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OSU irrigation specialist has a passion for learning

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

After obtaining his doctorate in agronomy and crop sciences from Texas A&M University, Sumit Sharma, Oklahoma State University’s assistant Extension specialist for irrigation and water management, returned to his former U.S. alma mater to work at the Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center. 


What makes Sharma’s work here so important?


Water … or sometimes, the lack of it.


Western Oklahoma is a semi-arid region, but it is also a highly active farming area, which relies heavily on irrigation due to the uncertainty of rainfall. 


“But the irrigation resources are also limited. For example, the Ogallala Aquifer in the Panhandle is a finite source of water that has declined over time,” Sharma said. “In order to sustain the aquifer and to increase its life, we must keep exploring irrigation management strategies and technologies, focusing on water conservation and irrigation efficiency while improving farm incomes.”


Sharma obtained a bachelor’s degree in soil sciences at Punjab Agricultural University in India where he grew up. He also obtained his master’s degree in plant and soil sciences at OSU.


His work specializes in irrigation management and strategies in the Oklahoma panhandle region, and as part of his Extension appointment, he manages the Oklahoma Master Irrigator Program, along with other faculty from the OSU Departments of Plant and Soil Sciences and Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.


The Master Irrigator Program provides ag producers with advanced training on irrigation water management, irrigation system and equipment maintenance, energy conservation, water conservation, and quality and economics of irrigated agriculture. So far, the program has been hosted once in the Panhandle and once in the southwest region with 37 participants graduating, which represented nearly 80,000 Oklahoma acres. With help from the mobile irrigation laboratory of the BAE department, the program has also conducted well audits and irrigation uniformity tests for producers who graduated from the program. 


Sharma’s research involves numerous projects related to irrigation, cover crops and product testing and includes the following:


  • Evaluation of long-term economic and environmental viability of cotton as a rotational crop in the High Plains region
  • Evaluating adaptability of summer and winter cover crops in dryland and irrigated cropping systems
  • Corn hybrid response to irrigation and planting population rates
  • Corn hybrid trials in the panhandle   


“My future plans are to continue engaging with our clientele for expanding and evolving the Oklahoma Master Irrigator Program,” Sharma said. “I also want to improve the irrigation efficiency and adjusting agronomics for production of conventional cropping systems with less water and explore low water demanding alternative crops for the Oklahoma Panhandle and High Plains regions.”


Sharma said working with agricultural producers works two ways for him.


“I tell them what I know, and I learn from what they know. This is important because our clientele are our eyes and boots on the ground, which helps me with my professional growth,” Sharma said.


In his free time, Sharma likes to dabble in astronomy and is a member of a philosophy club in Guymon. He has also hiked nearly 14,000-foot peaks in the Rockies and Himalayas, and he speaks three languages. His favorite part about working at OSU is his colleagues and the support he receives from them.


“The passion of serving a community among my peers keeps my head in the right place and my motivation high,” he said. 

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