Long-term Agroecosystems Research and Adoption in the Texas Southern High Plains – Phase III

Project Overview

LS17-286
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $300,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2021
Grant Recipient: Texas Tech University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Charles West
Texas Tech University

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), hay, medics/alfalfa, rye, vetches, wheat
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, pasture renovation, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, drought tolerance, irrigation, multiple cropping, no-till, pollinator habitat, water management
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, technical assistance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: insect deterrence
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, dryland farming, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    This project funds the maintenance of the long-term field site at the Texas Tech New Deal Research Station in support of long-term sustainability objectives pertaining to the integration of forages and livestock into a predominant row-crop region.

    Doctoral research was finished and degrees were conferred in 2018 for 1) analysis of soil microbial communities and horn flies on cattle in pastures (Krishna Bhandari), and 2) cattle grazing teff grass with different protein supplements (Dusty Sugg). Doctoral research in the field was finished and degrees were conferred in 2019 on 1) growth analysis and model development of old world bluestem (OWB) ‘WW-B.Dahl’ (Yedan Xiong), and 2) introduction of alfalfa into dryland native pastures (Madhav Dhakal). Doctoral research was finished in 2020 on determining the effect of including alfalfa in old world bluestem-based pastures on enteric methane emissions from beef cattle and on whole-system water footprint (Kathryn Radicke).

    We continued to integrate our efforts with the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) to broaden the impact of grassland water use efficiency. The TAWC involves demonstration and education for local producers on efficient irrigation systems. It is funded by the State of Texas but intersects with this Large Systems SARE-funded project, which serves as a platform for consulting with producers on converting land from irrigated, cultivated row crops to perennial forages as an option to reduce reliance on the Ogallala Aquifer. Visits to the site by producers, students, and other professionals were also conducted during the year.

    Project objectives:

    The overall objectives of crop-livestock research and demonstration projects at Texas Tech University are to (1) understand the biological, environmental, social, economic, and policy issues impacting agricultural sustainability in the Southern High Plains, and (2) to translate research into adoption of more sustainable practices. The Large Systems SARE grant contributes a critical piece of this effort by funding the maintenance of the long-term field research site at the New Deal Research Station, which is the basic platform for our collaborative research and education efforts. The research arm of our effort (Texas Coalition for Sustainable Integrated Systems, TeCSIS) focuses on the integration of forage-based beef production into the region’s predominantly row-crop agriculture as a means of reducing water extraction from the Ogallala Aquifer, building soil organic matter, stabilizing soil from wind erosion, and diversifying income. The outreach arm of our effort is the TAWC, which partners with 20-30 producers to demonstrate improved irrigation practices on around 30 fields near Lubbock, TX. TAWC produces field days, field walks, conferences, radio and TV reports, Twitter and Facebook messages, e-newsletters, and web-based management tools to reach a diverse rural and urban populace on using practical technologies to sustain agriculture and communities. Research at the New Deal Research Station is a source of information pertaining to grazing systems that help meet producers’ goals of stretching water supplies and reverting cropland to perennial grasses in ways that meet their economic goals.

    We visualize the following trends in Southern High Plains agriculture in the coming decades in the context of transitioning to low-irrigation management: (1) fewer acres of irrigation overall and increased acres of limited-acreage, high-value crops, (2) continual improvements in water use efficiency of major row crops such as cotton and corn, (3) partial replacement of irrigated row crops with perennial grasses and legumes, water-efficient sorghum and millet crops at low irrigation, and with dryland crops, (4) greater use of precision water management technologies such as ultra-low and variable-rate irrigation, (5) greater dependence on online decision aides for guiding inputs, (6) greater use of cover crops with dual use as forages, and (7) warmer temperatures leading to greater evaporative demand and more droughts. These trends will require constant testing of forage systems across the range of weather conditions experienced to offer options to landowners on how to maintain profitability.

    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.