Archive | March 2013

ASA Talks Water Security

Good afternoon!

As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, our own Fred Vocasek participated in a symposium discussing water security at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

The American Society of Agronomy’s Water Security for Agriculture Talk Force recently sat down to answer a few questions. Other members of the task force include Rattan Lal and Gary “Pete” Peterson.

You can find part one of the interview here.

Part two of the interview can be found here. 


Treated wastewater often contains potential pollutants, such as nitrate, that require careful monitoring. Here, the movement of a blue tracer dye through the soil helps researchers determine whether pollutants are reaching the groundwater. Photo: Fred Vocasek.

From the interview:

Let’s start with the term water security. How do you define it?

Rattan: Maybe I can read our task force’s definition. It says: “Water security is present when all agricultural systems and the people dependent on them have physical, social, economic, and political access to adequate, clean, and safe water at all times to meet the physiological demands for high and sustained water productivity, ecosystem services, and healthy life of people and biota.”

What we really need to indicate is that this definition sounds very similar to some of the published definitions of food security. We tried to draw parallels between the two, so that water security and food security are kind of two sides of the same coin, if you want to put it that way.

So, of all the issues ASA could have chosen to focus on, why water security?

Fred: As you look around the landscape, a lot of people are involved in water issues: hydrologists, geologists, regulators, engineers. But in food production and agronomy—that’s where the water, the soil, and the plant root all come together, and that’s where we live and breathe. So I think we’re in a unique position as scientists and as practitioners to address some of the issues.

Rattan: I would add that water has no alternative. We have alternatives for oil and other resources, but water we must have—there is really no substitute for it. And at present water is a very scarce commodity, and it’s going to become even more scarce with the extreme events of climate change, such as what happened in the U.S. last summer. This drought that we are experiencing in the U.S. is a century drought. Really nothing like this has been experienced for over 80 years or more, and it’s due to the scarcity of water in the root zone. So, water security is really a very critical issue of the 21st century, and I think it is a very timely issue for the American Society of Agronomy to address.

Servi-Tech in the News

Good afternoon!

Here’s an article from the Creston (Iowa) News Advertiser.


Agriculture Abroad

Good morning!

We found a blog recently that has some interesting posts and photos on it.

A Kansas newspaper reporter, Amy Bickel, is taking a trip to Peru, learning about agriculture there as part of the Kansas Agricultural and Rural Leadership program.

From her column in The Hutchinson News:

Our group will tour Peru to learn more about one of the countries in which we export product.

The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows Kansas producers the opportunity to increase the state’s market share in Peru. It officially took effect in 2009.

Thus, during wheat harvest 2011, Peruvian wheat buyers toured the United States to see how our country could meet their demands. They made a stop at a few grain elevators in Kansas.

While the country produces wheat, very little reaches flour mills, according to the U.S. Wheat Associates. The country imports about 55.6 million bushels annually, with the U.S. share roughly 37 million bushels.

Moreover, Kansas exported nearly $45 million worth of cereal grains to Peru in 2011, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

So, just like standing on the coal slurry, this will be another eye opener I’ll share in coming weeks. We’ll tour a mill and a chocolate plant. We’ll see an avocado farm and view research plots.

We’ll even dine on guinea pig – one of the “livestock” raised here.

Or so I’ll try.

You can read her blog here, or go to

Ranching Awesome

Good afternoon!

There’s a new agriculture parody song making the rounds. It’s called Ranching Awesome, and it’s a parody of the song Thrift Shop.

It is, indeed, awesome.

The Reality of Water

Good afternoon!

Our own Fred Vocasek attended a symposium in Boston recently, titled ‘Blue Waves, Green Dreams, and Shades of Gray: The Reality of Water.’ Here’s what he had to say about the experience.

From Fred Vocasek:

“On Feb. 17 seven speakers of different backgrounds from across the U.S. came together in Boston for a 180-minute symposium presentation on a common interest, ‘Blue Waves, Green Dreams, and Shades of Gray: The Reality of Water.’ John Sadler and I spent the last year getting this symposium organized and accepted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. We were competing with the likes of Columbia Univ., Harvard, UCal Poly, Stanford, MIT, etc., not your typical ag colleges. Getting a symposium accepted by the AAAS is apparently pretty prestigious, so I felt pretty lucky.

