Sustainable Crop/Livestock Systems in the Texas High Plains

Final Report for LS97-082

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $222,125.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $269,369.00
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Vivien Allen
Texas Tech University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Texas High Plains agriculture has used irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer at rates that have exceeded recharge for many years. Over 20% of the cotton and about 25% of U.S. beef cattle are found here. Agricultural practices of the past are changing as water for irrigation declines, energy costs escalate, and farm programs are being challenged. Alternative strategies that are less destructive of natural resources including water, soil, and air but that can maintain a viable level of economic profitability are essential if the Southern High Plains remain viable for agriculture. Our research, made possible by the SARE program, addresses these issues. In phase 1 (1998-2002), grazing stocker steers on perennial old world bluestem pastures and small grains in rotation with cotton required 23% less irrigation water, 40% less nitrogen fertilizer, and resulted in higher net cash returns/acre, than growing cotton in monoculture at production levels achieved and under these experimental conditions. Additional benefits to integrating crop and livestock production have included improved soil microbial and enzymatic activity and soil organic carbon, reduced soil erosion to below levels targeted for sustainable resource management, and diversification of income to reduce economic risk. Results of the first 5 years are published (Agronomy Journal 97:556-567; Soil Science Society of America Journal 68:1875-1884). These systems are continuing and have completed two additional years in which several production strategies were revised to reflect changes in practices on the High Plains. Cotton yields in both systems have increased. With this increase, profitability has shifted in favor of cotton production but irrigated water use continues to be 25 to 50% lower in the integrated system. Additional changes are now being implemented in cattle management. Economic return per unit of irrigation water invested is greater for the integrated system than for the cotton monoculture in every year.

Phase 2, funded in 2002, added an integrated dryland perennial native grass/warm-season annual grass/cotton system and two irrigated perennial warm-season grass systems. These systems required complete establishment of crops, installation of a well, construction of the irrigation system, and fencing for the entire project area. Additional funding was obtained to cover these initial costs. The dryland system was completed and began its first year in 2004. Establishment of the remaining two irrigated forage-livestock systems were completed during 2004 and they were initiated in 2005. These systems will be tested along with the initial Phase I systems over the next several years.

An Advisory Board composed of area leaders representing business, industry, and agriculture oversee this project and provides recommendations. Four graduate students have completed their degrees (2 MS and 2 Ph.D). Two additional Ph.D. students will complete their degrees in 2005. Results of this project are being disseminated through educational programs, field days, technical, peer-reviewed, and popular articles, peer-reviewed papers at professional conferences, radio, television, web-based information, an integrated youth curriculum, and numerous talks to diverse groups.

In 2004, information generated from this project was the basis in obtaining a $6.2 million grant from the Texas Water Development Board to test these concepts in an on-farm Demonstration Project. Twenty-six producer sites in Hale and Floyd Counties have been identified and are being equipped to monitor total water use (irrigation plus precipitation), water use efficiency (including soil water depletion), productivity of crops and livestock, economic profitability and other measures to allow evaluation of a diverse approach to water conservation strategies. These 26 sites represent the range of systems from high, moderate and low-input crop monocultures (primarily cotton), crop rotations, and integrated crop and livestock systems. They include both irrigated and dryland systems. This 8-year project will allow evaluation and testing of a wide array of approaches to conservation of water, soil, and other natural resources while evaluating their ability to maintain profitability and rural economies. This large project has a primary focus on water conservation, economic evaluation and with extension and adoption of information on a broad scale. This project takes our research to the next level of scientific discovery and adoption of practices and would not have been possible without the long-term systems research made possible through the USDA-SARE program.

Project Objectives:

The overall objective is to develop environmentally sustainable and economically feasible crop/forage/beef cattle systems that will assure the viability of agricultural activities in the Texas High Plains while protecting its natural resources and putting this knowledge into practice.

Specific objectives are:

1. To compare the productivity, profitability, input requirements, and impact on natural resources of three replicated, field-scale forage systems for stocker steers with our existing comparisons of a cotton monoculture and an integrated cotton/forage/livestock system.

2. To disseminate information and provide educational opportunities through graduate student research, workshops, field-days, grazing schools, publications, electronic media, meetings, and student participation.

3. To involve local producers and industry in identifying researchable needs, in developing and testing systems of production, in the development of more effective dissemination of information to end users, and enhanced adoption of new technologies.

