Jan 26, 2021
In this episode, we welcome Dr. Vaishali Sharda, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Kansas State University. Her research focuses on the complex dynamics of food-energy-water systems. Vaishali’s modeling is based on farm management scenarios and integrates agro-hydrologic models and climate data. This research couples human activity and natural systems with applications in sustainable agriculture, water resources management and applied hydrology with particular interest in the Ogallala Aquifer and farming in the Great Plains.
Tackling the dynamics of food-energy-water systems with Dr. Vaishali Sharda, Assistant Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
So, you know, when I tell people that I'm a modeler, they're like, you know, she sits in front of a computer and punches numbers and you know, but then there's that part of it where you translate that information into tools that the stakeholders can use. And that to me, is, is a really important component.
Something to chew on is a podcast devoted to the exploration and discussion of Global Food Systems produced by the Office of Research Development at Kansas State University. I'm Maureen Olewnik, coordinator of Global Food Systems.
And I'm Colene Lind, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Kansas State. I studied the public's role in science and environmental policy.
And I'm Jon Faubion. I'm a food scientist.
Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the Kansas State
University Global Food Systems podcast something to chew on. In
today's podcast, we will visit with Dr. Vaishali Sharda, a small
but mighty advocate for tackling the question of climate, water
availability and crop management in today's challenging
environment. Dr. Sharda’s main area of study deals with modeling
based on farm management scenarios, integrating agro-hydrologic
models and climate data. This research couples human activity and
natural systems with applications in sustainable agriculture, water
resources management, and applied hydrology with particular
interest in the Ogallala Aquifer and farming in the Great Plains.
Dr. Vaishali Sharda is an Assistant Professor of Biological and
Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University. Sharda carries
a BS and MS in Agricultural Engineering and Farm Power and
Machinery respectively from Punjab Agricultural University, and a
PhD from Auburn University in Biosystems Engineering.
I would like to welcome you, Dr. Vaishali Sharda to the podcast today, we would like to learn a little bit more about your background, about who you are, what got you interested in what you're doing, maybe how you got to K State, and then we'll open this up for a good discussion with Dr. Lind and Dr. Faubion. So would you like to start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. Uh, first of all, I like to thank you all for giving me this opportunity. I definitely appreciate it. Talking about my background. So I'm originally from India. I did my undergraduate and my master's in Agricultural Engineering from Punjab Agricultural University in Punjab, which is not India, and I applied for my master's in Agricultural Engineering or Water Resources in 2001. And then September 11 happened and I did not get a visa to come to the United States. So then, you know, life happens, I got married, had a daughter and then my husband applied for a PhD and he got admission at Auburn University. So we all came together to Auburn. I had already given my GRE and my Teufel with the plan that I would also start my PhD once we are in the United States. So and that is what happened. I started my PhD at Auburn as well. I changed my field a little bit. I used to work more in farm machinery, but then I moved on to the Water Resources and Agricultural Water became more of my research area. After finishing my PhD at Auburn in 2012. I moved to Washington State University on a postdoc opportunity which was at a research station in Prosser which is in Yakima Valley, and I used to work with a unit called Ag Weather net. So they are basically a network of agriculture of weather stations. And but the director there was very involved with crop modeling. So that's how I started using crop models extensively for water resources management. I worked there for about a year and a half and that's when my husband got his faculty position at K State. And we moved from Washington State to Manhattan and I was still working remotely for Ag Weather Net for quite some time after we moved to Manhattan And as it is with mostly with, you know, dual career professionals at one place, it is not easy to get employed at the same Institute. So we kind of worked around that for a little bit, I worked at University of Nebraska Lincoln for about two years at their water center. And I was part of the Ogallala Water Cap, which is a USDA NIFA funded project. And we looked extensively at integrating agricultural models, hydrologic models, economic models, and using climate information to inform these disintegration. So I worked both in Nebraska and Kansas as part of this project. And while I was still working at UNL, I got a, I got this assistant professor position here at K State, which tied up really well since I was already working both in Kansas, and Nebraska. So it was an easy transition for me. And so I started working part time at K State. And then in fall 2019, I started my tenure track position at BAE and I have continued my work on integrating crop models and hydrologic models, I have gained more knowledge about economic models and a big appreciation of the socio economic impact of everything that we do as engineers, as water resource managers. So I'm incorporating more of that into my research. And that is how this idea about this proposal, the Global Foods Seed Grant that we got came up to kind of integrate the information, and, you know, have that bridge between the two disciplines. So that's how it happened. That's a brief introduction.