“Here is a sampling of the most highly featured topics that were presented at this meeting:

  • The Beauty of the Accelerating Universe
  • The Evolution and Meanings of Human Skin Color
  • Optogenetics: Development and Application
  • Ice Sheets, Sea Level, and Other Surprises: Benefits of Understanding Some Beautiful Places
  • ‘Artificial Atoms’ Formed from Nucleic Acid Nanoparticle Conjugates: The Dawn of a New Periodic Table

“AAAS holds ‘Family Science Day’ on Saturday which covered about four basketball courts. There were booths and interactive displays for elementary aged kids that demonstrated everything from deep-sea exploration to laser applications. The only booth I saw that was even remotely related to production agriculture was the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). They had a whole series of leaflets for elementary school.  I picked up two. One was “How many plants does it take to make a fast-food burger? List the plants you might find in a fast-food hamburger”  The back listed burger ingredients, then listed the plants and their scientific names. Like ‘Wheat – Triticum aestivum,’, ‘Cucumber – Cucumis sativus,’, etc. The other was ‘Plants in your pants: Cotton.’ There were a series of ten fill-in-the-blank questions using an alphabet code. The questions could have fit into the CCA exam, like ‘The cotton plant is a tropical shrub.’ and ‘It needs at least 19 degrees Celsius (65°F) to thrive.’


Panelist Chris Goemans explains one of his presentation talking points (L-R: Chris Goemans, John Peck, Bill Cox, Rattan Lal)


(Left to right) Dr. John Peck, Prof. of Law, Kansas Univ.; Dr. Rattan Lal (moderator), Dir. Carbon Sequestration Center, Ohio State Univ.; Dr. Bob Stewart, Dir. Dryland Agriculture Inst., West Texas A&M; Bill Cox, CoxCo Ag Svcs., Las Cruces NM; Dr. John Sadler (co-organizer), Research Leader-Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit, USDA-ARS, Columbia MO; Dr. Chris Goemans, Asst. Prof. Ag & Resource Economics, Colorado State Univ.; Fred Vocasek (co-organizer), Sr. Lab Agronomist, Servi-Tech, Dodge City KS; Steel Maloney, CEO, Cascade Earth Svcs., Albany OR; Dr. Henry Lin, Asst. Prof. Hydropedology/Soil Hydrology, Penn State Univ.

Speaker Henry Lin answers audience question about his “Blue Water” presentation. (L-R: Bob Stewart, Steel Maloney, Henry Lin, Rattan Lal).

Speaker Henry Lin answers audience question about his “Blue Water” presentation. (L-R: Bob Stewart, Steel Maloney, Henry Lin, Rattan Lal).

“We walked through the exhibit hall for a few minutes. A huge diversity of organizations were unfamiliar. They were all recruiting or trying to promote products/services to scientists. One booth was from the University of Singapore. There was a Japanese Pavilion, with three Japanese universities. The U.S. Department of Energy. The Harvard School of Anthropology. One that I remember was the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO), looking for recruits I think.  They will monitor for signs of nuclear explosions by seismic sensors (earthquakes), hydrophones (tsunamis), satellites, and atmospheric analysis (radionuclides).

“This was quite an experience. A writer from the Agronomy Society office took lots of notes, so expect to see a spin-off or two in Crops & Soils magazine. We hope to replicate this symposium at the ASA Annual Meeting next November and have been able to a talk by Dr. Daniel Hillel, the 2012 World Food Prize Laureate and the man who originally developed the concept of drip irrigation.”

Here’s an article from the ASA: ASA members talk water security


Presentation Titles

Dr. Henry Lin: World Water Security Begins with an Adequate Blue Water Supply

Dr. Bob Steward: Green Water Supply – the Key Element in Food Security

Steel Maloney: Converting Gray Water to Green Water

Bill Cox: Practical Solutions to Agriculture’s Water Issues

John Peck: Law, Land, and Water: Removing Barriers to Water Security

Chris Goemans: Economics: Its Impact on Water Security



Our planet is expected to house another two billion residents in the next two generations. Water demand is increasing; water supplies are not. The demands for human use and agricultural production increase daily. The unforeseen consequences of climate change create additional uncertainties, both locally and globally. Our ability to feed this growing world population is directly correlated with our ability to “green” the water in our agroecosystems by reducing our “blue” and “grey” water footprint.

Blue represents the available fresh water (surface and ground water) and stored soil moisture minus losses and environmental maintenance requirements. Green represents “working” water, including: water needed during the crop life cycle; water transpired by plants; and water utilized for food, fuel, and fiber production. Gray represents “worked” water, water that may be polluted to different degrees after production of goods and services, with potential return as blue or green water.

The speakers will address our world’s water supply from three general perspectives as represented by the colors blue, green, and gray. The panelists will address potential constraints to water use – the practical, the legal, and the economic – that may impact scientific efforts and their relevance to public policy and perception.

The challenge of “greening” the world’s water supply requires a coordinated effort by scientists and practitioners from many disciplines, including agronomy, plant physiology, soil science, geohydrology, ecology, sociology, economics, and others. Each discipline has a different perspective. Understanding and appreciating those perspectives is essential to a coordinated effort that improves our water use to maintain agronomic productivity and economic security.