4. To link this research with systems research in other ecoregions to increase the base of knowledge and understanding of the principles that apply to agricultural systems.

 

  • To compare productivity, profitability, and impact on natural resources of continuous cotton systems, all forage-livestock systems, and an integrated cotton-forage/livestock system.

 

  • To involve local producers and industry in identifying researchable needs, in developing and testing systems of production, in the development of more effective dissemination of information to end users, and enhanced adoption of new technologies.

 

  • To link this research with sustainable systems research in other ecoregions to increase the base of knowledge and understanding of the principles that apply to integrated systems.

 

Introduction:

The Texas High Plains generates a combined annual economic value of crops and livestock that exceeds $5.6 billion ($1.1 crops; $4.5 livestock; TASS, 2002) but is highly dependent on water from the Ogallala aquifer. Ground water supplies are declining while costs of energy required to pump water are escalating. This region is widely known for its fragile soil resources and susceptibility to wind erosion. With dependence on irrigated monoculture cropping practices and separation of crop and livestock industries, soil quality is declining. Diversified systems that include both crops and livestock have long been known for complimentary effects that increase productivity (Krall and Schuman, 1996; Cutforth et al., 2001) and to contribute to conservation of natural resources (Allen et al., 2005).

In 1998, large-scale systems research funded primarily by the USDA-SARE program, began comparison of 1) a cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L) monoculture; and 2) an integrated system that included cotton in rotation with small grains for grazing by stocker steers and a perennial warm-season grass for grazing and seed production (Allen et al., 2005). Over 5 years, the integrated system used 23% less irrigation water, 40% less N fertilizer, and fewer other chemical inputs than the monoculture cotton. Profitability was 90% greater for the integrated system with a 90 m pumping depth for irrigation water.

For sustainable resource management, erosion rates of soil should not exceed 5 ton a-1 yr-1. Predicted wind and water erosion in the continuous cotton system exceeded 8.5 ton a-1 yr-1 but was less than 3.1 ton a-1 yr-1 for cotton in the integrated system and was less than 0.22 ton a-1 yr-1 for the perennial pasture (Collins, 2003). Furthermore, soil (0 to 5 cm) microbial biomass C and N and enzyme activities were enhanced in perennial pastures and in the rotation depending on crop sampled, compared with cotton grown in monoculture (Acosta-Martinez et al., 2004).

Recently, Zobeck and Acosta-Martinez (2005) reported that no-till cotton fields had about the same water infiltration rate, selected enzyme activities, aggregate stability, organic carbon, and particulate organic matter as grassland in the Conservation Reserve Program in the Texas High Plains. Conventionally tilled dryland cotton fields had lower levels of all properties with the exception of water infiltration rate, aggregate stability, and particulate organic matter, which were the same as the other cropped fields. This research suggests that integrating crop rotations and grazing lands into cropping systems can allow continued crop production with less negative impact on soil, water, and air resources.

Clearly, there are multiple benefits to be gained by an integrated approach to agriculture that includes both grazing lands and crop lands. Our long-term systems research, begun initially in 1998 with a grant from the USDA-SARE program and expanded to include dryland systems and all forage-livestock systems in 2002 is addressing some of the most critical issues in the Texas High Plains today. Answers derived from this and other research have implications far beyond the Texas High Plains and will help to provide answers to sustaining agricultural productivity while minimizing negative impacts on our natural resources.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • John Abernathy
  • Carlton Britton
  • Kyle Brock
  • Philip Brown
  • Monty Dollar
  • Peter Dotray
  • Jim Doucette
  • Cary Green
  • Monty Henson
  • Norman Hopper
  • Rick Kellison
  • Phillip Kidd
  • Dan Krieg
  • Robert Lascano
  • Ted McCollum
  • Robert Mitchell
  • Kevin Pond
  • Curtis Preston
  • Eduardo Segarra
  • Terry Wheeler
  • Wayne Wyatt (deceased)

Research

Materials and methods:

Our approach included 1) research; 2) linkages with other systems research; 3) partnerships with producers, industry, and the community; and 4) education and outreach.

1) Research Component. This replicated farm-scale research is conducted at the Texas Tech Field Research Laboratory, New Deal, Texas, contiguous with the initial phase of the research. Each system is replicated three times in a complete randomized block design. Stocking rates are based on the carrying capacity of the system. For each grazing system, stocker steers (initial weight 500 to 550 lbs) are purchased in Jan. and are sent to the feedyard when they reach target weights of 800 to 900 lbs.

