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Undergraduate research scholar presents at State Capitol

Friday, April 29, 2022

Rio Bonham discusses research


Rio Bonham, a junior biosystems engineering student, presented his research in agricultural water conservation to state legislators and guests at the 27th annual Research Day at the Capitol.


Bonham’s goal for his project, titled “Effectiveness of Soil Moisture Sensors to Improve Irrigation Management,” was to determine if readily available equipment could help producers conserve water by accurately displaying the soil’s water content.


“We set out to make the sensor technology more implementable for producers,” Bonham said. “The less a producer has to guess when to irrigate, the less they have to waste water and money.”


During his presentation, Bonham cited that irrigating agricultural crops is the largest user of fresh water in Oklahoma. He also said that demand for water is expected to grow in coming decades. Despite prolonged droughts in the state, a recent survey reported that only five percent of Oklahoma’s irrigated land is managed using soil moisture sensors.


Bonham’s objective was to fine-tune the data collection process, thus making the technology more accessible to producers who have not yet adopted the technology.


Data was collected during the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons in the west-central, southwest and panhandle regions of Oklahoma.


“We found that the sensors were very accurate, especially in ideal soil types,” Bonham said. “However, as you move into more problematic soil types, site-specific calibrations were needed to achieve accurate results.


“We found that we could significantly reduce the error margin. It’s not zero, but every installation is different,” he continued.


Bonham said he was thankful for the experience to highlight emerging innovations in the agricultural industry during the competition.


“This project was a way for me to use the knowledge I’ve gained in my major and apply it to a real-world problem that producers are facing,” Bonham said. “There’s a tangible outcome that can make it easier for producers to be more sustainable in their water consumption.”


Dr. Karen Hickman, director of undergraduate research, said that undergraduate research like Bonham’s is an integral part of the land grant mission.


“By getting the opportunity to work in the lab or out in the field and conducting research themselves, students gain a sense of ownership for their education,” Hickman said.


The Ferguson College of Agriculture currently has more than 75 undergraduate research scholars that partner with faculty and post-graduate students to develop research projects and evaluate collected data.


“Having a student present at an event like Research Day at the Capitol really highlights all that students can do in the college,” Hickman said. “It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the real-life impact of our student’s research.”

Story By: Hunter Gibson

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