Crop-livestock Systems for Sustainable High Plains Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Vivien Allen
Texas Tech University

Annual Reports


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


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing - continuous, grazing management, mineral supplements, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, youth education
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife, carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, competition, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, physical control, traps
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Beginning in 1997, SARE-funded long-term systems research began in the Texas High Plains to conserve water and other natural resources while assuring a level of economic profit to sustain individuals and communities of this region. Initial comparisons of 1) a cotton monoculture and 2) an integrated cotton-forage-stocker steer system demonstrated over 10 years that the integrated approach used about 25% less irrigation water, about 40% less nitrogen fertilizer, was similar in profitability, and increased soil organic carbon, soil microbial activity, reduced soil erosion, and had numerous other benefits compared with the cotton monoculture. With further funding from SARE, a non-irrigated cotton-forage-stocker steer system (3) and a deficient irrigated stocker steer grazing system (4) were added beginning in 2003. After 5 years, a single irrigated forage paddock was added to the non-irrigated system (5) to buffer this system against extreme drought. Finally, beginning in 2009, the original integrated systems were revised to include legumes and all perennial forages with an objective of forage-finishing steers (6) and the monoculture cotton system was converted to monoculture sorghum (7). Stocking rates for the systems varied from 0.23 to 1.6 steers/acre. Irrigation applied annually to each system was 15.6, 11.8, 0, 8.9, 1.7, 6.0, and 7.2 inches for the 7 systems respectively. Total steer gain was 242, 68, 440, 95, and 198 lb/acre for systems 2 through 6, respectively. Gain per acre inch of irrigation water is 20.5, [68 (dryland system; irrigation was zero)], 49.7, 55.9, and 19 lbs for the respective systems. Additional products from some of these systems include hay, grass seed, and cotton. This research is ongoing. Data are being collected to compare systems for their effects on feedlot performance and carcass merit, soil organic carbon, energy balance, greenhouse gas emissions, total productivity, economics, soil quality, nutrient balance, carbon cycling and other measures of sustainability. In 2004, state funding was acquired to implement on-farm producer demonstrations of 30 different systems in two counties including over 4,500 acres. After 5 years, cotton monoculture systems have used more irrigation water than integrated crop/livestock systems. Net returns per system acre have been greater for the integrated systems than the cotton monocultures but reflect changing market prices. Grass seed production produced the most revenue per acre but used more water than other systems. Data from the research and demonstration projects show that systems can be designed to conserve water and energy while maintaining or increasing economic returns.

    Project objectives:

    Our hypothesis is that more energy, water, and soil can be conserved, profitability and sustainability of agriculture can be increased, and the changing priorities and opportunities for agriculture in the semi-arid region of the Texas High Plains can be better addressed through an integrated systems approach than through existing monoculture agricultural systems.

    The overall objective is to conserve energy, water, and soil and maintain an agricultural industry that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

    Specific objectives are:


      1. To compare integrated crop and beef cattle (stocker and forage finishing) systems (both irrigated and non-irrigated) and a forage sorghum monoculture for dependence on water (irrigation + precipitation) and energy, and impact on soil quality and erosion, and economic returns.


      1. To determine energy use, energy efficiency, and energy economics of integrated systems and monocultures, representing both non-irrigated and irrigated agriculture, using both new and long-term replicated field-scale systems and 30 on-farm producer managed systems.


      1. To translate results from Objectives 1 and 2 into practices incorporated in agriculture in the High Plains and other applicable ecosystems.


    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.