System 1. This non-irrigated three-paddock system uses a base pasture of buffalograss/bluegrama/sideoats grama. In paddocks 2 and 3, cotton and foxtail millet are rotated annually. Steers graze native grasses and the summer annual grass.

System 2. This irrigated three-paddock system uses Dahl bluestem in the base pasture with bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) in paddocks 2 and 3. Steers graze stockpiled Dahl bluestem and bermudagrass during winter supplemented with hay if needed. As bluestem and bermudagrass begin spring growth, steers sequentially graze these forages. Excess growth of bermudagrass will be harvested for hay. Seed is harvested from bluestem in October.

System 3. This system is a hay harvest system. Forages in System 2 are harvested as hay rather than grazed to compare economics of hay production vs. grazing and the impact on stand longevity, weed encroachment, soil compaction, and nutrient management.

Plant nutrients and pesticides are based on recommendations by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Integrated Pest Management Specialists. Within each system, plant and animal production is measured. Inputs of precipitation, irrigation water, fertilizers, pesticides, seed, labor, mechanical, and energy inputs are recorded. Effects of grazing vs. no grazing on soil and plant characteristics are measured. Systems effects on total inputs, product yield and quality, profitability, and impact on natural resources are recorded.

Economic analysis. Economic budgets, that document variable and fixed costs of production as well as net revenues, are developed for each of the four systems. This economic information is used to construct representative farm optimization models for the Southern High Plains. In particular, quadratic programing representative farm models which allow the assessment of risk related factors are formulated. Irrigated and dryland crop production alternatives, including feasible livestock production possibilities within the crop production alternatives, are included in optimization models. The impact of farm government program participation on both farm planning and on the sustainability of agricultural activities in the Southern High Plains are being analyzed.

Advisory Board. An Advisory Board composed of producers, industry members, educators, representatives of the media, and other community leaders provides oversight and advisement to insure that the project meets its objectives, helps define future researchable needs, increases public awareness of the challenges and opportunities of agriculture, and helps transfer of information to end users.

Research results and discussion:

Phase 1 of the research that compared a conventional cotton monoculture system with an integrated cotton/forage/livestock system for stocker steers has completed 7 years. Manuscript on the first 5 years of results have been published (Acosta-Martinez et al., 2004; Allen et al., 2005). Results were reported in the final report of “Sustainable Crop/Livestock Systems in the Texas High Plains” Project Number LS97-82. Year 8 of this research is in progress.

This research is now the benchmark for comparison with the three new systems in the current project as Phase II.

Work was initiated on Phase 2 immediately after notification of the grant award in April 2002. Perennial dryland pastures were planted in early summer of 2002. The dryland system is completed and began with entry of cattle in May of 2004. The dryland cotton was harvested in November 2004. Establishment of the irrigated pastures was completed during 2004 and cattle entered these systems in January of 2005 for the first time. With the beginning of the 2005 year, all systems on Phase II are now in place and data collection has begun.

An Advisory Council, an integral part of Objective 3, was formed and is functioning well with meetings held about 3 to 4 times each year. This Council has been active in assisting in raising of additional funds in support of the research, evaluating the effectiveness of the research and outreach components, and participating in decisions regarding additional research efforts. They bring an invaluable perspective and ‘reality check’ to this research and education program.

Over $1 million dollars have been raised from additional sources in direct support of the research and education program funded by the USDA-SARE program.

