Adaptable Wide Stale Seedbed System Combining Precision Fertilizer Placement, Conservation Irrigation Management with Reduced Tillage Practices for Long Term Farm Sustainability

Final Report for OS12-067

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dionicio Valdez
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
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Project Information



Develop an easily adaptable crop practice that farmers can implement without incurring major equipment costs, or changes to the land. This on farm research is partnering a local grower with Texas A&M Agrillife Research and Extension Personnel; Dr. Juan Enciso Research Agricultural rrigation Engineer (who is currently conducting research on Non-Point Source Pollution in the Arroyo Colorado), and Donnie Valdez Texas Water Resources nstitute/Institute of Renewable Natural Resources Agrillife Extension Outreach into the development of a practical and adaptable Best Management Practice in irrigated row crop production. The rationale behind this on-farm research is very simple. By using tools and methods already in place on the farm, just change the where, when and how on a few production practices to make a noticeable difference. Based on previous experience and familiarity with on-going research our goal is to improve the sustainability of current high yield narrow row farming in the region. We aim to incorporate a sustainable conservation approach to growing narrow row (30”) corn on a wide row (60”) so that a cropping system can be developed that will potentially offer water savings, decreased nutrient run-off in irrigation water,and increase soil health by reducing tillage throughout the cropping system.

Project Objectives:

Focus areas of project are: 1. Reduce nonpoint source pollution runoff from row crop production: a. Follow Soil Sample Analysis recommendations b. Precise placement of soil fertilizers in the space between the rows, where no water will be directly applied by surface furrow irrigation. This is commonly called alternate row irrigation; in this project we are completely eliminating one furrow between rows. c. Manage herbicide placement to areas needed such as the non-tilled space between rows on wide seed bed (1st year) where furrow irrigation will not directly contact herbicide. 2. Reduce amount of water used for irrigation: a. rrigate only every other row or every 60 inches in 30 inch planted corn. Alternate row will be eliminated by removal of tillage in that area. b. Manage irrigation water sections or sets c. incorporate the use of Soil Moisture Measurement Tools by using soil tensiometers to determine crop water needs 3. improve the soil structure by: a. increased organic matter content in the topsoil layer by not using any tillage on the large bed system itself (2nd year) b. Reduction in loss of soil due to soil erosion c. increase the soil biological activity in the large undisturbed seedbed root-zone between the planted rows (2nd year) d. Decrease nutrient losses in surface/irrigation runoff 4. Decrease total inputs while still maintaining profitable yields: a. Less water units used to irrigate crop b. Less tillage requirements c. Long term buildup of nutrients thereby reducing future needs d. increases soil surface organic matter, reducing the need for herbicides. e. Increase total soil health by incorporating a muti-year reduced tillage stale seed bed practice.


Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Juan Enciso
  • Erasmo Valdez
  • Dionicio Valdez


Materials and methods:

To demonstrate that the changes in placement of irrigation water, added nutrients and reduced tillage maintenance of one large undisturbed seedbed provides these benefits we will perform all the following activities on both the test plot and the conventional plot. The rationale behind this project is to incorporate the lessons learned from previous accepted research into the high yield furrow irrigated narrow row crop production system in the southern United States. This research has proven certain crop production practices promote the reduction of non-point source pollution, reduced water use and increased long term soil health and viability. These are currently very important factors affecting farmers. We currently have drinking water contamination issues, high energy costs and decreasing or limited water source availability for agricultural use. The methodology used will be simple measurement, documentation, and testing of all operations, practices and inputs used for the production of the crop, two side by side five acre plots, in a comparison analysis for the two crop years. First year: 1. Record and document all work needed for new practice. Extension Economist will assist with documentation and accuracy of costs recording. 2. Measure and document all irrigation water used by incorporating a water meter in irrigation line. rrigation engineer will assist in determining accuracy of measurements. 3. Use soil testing before planting of the crop. 4. Soil samples will be taken at 6 month intervals and be sent to a local Soil Testing lab. 5.Soil will be collected and saved for future visual and texture analysis. 6. Perform water quality testing of irrigation water at source, and in drainage water from field after all irrigations or major rain events during the entire length of the project. 7. Perform petiole testing at regular intervals during the growing season to record crop stage and needs and samples will be sent to a local plant testing facility 8. Record the amount of crop harvested. After harvest grower will incorporate a minimum to no tillage approach to the large stale seedbed. Decisions on any tillage or practice will be determined by weather, residue conditions and farmer’s available implements. Because of the intrinsic need for a semi-clean furrow that will allow irrigation water to move along the field, all crop residue will be manage toward the center of the large stale seedbed. All work between crop years will be recorded.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Education and Outreach Plan includes: Field day coordination with Agrilife Research and Extension field days of other projects Daily availability for growers to stop and view field Field demonstration sign will be posted at location Best management Practice fact sheet will be produced at the end of the project Will coordinate with local Agrilife Extension Communications personnel on the writing of articles stating the on-going research being conducted Continually updating growers at production and advisory meetings held throughout the year

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

While our project is somewhat simple we see the expected results as a huge contributor to the complex question of agricultural production sustainability in the Southern United States. We are addressing the concern to reduce non-point source pollution, the improvement of efficiency in the widely used practice of row crop furrow irrigation and the reduction in water use from surface and groundwater supplies while still maintaining farm productivity. In the voluntary adoption of Best Management Practices and the documentation of the resulting benefits of those efforts, farmers are protecting our natural resources for future generations. By the reduction of field nutrients, sediment and chemical in our water supply we are sustaining the ability to continue to use that water for many different purposes. Our water supply is greatly regulated in terms of quality and demand. By reducing the amounts of runoff pollutants from farms we in effect delay or offset the regulation implementation in the use of agricultural water thereby sustaining our freedom to use water in large quantities in the production of food and fiber. n periods of drought or increased usage the impact that increases in efficient water use are huge. Water savings delays restrictions on water use, it protects the surrounding environment by keeping surface and groundwater levels in balance and above all promotes the proper use of the available water supply for future years of sustainability. The continued adoption of water conservation strategies will further guarantee water availability to grow crops in the south. We are currently experiencing huge population growth that is demanding more urbanized use of limited water supplies. The saving of water available to growers will ultimately lead to a longer lasting water supply for all users. This research is based on making small changes to grower’s production practices while still maintaining farm profitability. The need for increased yields from farmers stems from the fact that they get largely paid on amounts of product grown and harvested. This combination of practices should not produce decreased yield in the crops grown. It should in fact produce immediate input cost savings, and long term yield increases while sustaining a reduction in inputs. The benefits of these results will ultimately make the whole row crop furrow irrigation system more sustainable for future farmers and consumers.

Farmer Adoption

The method of skip row furrow irrigation has been used for many years by many growers for different reasons. Years ago when farmers had smaller equipment (4-6 row width) farmers would irrigate only the hard rows (tractor tire furrow) to give the crop a quick drink because of unusually hot weather or just trying to irrigate faster to get across many acres. With the adoption of larger equipment sometimes irrigating fast by skipping a row was done but now the idea was to irrigate the soft rows quickly. This way the set of water would make it to the end of the field more uniformly. Our idea here was to basically combine two rows into one, keeping the same row width, and not irrigate between those two rows. One nearby farmer has already changed his entire farm to this practice (2000 acres plus). A grower in nearby Cameron County has also changed entirely to this practice. Others have decided to just irrigate every other row.

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.