Dr. Sanjay Shukla
Sanjay Shukla is a professor in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department working at IFAS's Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, Florida. Shukla's primary interest is water quality and supply issues, and his location in Immokalee puts him in the center of one of the most delicately balanced environments of the country, South Florida. Shukla's many projects look at managing water and nutrient discharges from the agricultural and ranching operations in terms of how to conserve water and reduce the nutrient loads to the Northern Everglades region that contain the Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
The high demands on South Florida's available water, the re-engineering of the region on massive scale, and the high levels of nutrients flowing into the system have contributed to a gradual environmental degradation of the region. Too much and too little summarize south Florida woes. The region experiences water extremes caused by periodic droughts and tropical storms/hurricanes. These extremes combined with massive drainage of the region have forced a re-examination of every aspect of management in the region.
Shukla's research plays a vital role in finding a sustainable path for this coexistence. The key issue that Shukla must address is the nutrients, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), that are collected from agricultural lands by rain and irrigation water and carried throughout the watershed. These elements are essential plant nutrients, and as fertilizers, are important to local farming. They are also introduced by the animal wastes produced on South Florida's extensive ranch lands.
An important way of reducing N and P discharges is through a program called Best Management Practices, or BMPs. These are practical, science-based recommendations that agricultural producers can use to minimize the loss of agricultural chemicals by managing the water and fertilizers inputs as well as managing their discharge to the environment.
Shukla is working on a long-term evaluation of the effectiveness of BMPs on Florida's cattle ranches. Shukla has paid special attention to fencing BMP and a BMP involving increasing the on-ranch storage by storing water in the ditches and isolated wetlands. Wetlands slow down the movement of nutrient laden water on its way to water bodies, and they are rich with plant life which can use up excess nutrients. The study indicates that these methods can reduce P discharges, and study continues in order to understand how these recommendations work in different settings. A key to the effectiveness of BMPs is that they are matched to individual situations rather than taking a "one size fits all" approach.
Shukla is excited about what he describes as a novel approach to ecosystem restoration through a program called Payment for Ecosystem (or Environmental) Services, PES. Reimbursing producers for ecosystem services has many positive aspects. By explicitly valuing the ecological contribution of land, landowners have another option in how to use land. PES gives landowners and those who benefit from their land, a more exact understanding of what is gained when natural systems are preserved or restored. PES gives producers a positive role as preservers of the environment. The success of PES depends on determining how much service a landowner provides and what it is worth. Shukla is part of a muliti-institutional project led by the World Wildlife Fund to accomplish this.
Another area of Shukla’s research program is specifically targeted towards quantifying the effects of BMPs for the row crops such as vegetable and sugarcane in saving water and reducing the nutrient losses from the farm. Among several crops in south Florida, nutrient losses from vegetable crops are highest because of its intensive operation.
While many of Shukla's projects look at nutrient discharges, he is also interested in water use. Agriculture is a major user of water in South Florida, and the limited regional water supply must be managed to meet the needs of both extensive agricultural operations and the cities and towns of the area. In recent decades, water conflicts and water shortages have become major issues in several regions of Florida, and these issues have been made more complex by recurrent droughts. Producers need more information about the precise water needs of the crops they grow.
Research and Extension
- Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) for water conservation and water quality improvements and water-related ecosystem services from agriculture
- Hydrological processes under shallow water table conditions
- Field- and watershed-scale hydrologic/water quality modeling
- Irrigation and drainage management