Because of the success of this research and the potential use of information that it is generating, we were successful in obtaining a $6.2 million grant from the Texas Water Development Board to initiate a Water Conservation Demonstration Project in Hale and Floyd Counties. This project will include 26 producer sites including over 4,000 acres that will provide the opportunity to monitor the impact of integrated vs monoculture cropping and livestock systems over the next 8 years. This is an unprecedented chance to link research and outreach/demonstration in partnership with the communities, industries, government agencies, and universities in finding solutions to the economic and environmental challenges of agriculture in the Texas High Plains.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Publications and outreach efforts have been generated that extend this information to a broad audience and different formats for publication and outreach are being utilized as follows: Educational materials Jones, K., Compton, K., Heinemann, K., & Baker, M. (2005). Sustainable agriculture in the Southern High Plains. Available Internet: www.aged.ttu.edu (see link to CATT). Websites: http://www.aged.ttu.edu (see link to CATT). http://www.orgs.ttu.edu/forageresearch/Sustainable.htm Radio: Status and results of this project have been reported on local radio talk shows at least 5 times during the years of this project. These include the agricultural show on Station KRFE and Fox Talk Radio. Field Days: Six annual field days have been held at the research site with attendance ranging from 100 to 300 individuals. Participants are provided with an annual ‘Field Day Report’, tours of the project, opportunities for questions and discussion and are provided with dinner at the ‘chuck wagon’. Field day reports have been published for years 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Example: 6th Annual Field Tour of an Integrated Crop/Forage/Livestock Systems Approach for the Texas High Plains. 2004. Project summaries and other related research studies. Texas Tech University, Lubbock. (Copy is attached) Thesis and dissertation: Collins, J. 2003. Agricultural phosphorus in an integrated crop/livestock system in the Texas High Plains. M.S. Thesis. Dept. Plant Soil Sci., Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock. Jones, Kelly. 2003. Attitudinal Variability Among Southern High Plains Cotton Producers Toward Integrated Crop/Livestock Systems. M.S. Thesis. Dept. Agricultural Ed. and Commun., Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock. Philipp, Dirk. 2004. Water use efficiency and nutritive value of three Old World bluestems (Bothriochloa spp.). Ph.D. Dissertation. Depart. Plant Soil Sci., Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock. Marsalis, Mark A. 2004. Adaption of forage bermudagrasses [Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.] to the Texas High Plains grown under saline and limited irrigation conditions. Ph.D. Dissertation, Depart. Plant Soil Sci. Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Duch, Teresa C. 2005. Ecological and management implications of WW-B. Dahl Old World bluestem in integrated crop/livestock systems. Ph.D. Dissertation. Depart. Plant Soil Sci., Texas Tech University, Lubbock. (Aug. Graduation). Cradduck, Will. 2005. Persistence, nutritive value, and effect of grazing selected cool and warm season grasses for the Southern Great Plains. Ph.D. Dissertation. Dept. Plant Soil Sci.. Texas Tech University. (Aug. Graduation). Journal Articals. Acosta-Martinez, V., T. M. Zobeck, and V. Allen. 2004. Soil microbial, chemical and physical properties in continuous cotton and integrated crop-livestock systems. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 68:1875-1884. Allen, V. G, C. P. Brown, R. Kellison, E. Segarra, T. Wheeler, P. A. Dotray, J. C. Conkwright, C. J. Green, and V. Acosta-Martinez. 2004. Integrating Cotton and Beef Production to Reduce Water Withdrawal from the Ogallala Aquifer in the Southern High Plains. Agron. J. 97:556-567. Proceedings papers: Allen, V. G. 2001. Improving livestock production through integrated soil-crop-livestock systems. p. 11-19. In: Prospects of Grassland Science and Industry for the 21st century. International Conference on Grassland Science and Industry. Jul. 17-20, 2001. China Association Agricultural Science Society and the Chinese Grassland Society Hailar, Inner Mongolia. Jones, K., Kistler, M., Baker, M., and Doerfert, D. 2004. Attitudinal variability of southern high plains cotton producers toward integrated crop/livestock systems. Proceedings of the 2004 Western Agricultural Education Research Conference, Honolulu, HI. Kistler, M., Jones, K., Baker, M. T., & Doerfert, D. L. (2004). Attitudinal variability among Southern High Plains cotton producers toward integrated crop/livestock systems. Proceedings of the 2004 High Plains Groundwater Resources: Challenges and Opportunities Conference, Lubbock, TX. Kistler, M., Jones, K. Baker, M., and Doerfert. D. 2005. Attitudinal variability of southern high plains cotton producers toward integrated crop/livestock systems. Proceedings of the 2005 Association for International Agriculture and Extension Education Conference, San Antonio, TX. CD Rom Philip, D., V. G. Allen, and C. P. Brown. 2003. Water use efficiency and forage nutritive value of three old world bluestem species grown in the southern High Plains. In: Annual Meeting Abstracts ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI. Marsalis, M. A., V. G. Allen, C. J. Green, and C. P. Brown. 2003. Water stress and salinity effects on yield and quality of irrigated bermudagrasses. In: Annual Meeting Abstracts. ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI. Duch-Carvallo, T., E. Segarra, V. G. Allen, and C. P. Brown. 2003. Economic sustainability of an integrated cotton-forage-livestock production system. In: Annual Meeting Abstracts. ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI. Collins, J. L., V. G. Allen, C. J. Green, and C. P. Brown. 2003. Agricultural phosphorus in an integrated sustainable crop/livestock system in the Texas High Plains. In: Annual Meeting Abstracts. ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI. Popular articles: Calloway, Sarah. 