Introducing Alternative Crops Into Traditional Cotton-Grain Farming to Aid Transition To "Freedom to Farm" Agriculture
1.) Design and evaluate cotton-southernpea-chile pepper-grain sorghum rotations to maximize sustainability.
2.) Identify cultural practices that optimize chile pepper establishment and growth.
3.) Develop management practices that reduce chemical applications while enhancing soil health.
4.) Demonstrate on-farm adaptive research and disseminate results to growers.
5.) Evaluate direct impact of rotations on the rhizosphere, crop productivity, farm income and social structure.
Work Accomplished to Date
Project meeting was held with cooperators and growers to evaluate 1999 results and set objectives for 2000 growing season.
GPS/GIS maps of rotational plot areas were made to locate plots for future evaluation. Soil and water samples were collected and analyzed to determine nutrient needs for current crops and evaluate the effect of previous crops on soil nutrient status. Analyses for nematodes and soil pathogens indicated levels below the threshold for adverse effects on crop growth.
Pepper transplants were grown under a row cover transplant production system designed by project scientists, producing the bulk of the pepper transplants used by the growers for 2000 production. Higher early and total yields were obtained from these transplants than from direct-seeded peppers.
Thirty-two varieties of peppers, including chiles, jalapenos, anchos, serranos, and Asian hot peppers were grown from field- and greenhouse-produced transplants. Several varieties of each type were identified as having outstanding market potential. Sterile sorghum windbreaks were deployed in the replicated variety trials, reducing wind and sand damage to young plants, and preventing lodging of heavily-loaded plants at harvest.
Potential value-added marketing opportunities led the growers to build a chile roaster. A significant portion of the green chiles grown by the cooperators was marketed as roasted chiles at local festivals. On one Saturday the group roasted over 70 bags of chile, producing gross receipts of over $1500. The 11 bags of ancho peppers from the variety trial were sold within the first two hours at a premium price. The cooperators are considering building more roasters and expanding this marketing approach in 2001.
Because some fields in the rotation have areas with high pH (8.2-8.4), ten southernpea varieties were evaluated for tolerance to iron deficiency symptoms in a replicated trial. Marked differences in tolerance to high pH were observed. Tolerant varieties of southernpeas will be used in future rotations.
Project scientists assisted growers with proper irrigation scheduling to improve stand establishment and maintain plant growth. Soil moisture was monitored using tensiometers, and irrigation was applied when soil moisture approached levels known to cause drought stress. This higher-frequency irrigation schedule, resulted in larger plants, better fruit set, and higher yields.
Project results were presented at meetings of the American Society for Horticultural Science-Southern Region, the West Texas Vegetable Conference, and the Texas Produce Convention. Several TV and radio interviews featured the project, and a video was prepared by Texas A&M University for distribution to statewide and national media outlets. The project was featured on farm tours and in grower meetings.
Work left to do
Evaluate rotational effects on soil properties, plant growth, and yield; compare irrigation scheduling using tensiometers to potential evapotranspiration calculations from weather station data; refine nitrogen and water management; expand evaluation of windbreaks; develop pest management strategies; increase and refine value-added marketing approaches; analyze impact of rotation systems and new marketing approaches on farms and communities.
Benefits to farmers and consumers
Rotations will improve soil health and productivity, increase cropping diversity, and enhance integrated pest management programs. Growers have cropping choices, allowing them to compete more effectively with imported agricultural products, increase local employment, and supply consumers with fresh local produce.
Texas A&M Agricultural Research & Extension Center
Route 3, Box 219
Lubbock, TX 79403
Office Phone: 8067466101