By Debra Davis
Providing farmers information from digital technologies to make better decisions has become the life work of Dr. Brenda Ortiz, professor and Extension specialist in Auburn University’s (AU) Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department.
Her work with farmers across the state earned Ortiz the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Rittenour Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Research. As the winner, Ortiz receives $10,000 from the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation to fund graduate students or research operations.
Jim Lewey of Carr Farms in Geneva County, who grows row crops, turfgrass, cattle and hemp, nominated Ortiz for the award.
“Dr. Ortiz puts a lot of effort into everything she does, and she cares about her work,” Lewey said. “We’ve adjusted irrigation schedules based on her research and recommendations, which make us more efficient, saves water and increases yields.
“The soil sensors we installed (recommended by Ortiz) help us know where we need water and how much water we need at various times during the plants’ growth,” he added. “That’s helped us make better decisions that affect our yields and ultimately have a positive economic impact on our farm.”
Ortiz leads AU’s Precision Agriculture Research and Extension program focused on evaluation, demonstration, and training on the use of digital technologies in agriculture. Current efforts concentrate on evaluating and demonstrating technologies such as sensors, controls and telematics for precision irrigation and precision planting.
Ortiz also leads a nationally funded Natural Resources Conservation Service project aimed at increasing adoption of best irrigation practices among Alabama farmers.
A Colombia native, 47-year-old Ortiz credits her work ethic, perseverance and determination to her parents and many mentors. She said being honored by the farmers she serves honors those who encouraged her.
“This award is really recognition of my program and what we do as a team,” Ortiz said, referring to the students and post-graduate students on her research and Extension team. “I want to motivate my team to learn applications of digital agriculture and show them the importance of the commitment that’s necessary to do good work.
“I believe if we want to increase food production in the world, we need environmental sustainability and profitability. We need to look for those solutions working hand in hand with the farmers.”
Ortiz said there is a lot of value in work done on campus and in the classroom — but believes working on the farm in real situations increases the opportunities for adoption of science-based solutions is best.
“The trust and respect farmers have shown Dr. Ortiz reflects the positive impact her research and Extension work has had on farms across the state,” said the Federation’s Carla Hornady, director of the organization’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grain divisions.
Ortiz said the award confirms her acceptance by farmers.
“When I came to the U.S. in 2004, I had worked with farmers, scientists, engineers and leaders in the sugar cane industry in Colombia,” she said. “When I came here, I had to prove myself again. I have been at Auburn University for 13 years, and the feeling of being recognized by the farmers and knowing they value what I do is more important than anything.”