2002. The alternative way of farming. The Agriculturist. Texas Tech Univ. Vol. 33, No. 1, p 4-5. Wolfshohl, Karl. 2003. A change for the plains. Progressive Farmer. Vol. 118; No. 8. Cotton -2. Talks and seminars: Allen, V. G. 1999. Developing sustainable forage livestock systems for the southern High Plains. Floyd County Ag Tour Field Day. Lockney, TX. Sep. Allen, V. G. 2000. ‘WW-B. Dahl’ Old World Bluestem in sustainable crop/livestock systems in the Texas High Plains. Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Lubbock, TX. Oct. Allen, V. G. 2001. Sustainable crop/livestock systems in the Texas High Plains. South Plains Ag Conference and Trade Show. Brownfield, TX. Jan. Allen, V. G. 2001. Forages for designing sustainable systems. Texas Seed Trade Association. Dallas, TX. Jan. Allen, V. G. 2001. New agricultural opportunities in this region. Texas Chapter of the American Society of Agronomy Board of Directors. Lubbock, TX. Feb. Allen, V. G. 2001. Crisis in the Texas High Plains. Texas Pasture and Forage Workers. Stephenville, TX. May. Allen, V. G. 2001. Sustainable crop/livestock in the southern high plains. Dryland Agriculture Institute and West Texas A & M University. Visiting scientists from many different countries. Lubbock, TX. Jun. Allen, V. G. 2001. “Sustainable Crop/Livestock Systems for the Texas High Plains.” West Texas Ag. Chem. Meeting. Lubbock, TX. Sep. Allen, V. G. 2001. “Overview of Sustainable Crop/Livestock System Program.” Texas Farm Bureau Ag. Lead Program. TTU, Lubbock. Nov. Allen, V. G. 2001. Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Security - an Initiative for West Texas Regional Economic Development. Stakeholders meeting. Lubbock Chamber of Commerce. Lubbock, TX. Dec. Allen, V.G. 2002. Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Security - an Initiative for West Texas regional economic development. Talk given to the Lubbock County Agricultural Advisory Committee, Lubbock, TX. Feb. Allen, V.G. 2002. Crisis on the Texas High Plains. Farm and Ranch Real Estate Agents Luncheon. Lubbock, TX. Mar. Allen, V.G. 2002. Crisis on the Texas High Plains. Farm and Ranch Real Estate Agents Luncheon. Lubbock, TX. Mar. Allen, V.G. 2002. Reflections on the Future. USDA Plant Stress Laboratory. Lubbock, TX. May. Allen, V.G. 2002. Reflections on the Future. Lubbock Round Table. Lubbock, Texas. Jul. Allen, V.G. 2002. Designing Systems for a More Sustainable Agriculture in the Texas High Plains. USDA-ARS Livestock-Forage Research Station, El Reno, OK. Aug. Allen, V.G. 2002. Grassland Ecosystems: Pieces of the Puzzle. The 2002 Leu Distinguished Lecturer, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska. Oct. Allen, V.G. 2002. How Interdisciplinary Research is Initiated and Designed. AGSC 4300 Undergraduate Research Class, Texas Tech University. Oct. Allen, V.G. 2002. Annual Forage Programs and Alternatives for the Area. Texas Ag Industries Association, Dumas, TX. Nov. Allen, V. G. 2003. In search of sustainable agricultural systems for the Texas High Plains. Metropolitan Lubbock Rotary Club. Lubbock. TX. Feb. 28. Allen, V. G. 2003. In search of sustainable agricultural systems for the Texas High Plains. Board of Directors for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1. Lubbock, TX. Apr. 8. Allen, V. G. 2003. In search of sustainable agriculture for the Texas High Plains. Texas Society of Professional Engineers. Lubbock, TX. Dec. 16. Brown, C. P. 2003. An alternative approach to agriculture through diversification. Texas Farm Bureau Ag Lead Group. Lubbock, TX. Nov. 5. Allen, V. G. 2004. Future sustainable options for Southern High Plains Agriculture” NRCS Pest Management Training Program. Plainview, TX. Mar. 24. Allen, V. G. 2004. In search of sustainable water use in the Texas High Plains” 4th Annual Research/Extension Symposium on Cotton Issues, Lubbock, TX. Mar. 31. “Integrating Crops and Livestock for Water Conservation and Improved Economics”. Dec. 13, 2004. Olton Farmers Coop., Olton, TX International Talks: Allen, V. G. 2000. Pastorco con ruminantes para una agricultura sustenable. In: III Seminario Internacional Tecnologias Para la Explotacion Sustenable del Recurso Forrajero. C. S. del Real and P. A. Martinez (eds.) p. 103-127. Universidad Autonoma Chapingo. Chapingo, Mexico. Oct. 5-6. Allen, V. G. 2001. Improving livestock production through integrated soil-crop-livestock systems. International conference on grassland science and industry. Scientists. Hailar, Inner Mongolia. Jul. 17-20. Allen, V.G. 2002. Forage/Livestock Systems Research. 6th Conference of the Chinese Grassland Society, Beijing, China. May 22. “Integrate Crop and Livestock Systems” October 5, 2004. Students and faculty of the College of Pastoral Agricultural Science and Technology, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, China Baker, M. 2005. Sustainability in the Southern High Plains: Implications for Extension. Jan. 5, 2005. Presentation to the Faculty of the Automous University of Chihuahua, Chihuahua City, Mexico. Press Releases - To access, go to http://www.orgs.ttu.edu/forageresearch/news.htm October 24, 2002 -- Sustainable Agriculture– Making more Money and Conserving our Natural Resources October 28, 2002 -- Sustainable Agriculture: The West Texas Future January 15, 2003 --New Sustainable Agriculture Research Benefits Southern High Plains Farmers March 6, 2003 -- Sustainable Agriculture Research Shines on Capital Hill June 1, 2003 -- Make Plans to Attend Texas Tech’s Sustainable Forage/Livestock/Crop Systems Research Project Sept 21, 2003 -- Brown Receives Award Media coverage - To access, go to http://www.orgs.ttu.edu/forageresearch/news.htm ‘Researcher Plants Seeds of South Plains Future’, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, August 20, 2000 ‘Tech Ag College Works on Cropping, livestock Systems for Area’, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, February 27, 2002 ‘New Grant to Help Tech Research Project Rolling Along’, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, June 29, 2002 ‘Research Team Studies Alternative Farming Methods’, University Daily, Texas Tech University, September 6, 2002 ‘Research Aids Area Growth, University Daily’, Texas Tech University, November 1, 2002 ‘Alternative way of Farming, The Agriculturist’, Texas Tech University, Fall 2002 ‘Well-Managed Rotation of Cotton, Cattle and Grass Renews Profits’, SARE Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program 2002 ‘Agriculture Briefly -- Tech Research Projects Plan Chuck wagon meal’, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, June 8, 2003

