit.
Amador oversees the first and only post-secondary program in California that offers an Associate of Science degree in Irrigation Technology. This means his students are trained in the fundamentals of irrigation system design and performance, field skills readily applicable for the services provided by ESRCD’s mobile irrigation lab.
“Everything is done with students in mind,” said Amador. He notes that the internship program is a continuation of the hands-on learning students gain while earning their degree.
Industry demand inspires collegiate program
The groundwork for MJC’s Irrigation Technology program dates back approximately ten years. Amador recalls teaching his first irrigation class and working with agricultural irrigation professionals and farmers when he soon learned that demand was off-the-charts for graduates who specialized in irrigation. Specifically, there was demand for individuals with more advanced skills but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
“We realized there was nothing in between the engineer level and those with basic skills,” said Amador. “Our A.S. degree fills that gap, preparing students for success and providing industry with skilled talent.”
Almond Board provides in-field support, program funding
Spencer Cooper, senior manager of irrigation and water efficiency at the Almond Board, is a member of MJC’s Irrigation Technology advisory committee, which provides industry guidance and feedback on the program. He has also witnessed the value almond growers and students receive from the MJC-ESRCD partnership, and the guidance they receive while conducting irrigation testing in almond orchards.
“ABC has been a proponent of local conservation district programs that help growers improve efficiency, save costs and conserve resources, such as the mobile irrigation lab,” said Cooper. “When you add in the fact that the field testing and data collection is being done by students interested in irrigation, it’s a win-win. They are sharpening their skills and growers are getting valuable results about the performance of their irrigation systems.”
Cooper notes that Resource Conservation Districts across California offer similar free or low-cost technical assistance programs, and he encourages growers to contact their local districts this winter to learn more about these opportunities.
Growers interested in learning more about irrigation optimization can contact Cooper to learn about ABC’s Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum, a comprehensive manual of irrigation management and scheduling practices that range from fundamental to advanced management levels. For more information, visit Almonds.com/Irrigation or contact Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 604-3727.
Meet the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District interns
A native of Oakdale, Samantha has one semester left at MJC before earning her degree. At age 18, Samantha started beekeeping, commuting from Montana to Oakdale every six months and raising queen bees for the next ten years before returning to school to study agriculture. Samantha said the environmental science class at MJC “got her hooked,” and she knew she wanted to be involved in agriculture through a career related to power, solar or water. After meeting Steve Amador, she discerned her area of focus, and this past summer she went on to serve as the lead full-time intern for ESRCD, conducting system pressure tests and writing “Irrigation Evaluation & Conservation Assessment” reports for growers. After going “full throttle” with the irrigation program at MJC and interning at ESRCD, Samantha plans to continue working in the industry, noting that she enjoys designing irrigation systems.
Growing up in Murphys, Amanda did not start out with a background in agriculture, and it wasn’t until she became an active FFA member that she “fell in love with ag.” Water polo brought her to MJC, and it was a water class that peaked her interest in irrigation work. With her third year at MJC completed, Amanda has two classes left to earn her Irrigation Associates Degree. Amanda believes the internship with ESRCD has provided a “wonderful work experience” where she is able to learn something new every day and branch out with her professional development. She plans on finishing school before making career decisions.
Brad’s passion for agriculture in the Central Valley started with his active involvement in the Hughson 4-H club and FFA chapter. After majoring in mechanized agriculture at MJC, Brad went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Systems Management from Texas A&M and was recently accepted to the University of Arkansas for a master’s degree in Agriculture Education and Extension. While performing irrigation evaluations for ESRCD, Brad was responsible for testing 10- to 20-acre areas of almond orchards and using pressure and flow readings to estimate drainage and runoff for weekly reports. Spending time in the field with almond growers and presenting them with useful data provided a “really rewarding experience,” according to Brad. He hopes the knowledge and hands-on experience gained from the internship will help assist him with improving the agriculture industry in a hands-on capacity.
A Chico native, Adriana’s interest in irrigation started in high school. She recently graduated from MJC with an associate degree in Irrigation Technology, with the ESRCD internship providing an excellent opportunity to apply her skills directly. Adriana’s experience through the internship gave her a chance to help growers make improvements to their systems in real time. By alerting almond growers to issues with their pump systems and providing important data on pressure and flow, Adriana’s valuable information saved growers water, energy and costs. Adriana hopes to use this experience as a learning tool for a future career in the irrigation industry. She is also interested in using her irrigation background as a starting point for a career as a high school agriculture instructor.