June 7, 2021
News and updates
McCornick reflects on water, energy and food at Asia International Water Week

DWFI Executive Director Peter McCornick was invited to present at the 2nd Asia International Water Week hosted by the Asia Water Council. McCornick shared "Reflections on Water, Energy & Food" during the session focused on Water-Energy–Food Nexus. During the session, speakers addressed water issues related to the nexus from political and technical perspectives and shared their experience and research outcomes. Click the video image above to watch the full recording.
Strengthening Midwest agtech entrepreneurship in response to COVID-19

Over the last year, DWFI and Invest Nebraska have collaborated to support Midwest agtech startups through the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) Channel Partner Strategic Award. The award was used to understand critical agtech ecosystem needs in the Midwest and strengthen collaborations to help startups manage COVID-19 disruptions.

As IN2 channel partners, DWFI was the primary award recipient and we were eager to use the award as an opportunity to work with Invest Nebraska's agtech incubator, The Combine. The Combine provides entrepreneurial support to companies serving tens of millions of acres of row crop agricultural production.

Highlights of what the team was able to accomplish with the funds and help of our many partners in the ecosystem include:
  • Rent relief and operational support for agtech and cleantech startups
  • Workshops, events and blog posts related to customer discovery in agtech, state resources for ag startups in Nebraska
  • A first-of-its-kind Nebraska agtech startup ecosystem map
  • Report on COVID-19 impacts on Midwest agtech ecosystem
Researchers find accurate way to fill gaps in net ecosystem exchange data essential to addressing climate change

When animals — including humans — breathe, they exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the environment and produce oxygen. The net ecosystem exchange (NEE) is how much carbon is put into the environment compared to how much is removed. This concept is important because an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere amplifies Earth's natural greenhouse effect, resulting in climate change.

The eddy covariance technique is one of the most accurate and direct tools to help us measure this carbon exchange between the surface and the atmosphere. However, some conditions — like equipment malfunctions, power outages and extreme weather conditions — result in missing values for 30% to 65% of the data. Thus, other methods have been developed to fill in the gaps — one of which is the artificial neural networks (ANNs) approach. ANNs are a form of artificial intelligence (or machine learning) and provide an approximate solution to a real problem, rather than an exact solution to an oversimplified one.

In a new study, DWFI postdoctoral researcher Babak Safa, DWFI Faculty Fellow Andy Suyker and colleagues compared two different ANNs models on rain-fed corn fields near Mead, Nebraska — the Multi-layer Perceptron (MLP) network trained by the Back-Propagation (BP) algorithm and the Radial Basis Function (RBF) Network. They found that the RBF network provides the best fit for observed values.

Overall, the results show that ANNs, as a technique, are able to estimate the missing NEE data accurately and efficiently. This helps provide a more accurate estimation of net carbon exchange rates to both scientists and policymakers, which is essential in enacting effective future strategies related to climate change.
What’s Water Worth?
By Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District

In an era of extreme weather, growers across the globe are more focused than ever on adequate irrigation to sustain crops through periods of drought. Severe drought can threaten a farmer’s livelihood, as it leads to crop damage and reduced yield.

While everyone recognizes that water is valuable, it is challenging to come up with a standard value for irrigation water because it is not equally available, or necessary, at all times and all locations across a region. This variability also makes it difficult to understand the economic impact of efforts to conserve water, as the cost and return on investment of irrigation is constantly fluctuating, even in a single location.

Nebraska has an abundant supply of groundwater stored in the High Plains Aquifer, but it is not a limitless quantity. What are the financial considerations of policies to ensure that there is sufficient water for all for decades to come? Is there a greater economic argument to be made for why conservation efforts, including cover crops and irrigation management, are so important?

A recent study from DWFI researchers sheds light on the conversation by examining the dollar value of irrigation water. The study indicates that the average value of irrigation water is highest in rainfed production areas where irrigation is used only supplementally. Researchers suggest that drought mitigation planning as well as implementing water management and allocation in locations where crop production is under rainfed conditions is of the utmost importance—especially where water sustainability has not traditionally been prioritized.
In conversation with John Gates, agtech entrepreneur

Ankit Chandra, and Nick Brozović recently sat down with ag entrepreneur John Gates for a conversation on the importance of water in agriculture, and what this means for startups and entrepreneurship. John is currently Vice President of Product for CropX, an international agtech startup with an important presence in the High Plains and an office in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can listen to the full conversation at the link above.
New podcast episode discusses importance of wetlands' management to ecosystem

Qiao Hu, a Ph.D. student studying natural resource sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, discusses his research using drones (UAVs) and artificial intelligence (AI) for wetlands management.