No, that's very good. Thank you so much. It gives us a good understanding of how you got to where you are today. And clearly, there's a good solid background in the in the research area in the Great Plains, in areas where water is critical to to the agricultural business side of things, I was looking at some of the information that was provided on your background and work and one of the questions that I had is, you talked about just a minute ago about the social socio economic interface there. How do you get the information that you're working on to the user? Or how do you make that impact? Either the grower or the, you know, those folks that are being directly impacted by the the information that you're developing?
Yes, thank you for that question. Maureen, I think we rely heavily on the extension component of the land grant system. So while working at Washington State and even you are now and that case, day two, we have always had the opportunity to work with Extension agents, whether those are county agents, because they actually connect really well with the producers. Now, I have been to a lot of meetings with that, where I have directly interacted with producers, and somehow they place their trust in in the extension component of all their all the land grad schools. So I think it is a great connection. And working in the climate change climate variability area. Initially, I think we you know, as a graduate student, I realized that producers have their mindset. And they have their beliefs, which has come from many, many years of experience. And they don't like when a scientist who's probably half their age comes and challenges it, and tries to tell them that you should not be doing a certain thing this way, rather doing it my way. So that is, I think, where the extension people come in really helpful because they know the connection, they know the ways and they have that capability to translate your very technical information into turns where producers understand it and appreciate it and are perceptive of it. So I think I would say that extension plays a big role. And at K State at the Southwest Research and Extension Center in Garden City, Dr. Jonathan Aguilar is he's a great asset to all the work that we do and he helps to connect our work to the farmers there. We can we conduct field days of a lot of producers in the region come and listen to what is being done what is new and especially specifically in irrigation research, and and they pay attention. And they are very open to adopting new technologies or ways to conserve water to sustain the life of the Ogallala Aquifer specifically.
If I can follow up on that Maureen, I really appreciate the question. I've had it on my list too. And I, you know, I take your point about some voices, just having more resonance with the farm audiences than others. And everything in the social scientific literature about diffusion of innovations would indicate that, you know, you're absolutely right, you, you talk to the people who are closest and already have entrusted the producers. But I have to tell you that as I read your piece on ideal irrigation rates in Texas, High Plains with soybeans, I grew up on Nebraska farm on a corn and soybean farm. I know what a you know, what a visceral decision it is, whether to irrigator on or not. And as I read that piece, I thought, wow, this is so immediate, to the decision making of every farmer with a center pivot in now, obviously, that was in a particular context. And part of the argument of the article is, it's going to vary by every context. But what I'm getting at is, I don't quite want to let you off the hook. Surely, there's a way that you can go about your research, which provides information that's really useful and immediate to farmers. And it seems to me that that's what you're doing in your research. Did you ever or do you think about the end user when you're designing your questions and designing your research?
Right, right. And we totally do. And that's where decision support tools come into picture as well, you know, you get there. I mean, farmers are one of the smartest people that are out there, you know, you tell them that this is the reason behind doing something that they're we're asking them to do or we're recommending, they'll listen to you. And that's where decision support tools come into picture where you give them an app, for example, with I have a farmer in Nebraska, who we worked with extensively and Ogallala water cap, and he told me about a time that he has 42 apps on his phone that he uses to kind of to manage. And I mean, given that his farm is huge, he has a huge operation, and you know, all kinds of different enterprises. But this is where I think you know, if you want to, I know the context of your question. So decision support tools, and designing them in a way that they're appealing. And that they're user friendly, the interface is not overwhelming. So that you know, you just punch in simple numbers, and we can give you a suggestion of when to irrigate, you know what your soil moisture is like you from right from, say feeling the soil, to relying on the soil moisture sensor data, and then inputting those parameters and then coming up with an irrigation strategy. So that is partially what we talked about in that paper that you're referring to the soybean study in Texas High Plains, there is another paper that I'm currently working on for Kansas, it's for GMD three, and I work with Nathan Hendrick. So we're an Ag Econ. And so, you know, we are trying to look at how can we save water while not compromising on yield? Essentially, that is the main question that is out there. And that is what the farmer wants. They do want.
