Highlightsof Extension TYI NG RESEARCH TO REAL LI F E COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE, H EALTH AND NATURAL RESOURCES the greatest risk of failure as a result of drought,” O’Neill says. “We look at what these operations can do in advance to make them more secure when a drought hits. If you can prepare farmers in advance, then when drought occurs, they’re not dealing with mitigation or lost crops, they will be able to weather the drought and be successful.” The first step in the project involved review of the operations, followed by a site visit. Then the team installed a water meter at each site. The meter information is easily managed by farmers through an innovative text messaging data collection method developed by Nicholas Hanna, computer programmer with the College’s Office of Communications. The program allows operators to check their meter reading once weekly, quickly send the results via text messaging and receive a confirmation of their submission. The readings are entered into a database associated with their number and farm name. By season’s end, the team will chart water usage tied to climate variables such as precipitation and wind, and will then review current watering practices and help owners develop strategies that manage water usage and prepare for drought conditions. The NRCS will also use this data to help farmers access water saving strategies and equipment. “In the end, we will be directing them to NRCS for financial assistance to imple- ment conservation practices,” says Harris. The NRCS financial assistance programs are designed to help agricultural producers maintain and improve their water program in areas such as soil management and irrigation efficiency. Some seventy-five agricultural producers have expressed interest in the program thus far, with the number growing weekly. To join the program, farmers complete a water use survey available online. A member of the team will conduct a field site visit. “If farmers are interested in getting a meter, we want to hear from them,” says O’Neill. “We have a really great team work- ing on this project,” he says. The group includes Rosa Raudales, assistant professor and horticulture extension specialist in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture; Mike Dietz, extension educator in water resources, low impact development and storm water management; and Ben Campbell, former assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, currently an assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In another aspect of the project, the team is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Office of Policy and Management to explore water needs for agriculture in Connecticut. This under- standing could inform policy decisions for future agricultural development within the state. “This is a teachable moment for us,” O’Neill says. “We feel like these agricul- tural producers are scientists. We have an opportunity to help farmers conserve water, increase profitability and preserve the environment. They treat their business as a science, and we are trying to work with them to help them enhance their science capabilities and make better choices.” “The project goal focuses on agricultural water security by helping farmers prepare for drought, improve their irrigation efficiency and establish water conservation practices.” 2016 HIGHLIGHTS OF EXTENSION 15