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

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $300,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/18/2018
Grant Recipient: Texas Tech University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Charles West
Texas Tech University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, stockpiled forages, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: fertigation, irrigation
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: 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. Demands for food, fiber, and biofuels from an increasing world population are putting strains on resources and commodity prices. Agriculture is also expected to provide environmental services such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, and to mitigate climate change impacts. The supply of water for agriculture has been severely squeezed by persistent droughts across the Great Plains, depletion of aquifers, and increased competitive demands from domestic and industrial users. Climate change is expected to aggravate the water challenge. Long-term systems-level research aids development of methods favoring the transition from the current exploitive form of agriculture to approaches that are resource-efficient and regenerative. The Texas High Plains serves as a model for factors affecting agricultural sustainability, especially pertaining to the role of water in sustaining agriculture. 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 the aquifer is falling to levels that threaten irrigated agriculture and the livelihood of area towns. Over time, soil quality has declined owing to excessive cultivation and wind erosion. We are building on a record of research that has revealed the agronomic and economic potential for integrating grass-based cattle production into cotton monoculture systems. Much information was produced on the nitrogen supplying potential of legumes, water use of old world bluestem varieties, allelopathy between succeeding crops in rotation, and fossil energy use of cropping/ grazing systems. We also have momentum on a major outreach project involving area producers on methods of reducing water use in their cropping systems. Consistent with the intent of this long-term SARE grant, the proposed work will support infrastructure for conducting research on overall water use of integrated forage and cropping systems. Results will feed directly into the current outreach program and offer answers on how to reallocate diminishing irrigation water to annual row crops and forage systems to maximize water conservations and optimize economic returns.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall objectives of crop-livestock research and demonstration projects at Texas Tech University are to (1) understand the biological, environmental, social, economic, and policy issues impacting agricultural sustainability in the Southern High Plains, and (2) to translate research into adoption of more sustainable practices. The Large-Systems SARE grant contributes a critical piece of this effort by funding the maintenance of the long-term field research site at the New Deal Research Station, which is the basic platform for our collaborative research and education efforts. The research arm of our effort (Texas Coalition for Sustainable Integrated Systems, TeCSIS) focuses on the integration of forage-based beef production into the region’s predominantly row-crop agriculture as a means of reducing water extraction from the Ogallala Aquifer, building soil organic matter, stabilizing soil from wind erosion, and diversifying income. The outreach arm of our effort (Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, TAWC) partners with 30 producers to demonstrate improved irrigation practices on 34 fields near Lubbock, TX. TAWC produces field days, field walks, conferences, radio and TV reports, Twitter and Facebook messages, web-based management tools, and printed fact sheets to reach a diverse rural and urban populace on using practical technologies to sustain agriculture and communities. Research at the New Deal Research Station is a source of information pertaining to grazing systems that help meet producers’ goals of stretching water supplies and reverting cropland to perennial grasses in ways that meet their economic goals.

    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.