Yeah, that is the holy grail.
Right, right, you know, they do want to save water and sustain the life of aquifer. I have met with farmers from western Kansas and eastern Colorado, who said on your face that they know that they're if their grant kids choose to farm, they might not have the water that they have now on the farm. So they want to make mends to their current practices, but it's a financial decision at the end of the day, you know, they do not want to give up on their bread and butter. So we have to come up with smart and intelligent ways to reach the farmer so that they listen to us and they adopt the strategies that can help them.
Is this a strategy that has better outcomes or more outcomes or more efficient if the people that adopt these, these changes or these methods are contiguous, or doesn't matter that they might be isolated with other you know, other producers in between?
That was something you know, that's a great idea and we haven't looked at it from that point of view. But I would say that, you know, if it's, if the strategies or if they irrigation, different irrigation management scenarios are adopted, as you know, not not as a separate entity, but more more on speed given spatial scale, that they might be more effective. Yeah.
My wife grew up on a farm in South Central Kansas. And there were clearly thought and opinion leaders out in the field, that a lot of different producers that would look to them, and in some cases may make them. So I just wondered if that apply, in this case, to my will? Or on the other hand, there were people that no matter what they did, everybody else was going to do the opposite.
And, you know, I mean, there's that, obviously, I've heard it so many times, that people are farmers turn on their center pivots, when they see their neighbor is irrigating. And I mean, I agree that used to happen. But I think especially in areas where water is scarce, like invest in cancers, people are getting smarter about it, you know, nobody turns on their central pivot because their neighbor is, or at least that's my experience to the farmers that I have talked to, don't do that anymore. So
So if all of this research, and it's it's translation, then out into the productions, producers field is wildly successful beyond your wildest imaginings, what would we what would we see what would the outcomes be that you could look at, or point to say.
Well, the long term outcome would be that we would be able to extend the life of our aquifers, or, you know, make it sustainable long term, especially given the future impact of the changing climate and keeping that in mind. So I think the long term significant effect of this research would be definitely to increase the life of our water resources.
Great. And perhaps more than more next generation is a visual staying on the farm of meaning successful.
And, you know, there's another one of my graduate students spent this summer in Garden City. And what we are trying to do now is, as part of the Ogallala watershed, let me backtrack a little bit, what we did was based on the information that we have, from the environmental data, which is your weather data, and then you know, in field observations of plan data, you know, growth in season growth, metrics, like Leaf Area Index, biomass during the season of the crop that you're growing. So based on that, we calibrated our models, and then we studied the irrigation impact. What we are trying to do now is having more infield data, for example, data from soil sensors, data from drones that tells you about crop stress, and disease, and then combination of satellite data. And we have aerial data from a manned aircraft. And they are collecting data and sending those images to us. So you know, combination of all this data, so it's more like a machine learning, artificial intelligence, kind of, so you have your environmental data, you have your infield, in season data, and then you combine everything together to make your decision, I think more informed.
Right as robust as possible.
As robust as possible. So that is the next step that we are taking to hopefully make our models even better. So the results that we have from the calibrated models from what work I have done in the past are great. And the farmers that have adapted those irrigation strategy. So a combination of how much water is available in the ground. So we call it plant available water, and how frequently do you irrigate? That's called irrigation frequency. So the combination of the two is what we were using so far. But with this data set, I think we can add a layer of information to the models.
And I think that would be really interesting to look at. So he's my grad student that's right now working on it, and I look forward to seeing his results. That how are they better? Hopefully better And then what we already have?
Well, you know, I, I hear you say that it's the extension folks that get out and get face to face with producers and sort of make the sale, if you will. Do you feel like you're an advocate? Do you enjoy that process as well? Or is it just a set is that an end of business that you're just not comfortable with, because you sound like a spectacular advocate.
