Forage and Livestock Systems for Sustainable High Plains Agriculture
Texas High Plains agriculture has used irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer at rates that have exceeded recharge for years. Over 20% of the cotton and about 25% of U.S. beef cattle are found here. In phase 1, grazing stocker steers on perennial warm-season grass pastures and small grains in rotation with cotton required 22% less irrigation water, 40% less nitrogen fertilizer, and resulted in higher net cash returns/acre, than growing cotton in monoculture. Phase 2, under construction, adds dryland cotton, and three systems for stocker steers including an integrated dryland perennial grass/wheat/cotton system and two irrigated perennial warm-season grass systems.
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.
Phase 1 of the research that compared a conventional cotton monoculture system with an integrated cotton/forage/livestock system for stocker steers has completed 5 years. Results were reported in the final report of “Sustainable Crop/Livestock Systems in the Texas High Plains” Project Number LS97-82. Year 6 of this research is in progress. This research will be continued as the benchmark for comparison with the four new systems in the current project as Phase 2.
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. Most areas have at least partial stands and will be overseeded as required in 2003 to ensure establishment.
Irrigated paddocks are being equipped with a drip irrigation system similar to that used in Phase 1 of the research. Drip lines are in place and work is in progress to install the remainder of the irrigation equipment. A new well was required for Phase 2 when casing in the existing well for this area disintegrated and was not repairable. The well has been successfully installed and is producing about 325 gallons water/minute – sufficient to supply the irrigation and stock water needs for this project. It is anticipated that installation of the irrigation system will be completed by late April and establishment of remaining pastures will begin immediately with the exception of bermudagrass pastures. To avoid encroachment of bermudagrass into other grass pastures, these will not be planted until other forages establish to the point that they can compete to avoid encroachment of bermudagrass into non-target areas.
Work will continue during 2003 to begin installation of cattle watering facilities and fencing. Final establishment of all planted areas is anticipated during 2004 with cattle entering the project in late 2004 or early 2005.
An Advisory Council, an integral part of Objective 3, has been formed and an initial meeting was held in February, 2003. Members of the Advisory Council and their affiliations are included above under Project Participants. The charge to this Council is:
A. To provide 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. Annual reports, outreach programs, and publications should be reviewed by the Advisory Board to help to identify new research questions as well as to insure the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the research component and the effectiveness of the outreach program.
B. To provide vision for setting new and future objectives, goals, and programs.
C. Help to identify funding opportunities, make recommendations, and assist in efforts to secure the funding required to build and complete the infrastructure needed to conduct this program.
Impacts and Contributions/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. Based on producers estimates, over 1000 individual operations have already used some part of the information generated through this research to make changes in their strategies with many more looking into these options and opportunities.
Results of the first 5 years from Phase 1 have been presented extensively to producer, industry, business and academic groups and have been reported at meetings in China, Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, Washington, DC, and numerous area meetings in Texas. This research has been the subject of 4 news releases, 5 newspaper articles, and was featured in the TTU publication The Agriculturist. A field day is held each June to present on-site opportunities to see and hear about the overall project and the results thus far. Last years event was attended by over 125 people.
Highlights of outcomes from Phase 1 thus far include:
• This project was 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.
• Project was selected to represent research sponsored by the Southern Region SARE program at the National Farm Bureau Meeting in Reno, Nevada – Feb. 2002.
• Selected for inclusion in the USDA’s publication 2002 SARE-Practical New Ideas in Agriculture.
• 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.”
• The first manuscript is being prepared for submission to a major scientific journal for publication.