Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

World Food Prize laureate delivers seminar to UMass students

(Christian Yapor/Daily Collegian)
(Christian Yapor/Daily Collegian)

A crowd of almost 100 University of Massachusetts students and faculty members met in the Integrated Science Building last Thursday to listen to a seminar by Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli hydrologist and soil scientist who was awarded the 2012 World Food Prize.

Hillel spoke about the importance of sustainable water usage during agricultural irrigation.

“Irrigation is the practice of supplying water artificially to enable crop production to regions that are arid, as well as to enhance production to regions that are semi-arid,” Hillel said. “The promise of irrigation is great, it can literally make the deserts bloom, but so are its potential problems.”

During his lecture, Hillel emphasized that if people are not careful about the amount of water they use during irrigation, they could lose a lot of this valuable resource.

“Experience leaves me to believe that the problem lies in mismanagement, what is at fault is the unmeasured and frequently excessive application of water to the land with little regard to the real cost of water, in contrast to its arbitrary price which is frequently set too low,” he said. In order to demonstrate his idea of using water efficiently, Hillel introduced the term, “drip trickle irrigation.”

“Drip trickle irrigation is the idea of applying water, not by flooding the land, but by dripping the water one drop at a time,” Hillel said. “It is like spoon-feeding a baby, not by gorging the child, but by responding to need.”

Hillel also spoke about the dangers of under-watering and over-watering crops.

“Applying insufficient water is an obvious waste as it fails to satisfy crop needs, while applying excessive water can be still more harmful, as it tends to impede soil aeration, leach nutrients, increase evaporation, raise the water table, induces salinization and multiply the cost and burden of drainage,” he said.

Bradford Devins, a graduate student studying environmental and water resources engineering at UMass, said that Hillel’s lecture highlighted information that the general public lacks.

“I think (Hillel) is definitely a visionary and knows many facts the public doesn’t know about the importance of water, and how a change in climate can affect our natural resources,” Devins said. “I think it’s great that he was here and that he can highlight the fact that water is becoming a scarce resources and that nearly all biological life requires water to live and to sustain.”

“I thought the talk was very interesting and to the point,” said Lyle Craker, professor in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. “He certainly emphasizes one of the problems we have in the world. We all know that water is important and we are aware that it is necessary for crop production, and necessary for a lot of things.”

Prasanta Bhowmik, a professor in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, said he’s known Hillel since 1981 and has attended his previous lectures and presentations.

“He has been invited all over the world, talking about soil, water and the environment,” Bhowmik said. “He has been a key world personnel for talking about climate change and how water and soil could be a major factor for the future generation to come.”

Stephen Herbert, another professor in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, said, “Indeed, water is the first thing we will run out of, and the first thing we will die from a lack of.”

Hillel emphasized that water is “literally the essence of life” and that society must apply the benefits of science to lessen the plight of poverty in semi-arid regions.

“With population growth and the pressure to improve living standards, and to provide food security everywhere, there is a tendency to expand irrigation wherever possible,” Hillel said. “However, the future of irrigation is threatened by the constraints of dwindling water supplies, global warming, waterlogging and salinization.”

Hillel added, “The sustainability of irrigation and of agriculture in general can never be and should never be taken for granted.”

Christian Yapor can be reached at [email protected].

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    David AronsOct 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for writing this article about this esteemed Israeli hydrologist and soil scientist who has done so much to help promote agriculture, especially in developing nations. It is not well known that Israel, a very small country with limited natural resources, is playing a large role in assisting many nations in feeding their own populations.