Water Saver: Oklahoma Master Irrigator Program

predominant crop in that part of the state — we also included panel members who could make sure we adequately addressed the various kinds of irrigation that southwest farmers use.

There’s no magic number of advisory panel members, but each of our panels so far has included about 10 people, including producers (producers who represented approximately 70,000 irrigated acres), OSU educators, crop consultants, representatives from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), and county Extension agents. Once an advisory panel is in place, we start building content for the sessions. We had written the first draft of the Panhandle program curriculum before we had assembled that panel, so we gave the members the draft and asked for feedback. Their first impressions were that it was too academic, so we revised it so that it balanced theory and practice. For example, in addition to reviewing soil-water relationships and talking about how moisture sensors function, we invited speakers who had been using sensors for years to share their experiences and talk about the decisions they make based on these technologies. We did not include field demonstrations of the equipment we covered because the best time to attract producers is in the winter, when there is no field work. We did cover these technologies during our field days during growing season in the fall.

Being open to revisions, even at the last minute, is key to making the Master Irrigator program work. As we saw who was registering for the southwest edition, for example, we made changes to the content based on what kinds of crops they farmed. We also used feedback from the pilot workshop participants to make changes to the topics in the second program.

Another critical piece of the Master Irrigation program strategy is to give incentives to

producers for attending. We met with officials from such state and federal agencies as the USDA-NRCS, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (full list of content contributors in sidebar, page 5) to determine the appropriate incentives and decided on three:

Graduation day for the 2002 Master Irrigator course

 reimbursement of up to $2,000 for the purchase of irrigation technology and equipment (funded by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board

 points in the Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which gives farmers an advantage when applying for federal money to offset the cost of water conservation systems

 well auditing from OSU’s mobile irrigation lab, which measures the efficiency of crop irrigation systems

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