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 40 percent of the economy but depends heavily on irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer at non-sustainable rates of use. With negligible recharge, aquifer depletion threatens irrigated agriculture and the livelihood of area towns. Over time, soil quality has declined owing to excessive cultivation and wind erosion.
We have built momentum on a major outreach project (TAWC) involving area producers on methods of reducing water use in their cropping system. The proposed work will support infrastructure for conducting research on overall water use of integrated forage and livestock systems. Results will offer answers on how to reallocate diminishing irrigation water to forage systems to maximize water conservation and optimize economic returns.
Project objectives from proposal:
Our continuing objective is to conduct innovative forage/livestock research and outreach that aid in transition of agriculture to low water extraction, soil restoration, landscape and enterprise diversification, and sustained economic viability of farms and communities. The specific objective is to provide support for existing long-term integrated systems research infrastructure so that other grants can be aimed at data collection, analysis, and transfer to producers.
Phase III of the large systems research efforts will allow testing of the long-term attributes of soil quality and livestock production efficiency with respect to water.
- Our initial research and producer experiences have identified WW-B.Dahl old world bluestem as the most favored grass for persistence during drought and for providing adequate forage growth and quality to support daily gains in livestock. This grass will be the focus grass in the planned research.
- We will continue the recently established trial of different types and planting densities of alfalfa into established stands of native grasses.