HOLDREGE — First-time visitors to Nebraska often have their pictures taken in front of state landmarks: state capitol, Great Platte River Road Archway, Chimney Rock.
For 19 international students from the UNESCO — United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — Institute for Water Education, the preferred backgrounds were pivot irrigation systems and crops.
As part of a two-day tour of Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation projects, they made two stops Wednesday morning southwest of Loomis. They heard an overview of a pivot corner subsurface drip irrigation project on a Linder Stock Farms field that was installed in cooperation with CNPPID and learned about a new, innovative pivot irrigation system at a soybean field farmed by Scott Ford.
“We learned a lot from Nebraska, especially with the irrigation practices, especially pivot irrigation,” said Trisia Ranti Fani, who works in the land and forest rehabilitation section of an Indonesian government office in Palembang on the island of Sumatra.
“It’s so modern and practical in the field. I think it’s the best experience to learn about center pivots here,” she said about the highlight of her nearly two weeks in Nebraska.
The students from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Costa Rica and Uruguay came to Nebraska for their summer field experience from the UNESCO-IHE campus in Delft, Netherlands.
The group arrived in Lincoln on May 26 and will return to the IHE campus on Sunday. Their first week at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on learning mapping and measuring techniques they may need for research on their master’s degrees. They also attended the 2012 Water for Food Conference.
In addition to the two-day tour of the CNPPID system from the headquarters in Holdrege to Lake McConaughy, this week’s tour has included stops at Valmont Industries in Valley, Great Plains Meter in Aurora, T&L Irrigation in Hastings, Eco-drip in Doniphan and Diamond Plastics in Grand Island.
“The program is intended for students from lesser developed countries,” said Dean Eisenhauer, professor of hydrologic and engineering at UNL, who planned the Nebraska tour. Ed Harvey, professor of hydrogeology and associate director of the UNL School of Natural Resources, also works with the IHE program.
Eisenhauer said the summer water tour for the IHE master’s degree candidates usually is in southern France or Italy, where there is some irrigated agriculture.
UNL’s new Water for Food Institute began cooperating with the IHE program about 18 months ago and offered to host a field study experience in Nebraska. IHE faculty attended the 2011 Water for Food Conference and plans were made to come to Nebraska this year for a mix of lab, lecture and field activities.
“It’s just to broaden their view and appreciation of all kinds of hydraulic engineering and the ways it’s done around the world,” said Laszlo Hayde, senior lecturer in irrigation engineering at IHE, and one of two faculty members accompanying the international students. He said it’s also interesting for his students to see different places.
Hayde said some students work in government ministries or for other government authorities, some are in private industries and some work at universities. “So we train the trainers,” he added.
Hayde said the measuring techniques learned at UNL ranged from simple to the highest level of technology. “That’s important to them because they are international students,” he said, and they must select the methods that best fit the local conditions where they will be doing their research.
Eisenhauer agreed that while it’s hoped the students learned new ideas and technologies they can apply at home, the methods used must fit the ecology, available technology, scale of agriculture, water projects and crops grown.
He said one goal in planning the tour was to show the range of irrigation technologies, from flood irrigation, to gravity systems to pivots.
“In the world, flood irrigation still is the dominant form of irrigation, something like 80 percent,” Eisenhauer said, especially in Asia where rice is the most important crop. “So you don’t want to show them all pivot and drip irrigation.”
One reason the CNPPID tour was included in the Nebraska visit is that surface water sources are more common in most of the students’ countries. That’s not true in Nebraska, where 7 million of the 8 million acres of irrigated crops use groundwater.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what their potential is for groundwater irrigation,” Eisenhauer said about the international students. “At this point, I’m still trying to determine what is the best thing to expose them to while they’re here.”
During his presentation about CNPPID’s history and projects at the Holdrege office, Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Buettner was asked questions about surface water-groundwater relationships and how groundwater is recharged by the surface water system.
The Water for Food Institute is helping with some IHE tour costs. “One institute goal is serving the world, global agriculture,” Eisenhauer said. “This is a way to have almost an immediate impact. These students will be back in their jobs in a year.”
First, they will return to Netherlands to develop master’s thesis topics, go home to do their research and return to the IHE campus in the fall to complete their degree work.
Ranti Fani’s research probably will focus on rainfall runoff and drainage, which is the biggest problem in her region of Sumatra. She said pivot irrigation doesn’t fit in her region, but it might be useful in other parts of Indonesia.
Meanwhile, civil engineer Santiago Urrestarazu Vincent of Montevideo, Uruguay, said he’s learning about irrigated agriculture to expand his knowledge of water issues. The private consulting firm he works for specializes in municipal water systems, but may expand to include irrigation.
“My main goal is to have a master’s degree,” he said. “That’s very important in South America.” His degree will be in hydroengineering.
“We have quite a lot of water, but mainly rain-fed agriculture and not much irrigation. This is changing with the climate,” Urrestarazu Vincent said, and irrigation is being considered more by ag producers as a auxiliary water supply. “So maybe we can catch the rainwater and irrigate when it doesn’t rain.”