Long-term AgroEcosystems Research and Adoption in the Texas Southern High Plains - Phase I

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $329,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Charles West
Texas Tech University
Philip Brown
Texas Tech University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, cotton, millet, oats, rye, sorghum (milo), sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, workshop, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management, value added, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, competition, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, physical control, cultivation, precision herbicide use, prevention, weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, public participation, public policy, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The goal of U.S. agriculture is food and fiber security and an economically viable production system that does not deplete resources nor destroy the environment upon which this depends. Increasingly, agriculture is called on to provide additional services including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and landscape esthetics. To meet these challenges, comprehensive knowledge of the functioning of agricultural ecosystems is essential. Such knowledge must be derived from long-term systems-level research that leads to understanding interrelationships of basic biophysical processes, human needs and manipulation of the system, and impacts of policies, economics, and market forces. The Texas High Plains is a model for factors affecting agricultural sustainability. In this semi-arid region, agriculture accounts for over 40% of the economy but depends heavily on irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer at non-sustainable rates of use. Recharge is negligible and water demand will exceed supply within the next 10 to 20 years. Impending water scarcity threatens economic viability for producers and rural communities. Conventional soil cultivation has led to organic matter depletion contributing to loss of fertility and release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Soil erosion, primarily by wind, results in dust storms reminiscent of the dustbowl era. Our overall objective is to understand the biological, environmental, social, economic, and policy issues impacting agricultural sustainability and to translate research into adoption of more sustainable practices. Fourteen years ago, with an initial grant from the USDA-SARE program, Texas Tech and its partners began trans-disciplinary, long-term, replicated field-scale, irrigated systems comparisons of a cotton monoculture with an integrated, 3-paddock cotton/forage/beef cattle system. The integrated system (10-year results) used 25% less irrigation water, 40% less nitrogen fertilizer, had increased soil organic carbon and microbial activity, lowered soil erosion, and was comparable in profitability with the cotton monoculture. Initial successes led to further USDA-SARE funding in 2002. A non-irrigated cotton/forage/beef cattle system and an irrigated all forage/beef cattle system were added. Due largely to success of our long-term systems research, an 8-year, 2-county producer led demonstration project was funded ($6.2 M) through the Texas Water Development Board with objectives of finding, demonstrating, and implementing adoption of practices that conserve water while remaining profitable. Thirty sites inclusive of over 4,500 acres and over 20 producers participate. Our long-term systems research and demonstration are answering key questions about complex agricultural ecosystems and their future with increasing water scarcity. Research and technologies field-tested by producers are leading to adoption of more sustainable practices. With our record of success and proven team of scientists, producers, industry, agencies, and community partners, we are competitive for traditional short-term funding opportunities to pursue new researchable questions. The biggest challenge is finding funding for supplies, equipment, and maintenance to preserve basic long-term research systems in place and to keep the nucleus of critical support team members intact. Interruption in basic support results in loss of people and system continuity compromising research results at all levels. We commend the USDA-SARE leadership for recognizing this critical need.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our overall objective is to understand the biological, environmental, social, economic, and policy issues impacting agricultural sustainability in this irrigation-dependent, semi-arid region. Our further objective is to transform knowledge gained into adoption of sustainable practices, to extend appropriate knowledge to other ecosystems, and to educate students to become global leaders. Fourteen years ago (1997), with an initial grant from the USDA-SARE program, we began replicated, irrigated, field-scale systems research. We hypothesized that an integrated cotton/forage/livestock system would be economically viable, require less water, and would enhance other environmental services compared with a typical cotton monoculture (Allen et al., 2005; Acosta-Martinez et al., 2004; 2010). By 2003, a non-irrigated, integrated, cotton/native grass/stocker cattle system and an irrigated all perennial grass stocker cattle system were added. In 2004, a producer-led, on-farm demonstration of 30 different agricultural systems across two counties began to evaluate water use, irrigation management, and economic viability (TAWC, 2010). Irrigation ranges from none to drip, center pivot, and furrow systems. Producers make all decisions but resulting effects on production, water use, and profitability are measured. Within the replicated research (TeCSIS) and demonstration (TAWC) sites, data are collected on production, total water use, crop water use, economics, energy, carbon sequestration, soil microbes, greenhouse gas emissions, and other measures of sustainability. Decision-making and problem solving behaviors of producers are facilitated to help agriculture adjust to changing regional, U.S., and global needs. Lessons learned here have regional, national, and global impact and application.

    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.