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Agriculture in the Texas High Plains is changing rapidly as water resources decline. Results of this research program are contributing ideas, information, and opportunities to area producers to assist them in making rational choices and decisions about their farming systems. Social science research has confirmed the existence of three categories of producers in the region. One category consists of producers whom are eager to learn more about the system. A second category includes producers whom are very interested in integrated systems, but need more convincing of the economics of such systems prior to adoption. The final category consists of producers whom are likely to continue monoculture cotton production practices. In addition to the impact upon area producers, results of this project have been well-received by stakeholders including policy-makers, producers from outside of the region, and extensionists. This project was selected to represent research sponsored by the Southern Region SARE program at the National Farm Bureau Meeting in Reno, Nevada - Feb. 2002. This project was also selected to represent Texas Tech University at the sixth annual exhibition and reception for members of Congress and their aids sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) on March 4, 2003. It has been deemed worthy of inclusion in the USDA’s publication 2002 SARE-Practical New Ideas in Agriculture. As well as chosen for inclusion in a USDA review for Undersecretary of Agriculture Joseph Jen as an example of the value of investing in agricultural research and was said to provide “some of the most concrete and dramatic impacts of just about anything else in the entire review.” In terms of the scientific community, knowledge of the project has been diffused and eagerly received both nationally and internationally, revealing the transferability of project results. Refereed articles on the project have been published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal and the Agronomy Journal. Refereed papers have been published in conference proceedings of the International Conference on Grassland Science and Industry (Inner Mongolia), Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education Conference (San Antonio), Western Agricultural Education Research Conference (Honolulu). Abstracts related to the project have been published in CD-ROM format from presentations given at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy Society, the Soil Science Society of America, and the Crop Science Society of America. Project leaders have long held the philosophy that in order to affect long-term change, there was a pressing need to inculcate our youth of the importance of sustainable practices to the long-term viability of the region. In an effort to achieve this lofty goal, an instructional unit targeting high school students entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture in the Southern High Plains” has been completed and made available free-of-charge on the World Wide Web. This unit consists of 14 instructional modules with the SARE research project as the focal point. Module topics include an overview of community, youth responsibilities within community, farming systems, farm-level livelihood systems, and the adoption/diffusion process of agricultural innovations. In an effort to beta test the unit, teacher in-service workshops and listening sessions were conducted in Ruidoso, New Mexico and Wichita Falls, Texas, where the unit was well-received.

