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

Project Overview

LS11-238
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
Co-Investigators:
Philip Brown
Texas Tech University

Annual Reports

Commodities

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

Practices

  • 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

    Abstract:

    The Texas High Plains serves as a model region when studying factors affecting agricultural sustainability with respect to water, soil, nutrients, energy, and community stability. 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. This project entailed the first 3 years (2011 to 2014) of maintenance for the Texas Tech Research Station at New Deal, TX, to preserve basic long-term research facilities, support forage and livestock systems research, and to serve as a bridge between research and outreach to producers. Historically severe droughts in 2011 and 2012 prevented adequate forage production to support grazing research, and grazing was further postponed in 2013 to allow pasture recovery, elimination of bermudagrass, irrigation system repair, and installation soil moisture monitors. Results of an associated 9-year outreach project on irrigation conservation (Texas Alliance for Water Conservation) were summarized and submitted to the Texas Water Development Board. Alfalfa and sweet clover were successfully interseeded back into old world bluestem pastures where severe drought had reduced the legume content. Research in 2013-2014 comprised a Master’s thesis study on the use to digital image analysis for tracking grass ground cover, leaf area, light interception, and forage yield. That work continued in 2014 as part of doctoral research to refine a simulation model for predicting grass growth in response to water supply and hay vs. grazing management. New grazing research was initiated with steers in 2014 to study the effects of alfalfa on cattle weight gain in old world bluestem pastures at low water input. Another study characterized insect populations in old world bluestem and alfalfa pastures and on cattle flies to test whether old world bluestem deters potentially harmful insects. Early testing of the suitability of teff grass indicates its great potential as a summer annual grass for hay and grazing under limited water supply.

    Project objectives:

    The overall objective of our project is to (1) understand the biological, environmental, social, economic, and policy issues impacting agricultural sustainability in the Southern High Plains, and (2) translate research into adoption of more sustainable practices. Furthermore, we aim to transfer new knowledge into adoption of ecologically and economically sustainable crop production practices that use available water at maximum efficiency. The specific objective of this funding (2011 to 2014) was to provide supplies, equipment, and maintenance for the Texas Tech University New Deal Research Station to preserve basic long-term research facilities, support forage and livestock systems research, and to serve as a bridge between research and outreach to producers.

    The performance targets were to 1) maintain productive stands of forages for testing their adaptability, animal production, and water use, 2) receive and manage beef cattle for grazing trials, 3) maintain infrastructure for irrigation systems, fencing, weather recording, roads, and stock waterers, controlling pests, 4) monitoring and correcting soil fertility deficiencies, and 5) conduct educational and demonstration activities related to the research and outreach missions.

    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.