Qiao’s faculty advisor and DWFI Faculty Fellow Zhenghong Tang is a professor in the Community and Regional Planning Program and Landscape Architecture Program at UNL, as well as a courtesy professor in the School of Natural Resources.

In this podcast, both discuss the importance of wetlands to our ecosystem, how we can improve our management of them and how their research might help us to do so.
DWFI, NWC experts featured in Conservation Nebraska event on water quality

Conservation Nebraska invited DWFI and the Nebraska Water Center (NWC) to host its monthly Common Ground event in April. The webinar was titled “Get to know your water” and focused on understanding and monitoring Nebraska's water quality.

Dan Snow, lab director of the NWC Water Sciences Lab, discussed the role the lab plays in monitoring Nebraska’s water quality and what the “vadose zone” can tell us about what’s to come for a community.

Allison Busher, Kearney High School teacher, shared how she uses the Know Your Well program to teach high school students about water quality and gives them hands-on experience in testing Nebraska’s water.

Tania Biswas, research lab manager at the Water Sciences Lab, took participants on a virtual tour of the lab. More than 40 participants joined in on the webinar and took part in the Q&A portion. Watch a recording of the webinar at the video link above.
Faculty Fellow News
11 DWFI Faculty Fellows awarded Nebraska Environmental Trust grants
By Nebraska Today

The Nebraska Environmental Trust has awarded 23 grants totaling more than $2.1 million to University of Nebraska–Lincoln projects — 11 of which are led by DWFI Faculty Fellows.

The grants were awarded by the NET board last month, part of 113 projects receiving more than $18.35 million.

The following DWFI Faculty Fellow projects and principal investigators received 2021 awards:

  • Direct removal of groundwater nitrate coupling water treatment and algae growth, DWFI Faculty Fellow James Allen, research assistant professor of biochemistry, $216,775.
  • StreamNet: Building capacity to improve water quality, DWFI Faculty Fellow Jessica Corman, assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, $183,996.
  • Nebraska farmers and farmland owners’ attitudes of targeted conservation, DWFI Faculty Fellow Andrew Little, assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, $152,447.
  • Adaptive management of Sandhills grasslands, DWFI Faculty Fellow Craig Allen, director, Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, and professor, School of Natural Resources, $134,192.
  • Surface water nutrient removal in eutrophic ponds using floating treatment wetlands, DWFI Faculty Fellow Tiffany Messer, adjunct assistant professor, School of Natural Resources and biological systems engineering, $111,797.
  • Improving soil health using heat‐treated manure, DWFI Faculty Fellow Xu Li, professor of civil and environmental engineering, $90,314.
  • Transforming manure and cedar mulch from “waste” to “worth” – Part II, DWFI Faculty Fellow Amy Schmidt, associate professor of biological systems engineering, $81,949.
  • Delivery of watershed science education to decision-makers — a multi‐agency collaboration, DWFI Faculty Fellow Troy Gilmore, assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, $78,600.
  • Developing statewide community tree canopy map, DWFI Faculty Fellow Yi Qi, assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, $44,218.
  • Developing a decision‐support tool for the successful incorporation of cover crops into Nebraska cropping, DWFI Faculty Fellow Andrea Basche, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture, $41,180.
  • Niobrara River ecology and education, DWFI Faculty Fellow Jessica Corman, assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, $27,637.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore natural resources for future generations.
Faculty Fellow Thomas elected president of the Society for Freshwater Science
By IANR News

Steve Thomas, a DWFI Faculty Fellow and river and stream ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources, has been chosen to serve as the next president of the Society for Freshwater Science.

The societies purpose “is to promote further understanding of freshwater ecosystems (rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries) and ecosystems at the interface between aquatic and terrestrial habitats (wetlands, bogs, fens, riparian forests, and grasslands).”

Thomas’ research focuses on how the flow of water links upstream and downstream habitats and how ecological interactions propagate from one location to another. He has served in several leadership roles with the Society for Freshwater Sciences, will serve as president-elect this coming year and become president in May 2022.
Creech receives sustainable agriculture grant
By IANR News

DWFI Faculty Fellow Cody Creech with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Scottsbluff, Nebraska has recently been selected to receive a $40,000 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for the project, "Developing Winter Barley as an Alternative Crop to Capture an Emerging Market and Increase Diversification and Sustainability."

