Organic and Conventional Agriculture: Learning from Each Other to Promote Soil Health and Economic Viability in West Texas

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $299,667.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Katie Lewis
Texas A&M AgriLife Research


  • Agronomic: cotton, peanuts


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Conventionally tilled monoculture cropping systems are predominant throughout much of the Southern Great Plains. Texas is no exception, where only about 16 percent of cropped acres are under conservation tillage. In semi-arid environments, soil health promoting practices such as cover crops are not well received due to potential soil moisture use and additional input costs. However, organic producers have been successful in these environments using crop rotation and cover crops under irrigated and dryland agriculture. It has been estimated that around half of Texas producers are open to the idea of organic farming and thousands of farms are already using at least some organic methods. The National Center of Appropriate Technology (NCAT) recommended that assistance to transitioning producers be a priority as well as a greater commitment for university research and extension efforts in organic production in order to accelerate the closing of the gap between consumer demand and the supply of Texas grown organic products. While Texas lags in organic production overall, Texas is the leading producer of organic cotton, peanuts, and rice. Texas growers over 90 percent of organic cotton, 95 percent of organic peanuts and 41 percent of organic rice in the U.S. However, organic management practices are not always considered sustainable as tillage is the primary weed control tool. In addition, full benefits of cover crops may not be realized in organic production systems of West Texas as very low seeding rates coupled with early termination via tillage are common. We have teamed with the Texas Peanut Producers Board and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative to identify agronomic production limitations in respective organic systems. In addition, the research team has a long history of working closely with farmers using conservation measures in conventional cropping systems. Our long-term goal is to identify management practices that enhance soil health in organic and conventional agriculture and share successful practices that may be incorporated within respective farming operations to improve soil health and economic viability. Organic and conventional cropping systems varying in intensity of cover crop usage, no tillage, crop rotation, and soil texture have been identified, and soil health assessments will be completed and compared on each, assessing soil physical, chemical, and biological properties as well as potential greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, replicated research trials will be conducted to address key research needs as identified by stakeholders and the research advisory panel. Results from this project will empower both organic and conventional growers to make informed decisions on inputs that will result in effective soil health promoted practices and optimum economic options.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Identify and quantify the effects of soil health promoting practices in organic and conventional cropping systems in semi-arid regions of Texas via on-farm assessments.
    • Evaluate the impact of cover crops, crop rotations, and conservation tillage practices in organic and conventional systems on weed control, ecological services and stored soil moisture in replicated research trials.
    • Conduct economic analysis of the proposed production systems to evaluate factors limiting adoption of soil health promoting practices in organic and conventional farming.
    • Compile and disseminate information to growers, researchers, county agents, natural resource managers, and regional public officials on the production potential, financial viability, and ecological impacts of evaluated cropping systems.
    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.