I completely enjoy it. You know, and I think I have come a long way from being a grad student at Auburn to I just love talking to people. So you know, and it's so it's enlightening to you know, hear other people talk about their experiences. And I have no doubt that the farmer who has worked all his life in a field knows more about, you know, the entire management package of growing a crop than I do. But we are all learning from each other. So I really, really appreciate that part of the job, though, I did not get to do much of it this year. But you know, that's something I completely enjoy. And I love when people challenge your science, you know, I love to tell this story that when I was a grad student at Auburn, I went to present my research to farmers and extension agents in a extension meeting. And here is this, you know, five feet tall girl from India, who is new in the country and talking to a group of farmers and extension agents and telling them that climate change is happening. And it's anthropogenic, and we are causing it we humans are causing it, and how it impacts the weather, the day to day weather, as well as what impact does it have on our border availability. And after the present, after my presentation was over, I would say good 65-70 year old, tall, well built farmer approaches me and tells me whatever you presented is all wrong. And you know, climate change is it's been happening forever. We are not causing it. It's a natural phenomena. It's written in the Bible. And you know, and I just gave that my PhD advisor was standing behind me and I kind of gave him a look. And he was like, he gave me the look that you have to handle it. This is part of the training. So I told him, I was like, I respectfully disagree. In my mind, my faith and my science, they run parallel, they cannot merge. So you know, but I, you know, that's part of the job that teaches you so many things and you learn how to how to handle and how to defend your science. So yeah,
As someone who teaches communication, I of course, love that story. I assume that that kind of experience was unique to your extension, training and background. I just wonder how many other scientists would be benefited by having that kind of experience of interacting with the public to present their findings?
Yeah, I completely agree. It's enlightening, you know, you, this is something that you cannot learn by doing research in your lab setting, you know, until and unless. So, you know, when I tell people that I'm a modeler, they're like, you know, she sits in front of a computer and punches numbers, and you know, but then there's that part of it, where you translate that information into tools that the stakeholders can use, and that to me, is, is a really important component. And I think, you know, growing my father has spent all his life in extension, he retired as the additional Director General of extension in Indian Council of agricultural research, which is parallel to USDA here. I should say that I grew up in the middle of it and you know, I grew up hearing about farmers and you know, how they're how research translates into field practices in the end, and that's where it should end. I mean, I love this part of the job, though I do not have an extension appointment.
Sort of the opinion that science regardless of what their research areas would benefit by taking actual formal instruction and how to speak to people that are different than they are. It's not an inborn ability, and it's something that can be at least developed. And it makes a real difference, I think, very can.
I agree, I mean, I was just thinking about, I wonder if there are any ways that you can integrate those kinds of training experiences into any students that you're working with. And if you don't have the extension appointment, it may not be obvious, just a little bit of foreshadowing, we're talking in our department about ways that we can provide opportunities for graduate students across the campus to be able to have just just those kinds of experience, we will be in touch in the future. That's really, really outstanding, the perspective that you think your work?
Yeah, so I Maureen knows about it, that we support my graduate students who were going to come join our research team, but not able to come because of the pandemic, their travel plans changed. And the grad student that I have right now is he's on the BSMS. In our department, we have a BSMS integrated program. So it's essentially a fast track Master's, he really enjoyed. As far as I hear from him, being out in the field and doing the field work, though his idea is to work more in data and in models, but he really appreciated being out in the field, in Garden City. So and that's why I really appreciate the partnership that we have with Dr. Aguilar over at the Southwest Research Station, because I think that's essential to, to what we do.
And the research that you're doing. Is there any of what you're doing this steps into the area of water contamination? Or are you just looking at water availability in in these areas?
I'm not looking into contamination. But that is one thing I want to do. And I, you know, that is one thing that there was there, there was a call for a proposal, I think few, I think a month ago or so. And I scratched my head. And I wanted to look out for a person who is more focused on contamination and water quality parts so that, you know, we can partner together. But that is definitely something there about, there's a lot of work being done in Nebraska, on groundwater contamination and the team that I was part of at the Water Center, a lot of our colleagues that do that work, but I definitely want to bring that work to K State as well. And you know, start looking into it.