"This project will evaluate feasibility of winter barley production under rainfed conditions in the High Plains. Experiments will be conducted to identify suitable varieties, populations, and fertility requirements to meet yield expectations of farmers and grain quality parameters of the grain purchaser," said Creech.
Team IDs key to sorghum’s heat resilience, aims to boost corn’s tolerance
by Nebraska Today

Although sorghum is known to be much more heat- and drought-tolerant than its close relative corn, the underlying reason for this difference is not well-established. Solving this mystery may be key to developing corn that is more resilient to high temperatures and the often dry summer conditions in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest.

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln team led by former postdoctoral fellow Lucas Busta, working in the lab of DWFI Faculty Fellow Ed Cahoon, director of the Center for Plant Science Innovation, has taken a big step toward identifying the biochemical and genetic basis for the large differences in the ability of corn and sorghum to tolerate environmental extremes. The research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team discovered that sorghum not only has more wax on its surfaces than corn — that serves as a barrier to water loss at high temperature — but also a highly enriched, steroid-like wax on mature plants. The abundance of this particular kind of wax was missed in previous sorghum analyses.

The team also found that corn wax is devoid of this wax component. The steroid wax has been shown to “seal” the wax of some desert plants to further reduce water loss. Comparing the genomes of sorghum and corn, the team concluded that the key gene for steroid wax production is mutated in corn, resulting in the loss of its ability to make the steroid wax.
Student News and Resources
Corteva Agriscience symposium, research grants and scholarships

Corteva Agriscience, a global pure-play agriculture company focused on enriching the lives of those who produce and those who consume, invites under-represented minority undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdocs, to register for a new two-phased program called DELTA. Ideal participants are interested in a career in agriculture and want to learn more about sustainable and reliable food production.

DELTA is led by members of Corteva Agriscience Research and Development (R&D). It offers eligible candidates an opportunity to participate in a virtual R&D symposium, which will provide a technical overview of the company and a chance to share their research, network and develop soft skills that are essential to any industry career. Register for the symposium here.

This program also includes an opportunity for students and postdocs to secure a research grant (graduate) or scholarship (undergraduate). Awardees will have the opportunity to interact with an industry mentor. Apply for the research grant or scholarship if you meet the requirements.

Application and registration deadlines are June 11, 2021 for the symposium and June 15, 2021 for the grant/scholarship.
Congratulations graduates!
We would like to congratulate the following DWFI-affiliated students on their recent graduation from the University of Nebraska. We wish you the best in your future endeavors!
Gabrielle Boucher
Intern at the Nebraska Water Center
Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering

Sarah Munezero
Undergraduate Research Intern with the DWFI Policy Team
Bachelor of Arts degree in integrated science

Jordon Shields
Advised by Dan Snow, Water Sciences Lab Director
Master of Science degree in Natural Resources

Jessica Garcia Nascimento
Researcher PhD Student with the DWFI Research Team
Doctoral degree in Agricultural Systems Engineering

Jean David Bizimana
Undergraduate Student Intern in the Water Sciences Lab
Bachelor of Science degree in integrated sciences

Shane Ourada
Undergraduate Student Intern in the Water Sciences Lab
Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering
Constanza Avello
DWFI Supported Student
Master of Science degree in Food Science

Khulan Batsukh
DWFI Supported Student
Master of Science degree in Earth Sciences, Specialization: Hydrogeology

Jackson Stansell
DWFI Supported Student
Master of Science degree in Agricultural & Biological Systems Engineering

Azariah Ovie Lawal
DWFI Supported Student
Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences, Applied Climate & Spatial Science Specialization

Luke Monhollan
DWFI Supported Student
Bachelor of Science in Biological Systems Engineering
Platte Basin Timelapse Interns
DWFI has supported the Platte Basin Timelapse internship program since 2013 and has provided the opportunity for a total of 29 students to be undergraduate interns with PBT. Many of these students have gone on to graduate school and have earned graduate assistantships with PBT or have become full-time, part-time, or on-call employees of the project.
Sidney Parks
Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design, B.J. in advertising and public relations

Meg Rice
Bachelor of Journalism degree, minors in Communications and Environmental Studies
Mikaela Deptula
Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife

Elsie Stormberg
Bachelor of Journalism degree
An Interview with Sarah Munezero, DWFI Policy Intern

In the interview above, Renata Rimsaite chats with Sarah Munezero about her internship with DWFI, her research on water rights in Nebraska and what's next for her professionally.

Renata Rimsaite is a postdoctoral research associate with a joint appointment with the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC). She has been working with Sarah Munezero, DWFI policy intern, over the past nine months to better understand how agricultural producers in Nebraska are able to transfer their rights to use groundwater between fields and regions. Doing this can provide benefits to agriculture as well as to environmental water users.

