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 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 activity and soil microbial carbon, reduce soil erosion to below levels targeted for resource management, and diversification of income to reduce economic risk. Phase 1 is continuing. Phase 2, under construction, adds dryland cotton, and three systems for stocker steers including an integrated dryland perennial native grass/sorghum/cotton system and two irrigated perennial warm-season grass systems. The dryland system is completed and will begin its first year in 2004. The remaining two irrigated forage-livestock systems will complete establishment during 2004 and will be initiated in 2005. Two graduate students have completed MS degrees within this project and a PhD. student will complete a dissertation and defend in May 2004.
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 6 years. A manuscript on the first 5 years of results has been prepared and is in review for consideration for publication in the Agronomy Journal. Results were reported in the final report of “Sustainable Crop/Livestock Systems in the Texas High Plains” Project Number LS97-82. Year 7 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 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. The dryland system is completed and will begin with entry of cattle in May of 2004. Establishment of the irrigated pastures was not completely successful during 2003. This year was the second driest in the recorded history for this area and adequate stands were not achieved. These pastures will be reseeded in spring 2004 to strengthen these stands and hopefully they will be ready to begin research in 2005. Most areas have at least partial stands and will be overseeded as required in 2003 to ensure establishment.
Irrigated paddocks are equipped with a drip irrigation system similar to that used in Phase 1 of the research. Work is scheduled to begin immediately installing fencing and is to be completed by the end of April, 2004.
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. 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, 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.
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.
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 selected for inclusion in the USDA’s publication 2002 SARE-Practical New Ideas in Agriculture.
This project was 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.”
Publications are being generated that extend this information to a broad audience. An instructional unit targeting high school students entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture in the Southern High Plains” will be completed by June 2004 and made available free-of-charge on the World Wide Web. This unit will consist 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. During Summer 2003, teacher in-service workshops were conducted in Ruidoso, New Mexico and Wichita Falls, Texas, where the unit was well-received.
Acosta-Martínez, 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. (In press.)
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. (In Review).
Allen et al. 2003. Sustainable crop/livestock systems in the Texas High Plains: Project summaries and other forage research studies. Field Day Report, June, 2003.
Calloway, Sarah. 2002. The alternative way of farming. The Agriculturist. Texas Tech Univ. Vol. 33, No. 1, p 4-5.
Collins, J. 2003. Agricultural phosphorus in an integrated crop/livestock system in the Texas High Plains. M.S. Thesis. Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock.
Jones, Kelly. 2003. Attitudinal Variability Among Southern High Plains Cotton Producers Toward Integrated Crop/Livestock Systems. M.S. Thesis. Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock.
Philipp, Dirk. 2004. Influence of varying replacement of potential evapotranspriation on water use efficiency and nutritive value of three old world bluestems (Bothriochloa spp.). Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock.
Wolfshohl, Karl. 2003. A change for the plains. Progressive Farmer. Vol. 118; No. 8. Cotton -2.