Do you mind if we go back to climate change for a little bit in the narrative from back at Auburn? I am really interested to hear you talk about the way that you're integrating lots of different datasets and data into your models, the more information the better, hopefully more robust, more accurate predictions based on models with more information. I know enough about our understanding of climate change and how it will impact rainfall patterns, humidity levels, when it's hot variability, I'm wondering now, how much can we rely on the information that we have about climate in our models in the future? In other words, we've got some predictions about the way things might be changing. But is there enough variability now that we can be less competent our predictions, and therefore that might hinder your models just because of the variability thanks to climate change?
Yes, and my answer to that is to run an ensemble of models, you know, we cannot rely on just one model, just one forcing, and make decisions or make forecasts based on that. So as far as climate variability signals are concerned, for example, I've worked quite a bit on El Nino Southern Oscillation. And so which, you know, the prediction that they're putting out there for next three to six months, is based on I think, 16 or 18 different models, so they run an ensemble of models, and then based on that, they forecast what the answer conditions are likely going to be in next three to six months. So that is, I think the way to go even for crop models. You know, I one of my papers just came out where we use two different models that have just using one so you know, that gives us more confidence. And especially when you're forecasting yield, or when you're, you know, using some historic information to make forecasts. I think ensembles are a really powerful tool that we can use.
Can we can we step over to the grant that you were given the seed grant through the Global Food Systems Initiative and talk a bit about Maybe you can give us a bit of background on what that area of study is, I know that you've had some challenges because of the COVID situation and that type of thing. But I do look forward to seeing, you know, possibly some good information coming. But can you give us a little background on what that was? And there is and where you're going with that study?
Right. And so in that, in the, in the grand that we got working with Dr. Kate Nelson, from Department of Geography, and so she works in spatial, social, you know, setup and sustainability of our more from the demographics side of things. I think, the idea started, we were meeting for another, another, I think it was a USDA call. And you know, when at around the time the GFS call came out, and we were like, you know, we can propose this idea for a smaller time, smaller time period, where we can get our initial data in and set up this vulnerability index. So what was the index? So the background basically, is that we are, we were trying to look at a watershed and the eastern Kansas River Basin, which is a combination of both rural and urban areas. So stepping away from focusing only on agricultural, rural agricultural areas, and take bringing into account urban areas as well. And that's where Dr. Nelson's expertise comes into play as well. So the idea is to look at the watershed, and given and so the phase of research that we are in right now. So we have climate change data for the watershed for the regions. So one of our students has downloaded data from I think we are using two scenarios of climate change. So he has downloaded I think 19 models, and for that area, and we have converted all that data into a format where our models can use it, we have the soils data, so soils information from the area, I think we have, we have identified around 120 major soil groups, so there of course, you know, tons of smaller soil groups, but 120 major soil groups that we are going to use. And then we are focusing on corn and soybean, so two crops for that area. And so the idea is to combine the concept of exposure, exposure here being the climate impacts. So that includes like Colene mentioned, you know, precipitation changes, temporary changes, temperature changes. Another thing that we are going to focus on is the increased frequency of extreme events. Now, those extreme events could be a flood, or it could be a drought. So having a lot of precipitation in a very short timeframe, which can cause floods, and then not having precipitation for an extended period of time, combined with very high temperatures that can lead to drought. So we are also looking at those two extreme events. And then we are looking at adaptive capacity, along with sensitivity. So how sensitive are your rural as well as urban systems to these shocks? And then how can they adapt? So Dr. Nelson's expertise and her students will do the adaptive capacity part, I'm doing the crop suitability part based on the climate shocks. And then we will combine these three components to form an index or that is the idea that can hopefully translate into if we have this climate change information in the future. How can we be prepared depending on this information, so that our rural and urban systems don't feel that at all, they're ready to deal with that shock. So this index will tell us that how vulnerable is a system to these shocks. That is the broad idea behind this proposal.
I'm curious, as I heard you talk about this, I was reminded that
you focused on the Kaw River Valley or the Kansas River Valley as
your area for this pilot study. I'm wondering if that was more
choice of convenience, or if there's something unique about this
watershed? Or is it the watershed because of the flooding issues
and in the worldwide watershed and why this watershed to delimit?
