By Nam Tran, intern
Last month, University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds announced the recipients of the 2016-2017 Presidential Graduate Fellowships. Seven students from across the NU system were selected for the prestigious honor that recognizes high scholastic performance and personal accomplishment.
Among the select group is Burdette Barker, a biological systems engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and graduate assistant for the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska. Barker is a third year doctoral student, researching ways to improve spatial irrigation management to use water more effectively for agriculture, helping to advance water and food security.
Barker is a collaborator, along with his advisers Christopher Neale, director of research at the WFI, and Derek Heeren, WFI Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of irrigation engineering at UNL, on a project that involves developing and testing a spatial crop water use model for spatial irrigation management.
“Our research is focused on improving water management, specifically irrigation management,” said Barker. “We’re looking at managing irrigation at a scale that’s smaller than a field, so we’re determining how different parts of the field might need different amounts of water. We use images from satellites, and hopefully in the future, from unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The idea, Barker said, is to optimize water use.
“We put water where it’s really going to be useful, perhaps make the most yield, increase economic benefits, so it may be more economical to put more water on certain parts of a field.”
The native of Fruit Heights, Utah, first met Neale while working as a research assistant at Utah State University, where Neale was a faculty member for more than 25 years.
“Burdette is an example of a Ph.D. student we all hope for,” said Neale. “Independent… works hard… asks the right questions, and with some guidance, goes in the right direction.” Neale says Barker’s research falls squarely into the institute’s mission of effectively using water resources to increase agricultural productivity.
“Variable depth irrigation, which Barker is out to prove, is the idea that you would optimize the use of water resources, minimize the pumping and the energy use of the pivot by making the best use of the natural rainfall,” Neale said.
Before coming to Nebraska and after receiving a master’s degree in irrigation engineering, Barker spent a few years working as an irrigation consultant in eastern Oregon, which has helped to inform his work in academia. While at UNL, he participated in classroom instruction as a teaching assistant and guest lecturer. “It was fun to share some of the things I’ve learned through research, as well as the practical things I’ve learned about irrigation as a consultant,” Barker said.
“It’s been a privilege to work with Burdette in the classroom,” said Heeren. “He served as a teaching assistant and worked with students on a variety of levels. When he gave guest lectures on irrigation, his industry background really came through and the students appreciated that.”
When asked about his future plans, Barker said he will continue studying and hopes to make a career in academia.
“I want to continue learning and continue sharing what I learn,” he said.
With the fellowship, Barker will receive a stipend from the University of Nebraska Foundation that will allow him to pursue his research full-time.
Nam Tran is a communications and public relations intern at the Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska. Tran graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in August with bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and advertising and PR.