 

  • Systems can be designed that do use less water than the cotton monoculture typical of this region. The current system we are testing is using about 25% less irrigation water than continuous cotton. All indications are that we can now design systems that will further reduce water use.

 

  • Integrated crop/livestock systems can be as profitable or more profitable than the cotton monoculture. Results to date indicate that the integrated system has a higher net return above variable costs per acre than the cotton monoculture.

 

  • Grazing systems can be designed for the Southern High Plains that approach year round grazing that will support at least average or above average levels of animal performance. Results of our research suggest that this could be done on water use efficient perennial grass pastures.

 

  • Irrigated small grain forages do not appear to be justifiable for grazing livestock in this region. While these are high quality forages and provide needed protein, their cost in terms of water, labor, seed, and chemicals does not appear to justify their use. If their intended purpose is grain production and some grazing can be accomplished without reducing grain yield, then their use for grazing may be justified but this needs careful evaluation.

 

Future research should include testing of grazing systems based on all perennial grass pastures. Non-irrigated systems should be developed and tested for this region.

Economic Analysis

For Phase I, detailed records of input use and tillage operations were used to develop cost and return budgets for components in both production systems. Cost of the production portion of these budgets was composed of variable costs and fixed costs. Variable costs accounted for the cost of all preharvest and harvest inputs used, and capital costs associated with use of these inputs. Irrigation system-related charges assumed installation of a sub-surface irrigation system for a representative 125 acre irrigated farm in the Texas High Plains. Due to farm to farm variability of pumping-lift in the Texas High Plains, four common pumping lifts were used (150, 200, 250, 300 foot). Actual pumping depth at the research site was 300 feet. Because benefits received by producers vary among farms, net returns do not include any government payments. Year 1 was the establishment year and is not included in the analysis of the next 4 years but is present in Allen et al. (2005). Years 2 through 5 Following the establishment yr, 4 yrs have been completed that include cattle in the system. Prices used do not include any government subsidies and were $0.55/lb for cotton lint, $18/lb for bluestem seed, and $0.87/lb for cattle. Averaged across these yrs, the integrated system has proven to be more profitable than the conventional cotton system at every pumping depth with difference becoming greater as depth to water increases. Net returns above variable costs of production for these 4 years were $125.61, 110.38, 93.82 and 77.26 for 150, 200, 250, and 300-foot pumping lifts, respectively. For the integrated system, this was $183.46, 171.84, 159.21, and 146.57 for the four respective pumping lifts. Under conditions of this experiment and with prices used, this represented a 90% increase in profitability for the integrated system at the 90-m pumping depth that occurred at the research site. This is important because greater water table depth simulates greater water scarcity. Therefore, the more scarce the water, the greater the justification to adopt the integrated production system. It is important to highlight that of the 4 yrs included in calculations in Table 2, these include one yr in which no bluestem seed were harvested. Years 6 and 7. During years 6 and 7, changes were made in this initial research to include cotton genetics that were not available at the beginning of the project. Several changes in management strategies were also implemented. With these changes, cotton yields in both systems increased. 2003 was the second driest year on record and no-till planted cotton in the integrated system out yielded the monoculture cotton (1,560 and 1,941 lb/a for continuous cotton and cotton grown in rotation with small grains, respectively). In 2004, cooler and much wetter weather reduced yields in both systems but the reduction in cotton yield in the no-till system was greater than in the monoculture (1,391 and 1,161 lb/a for continuous cotton and cotton in the integrated system, respectively). Net returns above variable costs of production for these 2 years were $388 and 376/acre for continuous cotton and $317 and 186 for the integrated system. The integrated system has continued to use between 25 and 50% less irrigation water and economic value per unit of irrigation water on the integrated system exceeds that of the monoculture system. However, when cotton yields exceeded 3 bales per acre, economic returns over variable costs of production were higher for the cotton monoculture than the integrated system ($388 vs 317/acre, respectively). At 2 bales per acre yields, profitability was greater for the integrated system. During year 7, the dryland system in Phase II was initiated as a partial year that included the growing of the cotton crop, harvesting of the summer annual as hay, and grazing of the native grasses during late spring until mid-summer. The first full year for this system will occur in 2005. Due primarily to the unusual rainfall during this year, the dryland cotton yields (996 lb/a) were exceptionally high and contributed to the profitability of this system. Without a full year of the livestock component however, complete economic evaluation of this system will not occur until 2005 but based on the components that were present, net returns were $121/acre for this system in 2004. Year 8. This year, 2005, will be the first year in which a full economic evaluation of all systems will occur.