Before she started working on this project, Sarah completed an internship at the North Platte Natural Resources District in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Sarah recently earned her Bachelor’s Degree in integrated science from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and has worked as an intern with DWFI for several years and on projects both here in Nebraska and internationally.
Congratulations to DWFI Faculty Fellows on the following awards

Katie Bathke
2021-22 Milton E. Mohr award by the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Katie Anania
Tyson Scholar in American Art for the spring 2022 semester

Suat Irmak
Elected ASCE-EWRI Fellow
Named head of Penn State University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (July 1)
Staff, Fellow and Supported Student Publications
Tianhu Sun, Qinlong Zhu, Ziqing Wei, Lauren A. Owens, Tara Fish, Hyojin Kim, Theodore W. Thannhauser, Edgar B. Cahoon & Li Li

Paul N. Black, James W. Allen, Timothy J. Nicodemus

Andrea Basche, Fernanda Souza Krupek, Nilovna Chatterjee, Carol Speth

Aksel Wiseman, Andrea K Watson, Rick Stock, Terry J Klopfenstein

Arindam Malakar, Rajesh Singh, Karrie A.Weber, Jeffery Westrop, Christopher N. Elofson, Manish Kumar, Daniel D.Snow

Wanshu Nie, Sujay V. Kumar, Kristi R. Arsenault, Christa D. Peters-Lidard, Iliana E. Mladenova, Karim Bergaoui, Abheera Hazra, Benjamin F. Zaitchik, Sarith P. Mahanama, Rachael McDonnell, David M. Mocko, Mahdi Navari

Marcin Grzybowski, Nuwan K. Wijewardane, Abbas Atefi, Yufeng Ge, James C. Schnable
Yuan S, Linquist B, Wilson L, Cassman K, Stuart A, Pede V, Miro B, Saito K, Agustiani N, Aristya V, Krisnadi L, Zanon A, Heinemann A, Carracelas G, Subash N, Brahmanand P, Li T, Peng S, Grassini P

Gustau Camps-Valls, Manuel Campos-Taberner, Alvaro Moreno-Martinez, Sophia Walther, Grégory Duveiller, Alessandro Cescatti, Miguel Mahecha, Jordi Muñoz-Marí, Francisco Javier Garcı́a-Haro, Luis Guanter, John Gamon, Martin Jung, Markus Reichstein, and Steven W. Running

Mamusha Lemma, Mesfin Mekonnen and Abiro Tigabie

Subir Bairagi, Christopher R. Gustafson, Marie Claire Custodio, Jhoanne Ynionc, Matty Demont

M. Alam, M. Kashif, A. C. Easterly, F. Wang, J. D. Boehm Jr. & P. S. Baenziger

Felipe de Figueiredo Silva, Richard K. Perrin, Lilyan E. Fulginiti, Mark E. Burbach

Queiroz, P V. de, R.K. Perrin, L.E. Fulginiti, D. Bullock
Events + Calendar
World Oceans Day
June 8

Chemical Toxicants in Water:
A GeoHealth Persepective in the Context of Climate Change
June 14-16

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
June 17

First Day of Summer
June 20

Independence Day
July 4
(DWFI Offices closed July 5 for holiday)
Staff Spotlight
Sanat Bhandari
Graduate Student

Sanat Bhandari is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Bhandari joined the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) water economics team in May 2021. Together with DWFI staff and Faculty Fellow Taro Mieno, he assesses measurement errors and their implications for agricultural water management policy.

Bhandari has a highly technical background with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and computer science. He has served on the technical side of numerous projects, ranging from bioinformatics to software engineering. Bhandari has provided pragmatic data insights and created robust technical solutions for a primarily non-technical audience. His research interests encompass applied machine learning, data analysis, software engineering and econometrics.

Recently, Bhandari served as a reviewer and an evaluator for the UCARE program and as a graduate teaching assistant for upper-level courses in the CSE department. Besides experience in research and academic environments, he has worked extensively with the industry in technical roles.

About us
The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska was founded in 2010 by the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation to address the global challenge of achieving food security with less stress on water resources through improved water management in agricultural and food systems. The institute is committed to ensuring a water and food secure world while maintaining the use of water for other human and environmental needs. 
waterforfood.nebraska.edu | +1 402.472.5145

The Nebraska Water Center, established by Congress in 1964, focuses on helping the University of Nebraska become an international leader in water research, teaching, extension and outreach by facilitating programs that will result in UNL becoming a premiere institution in the study of agricultural and domestic water use.
watercenter.unl.edu | +1 402.472.3305