The area of your study?
Right so definitely flooding in the area was one of the drivers we also wanted to look at. So most of the areas invested can't are very rural. So there are not where where agricultural happens, there are not big urban centers. And this watershed, we are looking at Topeka, we are looking at Lawrence, we are looking at the western parts of Kansas City. So we do cover quite a few urban areas and the watershed as well as good bit of ag. So that that was another. So another thing that that, you know, I mentioned that this whole idea started as part of another proposal that we were thinking about. So, in that proposal, there was also a component of groundwater wells. So, this net, this area also has a great network of groundwater wells, that kgs managers, so that was another company or another driver behind choosing this watershed.
No, that makes sense, it reminds me, I talked to enough policymakers to know that there's a common misconception that climate change is an urban problem, and that it will affect urban areas more. So having this kind of vulnerability index, to show relative vulnerabilities between River and urban areas, I think will be really informative, potentially for policy makers. Right. And, you know,
I mean, in look back 10 years, we have seen a lot of extreme events already in this area. So you know, you don't have to ask people to scratch their memory, you know, kind of think about it, Oh, when did we have the last flood or when was the last drought? So you know, it's very recent. So I think that that is definitely front and center, hopefully, in the minds of policymakers as well, that this problem needs to be addressed.
It also occurs to me that you have a new audience to get information out to once you produce this vulnerability index, if it works, right. So farmers are unique lot with their own challenges. But now you have a different public to try and reach. I think that will be an interesting challenge to find ways to get these messages out to municipalities, emerging emergency preparedness directors, senators, just more variability in your audience to more more challenging potentially.
Yes, and interesting.
I really, really, I mean, I'm very interested in and until you started talking about 100 different majors, 120 different major soil groups, I'm like, Oh, yes, sure. The kind of soil that you have will make a big difference in whether or not a massive amount of rainfall will impact that soil group. So fascinating. I'm really curious to know what kind of factors will be included into the social dimension, or the social side of this index. That proposal alludes to things like inequality, I assume a relative age will make a difference to I assume kinds of occupations. But those are all just assumptions. So I'll probably will have to just wait and see. But I am really curious to find out what factors get thrown into the social side of the model.
Right. Right. And you know that I don't, I cannot. It would be unfair to speak on Dr. Nelson's behalf. But she definitely has more information on that
We’ll bring her in next.
Yes, yes. She just came off her maternity leave. So I'm sure she's ready to rock and roll.
There we go. There we go. It's interesting that you brought 120 soil groups in and made me think of the podcast we did last with Dr. Ryan Hansen, who was in chemical engineering. I don't know if you've had the opportunity to meet with him in the past, but he was talking about the number of microorganisms in a gram of soil. I believe it was in the vicinity of a billion 120 different groupings of soils. And you take all of those groupings and multiply that by the number of different microorganism groupings that are going to be developing in different areas in different parts. It's amazingly complex.
Yes. And these are just major soil groups. You know, I mean, within, you know, within that soil group, there are like, so many different soils. So, sure, yes.
We've got a lot to learn, I think.
Yes, we do.
That's, that's fascinating, big, hard question. That was probably in the end, but I'll go ahead and lay this on, you know, we can maybe struggle with other I, it's, it really is appropriate because we've talked so much about science communication and getting you know, applicable findings out to different kinds of public's both private decision makers as well as potentially policy decision makers. I, I really, I found your work about aquifer stabilization to be particularly delicate because because I spent about four months traveling around Kansas in 2014, at a series of public meetings about water, and heard lots of different people talk about, you know, in rather conflictual ways about what do we do about the decline in the Ogallala Aquifer. And amongst the many different things that I heard from community members and farmers and extension experts, a common refrain I've heard, especially from the general public, the the interested but general public was, we shouldn't be growing corn in western Kansas until as farmers figure out that we can't grow corn in western Kansas, we're never going to solve this problem. And as I read some of your work, I was really struck by the property and how problematic that might be. I mean, I can I can appreciate the sentiment. But given the your work to try and maximize yields for farmers without depleting water resources, how would you respond to a concerned citizen who said something like that to do? We've got to stop growing sports planes, or we've got to stop growing?