Farmer Adoption

Although the broad-scale social, economic, and environmental impact of the project is difficult to assess, antidotal information reveals a growing interest by producers in the area of the implementation of integrated systems. Based on producers’ estimates, information generated from this research is being adopted by numerous area producers. The annual field day held in June, 2003, was attended by nearly 200 people. The previously-mentioned TWDB project has provided funding for project leaders to employ a GIS specialist that will allow for a eight-year longitudinal look at a large geographic area in terms of practice changes. This spatial data will provide rich information in terms of personological, land ownership patterns, economic, agronomic, and hydrological relationships and should reveal unique insights of the forces and factors which influence the behavior of producers.

The research described above has demonstrated that improvements in sustainability and profitability can be made. It has also identified areas that must be further improved. If there is a chance to balance water recharge with water use, many more acres of the Texas High Plains must be returned to grassland. Thus, the urgent need is to design and test additional systems that capture the successes of the current research, build on the information it provides, and test new approaches to further reduce irrigated water demand , improve natural resource protection and management, and maintain profitibility. Our research strongly suggests that this is possibile. We are ready to conduct the next phases of this research to measure new systems against the systems that have now completed three years. The current research must be continued as well. It now provides the benchmarks for determining further improvements.

Next phases of development of the education and outreach program are now needed as well. Likewise, research results have now reached a point at which greater on-farm testing is appropriate and needed. These steps will be addressed in the next phase of this ongoing research and education effort.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

 

  • Integrated systems research and education programs such as this MUST be continued over the long term to reap the information that they can deliver and to capitalize on such an investment.

 

  • Further studies are needed urgently with systems that are either completely dryland or that incorporate the strategic use of irrigation on high value return components.

 

  • Additional effort is needed in extending the information as it is generated to the users of that information including producers, industry, policy makers, students, and the public in general.

 

  • More opportunities are required to bring the public to the research and demonstration sites to see and learn first hand about the potential for agricultural systems that are less consumptive of natural resources including water, soil, and air quality while maintaining profitability.

 

  • Based on the recommendations of the Advisory Council, two primary areas needing additional study are 1) greater emphasis on dryland agricultural systems; and 2) an expanded effort in outreach and education.

 

  • Additional researchable needs that can be delivered from this research include: impact of systems on air quality, carbon sequestration, soil earthworm populations, rainfall infiltration, deep soil profile distribution of nitrate, phosphate, salts, and other nutrients that could accumulate to undesirable levels, effects of stocking rates and supplementation on animal performance and carrying capacity of these systems, additional economic studies to look at sensitivity analysis and impacts of changes in farm programs and commodity prices, on profitability.

 

  • An energy analysis is needed to compare each of these systems for their energy input and energy output. With the dramatic differences in mechanical operations, chemical inputs (particularly nitrogen fertilizer), and water use, there are likely differences among systems in energy costs and total energy consumed. With rising costs of energy, increasing public demands on energy, and increasing scarcity of water resulting in deeper pumping depths and greater energy required to extract ground water, the energy costs of these systems must be evaluated.

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.