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Irrigation engineer Dr. R. Troy Peters, the new Washington State University Extension irrigation specialist, is eager to help growers improve their irrigation management techniques and optimize yields. Peters fills a WSU position that has been vacant for nearly three years.

“Irrigation is a huge issue for this state,” he said. “It has the most effect on yields and bottom lines by far, and is the least understood and managed.

Most people guess when to turn irrigation on and off because they just don’t know.”

“Almost everything you do to improve your irrigation system saves you money in the long run and also improves the environment.”

Peters adds that there are tools available for irrigation scheduling, such as the AgWeatherNet system in Washington State that provides temperature, precipitation, and other weather-related measurements.

Peters comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, located in the Panhandle of Texas near Amarillo, where he served as agricultural engineer and postdoctoral research scientist. His research involved automating center pivots based on remotely sensed canopy temperature measurements and the time-temperature-threshold method of irrigation scheduling.

He grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with a degree in manufacturing engineering and a minor in Korean language. In 2003, he received his doctorate degree in irrigation engineering from Utah State University.

Since his arrival in early March, Peters has met with industry representatives and Extension educators in the irrigated regions of the state to get a feel for issues important to producers.

In the tree fruit arena, he is interested in studying evaporative cooling systems to learn if the systems can be made more efficient. “Do short bursts of cooling work better than long sets? Is there a best type of nozzle to use? Is misting more efficient than microsprinklers?”

Those are just a few of the questions he has thought about. “It’s still an idea under formulation, and of course, I would want to build on what’s been done already.”

Peters is also interested in working on automating irrigation systems, using sensors and feedback systems to enable the irrigation system to “turn itself on and do so in a way to optimize yields.”

Because his position has been empty for several years, there are no carryover research programs for him to continue. But he is already working collaboratively with irrigation specialists from Oregon and California to develop a tool for Web-based irrigation scheduling.

He envisions a day when a farmer will visit a Web site to help him or her make irrigation decisions.

Peters is excited about the diverse crops and people involved in irrigated agriculture and is ready to work with growers to help improve the irrigation systems in the state.