Yeah, that is a hard question. I mean, again, it as I, as I said, when we were first talking about compromising yield, by cutting down irrigation, you know, it's hard to convince anybody to give up their income, you know, and cutting down areas. I actually met a farmer, I think, earlier this year in one of the meetings at Garden City, and he said that they went from irrigated corn to dryland corn, and they're actually making more money, because they're not spending as much money on inputs. So, you know, there, there is a way around that, I hope and, but it's hard to we actually, we did a paper earlier this year on transitioning from irrigated to dry land, as well as to pasture. So you know, just completely changing to a pasture. I was part of that group. And Dr. Bill golden, who's an economist here at K State, he had some very interesting, you know, observations in that paper, so that I can forward you that paper if you want to read it. But I agree that there is. I don't think we have to completely give up growing corn. But we have to come up with strategies, where it's not as hard as it is now on the natural resources.
Very fair. Yeah. Well, and I, your point that, you know that back to something you said earlier about, farmers have a great deal of experience, you know, on the ground in their particular area, they're going to be in a much better positioned to make those kinds of decisions, at least on their own farms. And I know from a farmer's perspective, that's the fear is that someone will make that decision for them. Right. So we could talk for another hour about where that responsibility lies, and who should be making that decision. But I appreciate that you're doing research, not just on how to maximize profits by minimizing inputs, but on potentially completely different ways of farming or different crops?
That's an interesting feed into something that's been floating in my head. And I'm not sure I know how to ask this question. But when you talk about different crops being grown, do you feel that there's potential for crops that aren't normally grown in these areas? And I'm thinking in terms of, you know, we've got a lot of work in the Olathe campus done on small and urban farming on smaller farming enterprises in some of the rural areas where, you know, there's there's less demand on water, they may be more water consuming crops in vegetables or fruits or whatever it might be in smaller quantities. But the very large scale demand, isn't there. Do you see any, any potential in that kind of thing growing, becoming a larger enterprise in western Kansas? Or is it just a niche that's going to be a niche forever in the state?
Yeah, I think so. I, you know, diversification is it's great. But you know, for a farmer or for a farming enterprise that has been growing corn for generations. And you know, sometimes the farmer will come to you and say that this is what I know how to do. You know, so there's that fear of diversification and what will happen, so I think it will will require a combined effort not just on the bait on the on the part of farmers and scientists, but also policies that support that, you know, I don't know if that that could be some kind of subsidies, some kind of tax credits, you know that I mean, that's not my area, and I shouldn't speak to that. But there has to be some sort of incentive where that risk is covered, I guess, you know, of trying something new and what will happen thereafter? There is a farmer in the Lawrence area, and he exclusively grows organic wheat. And, and he also has a vegetable farm and he is very successful. But did he tried, like, did he transition his land from corn? No, that's where he started. He is young, he's probably 10 years younger than me. And he's doing great. He's so innovative. But you know, because he did not have that traditional. He did not grow up on a farm that was growing corn or wheat. He started this new thing that appealed to him. And it's working great. He sells to Whole Foods in Kansas City, you know, so he has that niche more like you said, you know, it's that niche market that appeals to certain people, but not everybody.
I want to thank you very much for your time. And this was really, really an enjoyable conversation. I very much enjoyed it.
I really enjoy it definitely been my experience. I love that
conversation. Thank you for it.
Thank you this, I did not expect it, we'd be able to talk so much about the very people that we're all here to serve right, Kansas, Kansas farmers, the next generation of Kansas who's going to have to live with or without an aquifer. So I think that's really been fascinating and really interesting, as well as the way that you're improving your research by including new information in your models all the time. I think that's really fascinating. So thanks. Thanks for taking time to share it with us.
Thank you very much Vaishali.
Thank you, Maureen.
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Our music was adapted from Dr. Wayne Goins’s album Chronicles of Carmela. Special thanks to him for providing that to us. Something to Chew On is produced by the Office of Research Development at Kansas State University.