Adaptable Wide Stale Seedbed System Combining Precision Fertilizer Placement, Conservation Irrigation Management with Reduced Tillage Practices for Long Term Farm Sustainability

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dionicio Valdez
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


  • Agronomic: sorghum (milo)


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    STATEMENT OF PROBLEM What is the problem and how does it relate to, or affect, the sustainability of agriculture in the South? The problem is three-fold. First is agricultural non-point source pollution runoff from irrigated row crop fields. Our local Arroyo Colorado Watershed has been documented to contain pollutants. This not only a local issue but a large source of concern in many other southern states as well. Secondly, inefficient surface water furrow irrigation production practices have traditionally accounted for large water usage. As urban areas grow and require more water, delivery systems are being overloaded. Finally, uncertain future agricultural water supplies given the fact that recent drought conditions and warm winters have diminished many water supplies. Surface irrigation of row crops is a common current cost effective way to irrigate a variety of crops in the Southern US. irrigation water is currently very inexpensive. Furrow irrigation with its inherent limitations of large water usage and excess waste water runoff must be properly managed for efficient use. Farmers manage water for the crop, not the drainage. Here's the developing major problem. Water runoff that occurs from surface furrow irrigation carries with it nutrients, sediment, organic matter, and various chemicals. Many drinking water supplies are being contaminated and causing health concerns for people, endangering wildlife and contaminating the environment. Fish kills are often caused by an increased nutrient load in the water which also decreases available oxygen supply to sustain the fish population. Farmers must now manage their drainage runoff water to mitigate these impacts. Current cultural practices play an important role in sustaining resources for future generations. Many parts of the southern US irrigate row crops by surface irrigation from either surface or underground water sources. We must research and find widely adaptable cost effective ways to efficiently continue to irrigate the crops that help sustain our resources. This research will assist in producing real farm data that will show how to reach the producer's yield goal while at the same time using less water, saving nutrients, improving soil health, and lowering the inputs used to produce the crop. In recent years both surface and underground water sources have seen periods of serious scarcity. ncreased farm and urban needs coupled with long periods of drought conditions as we are experiencing now are stretching our available water supply. As future available water supplies decrease in periods of increased demand and drought, farmers may face rising water costs. Rising energy costs are also dictating that farmers make use of every unit of water they pump towards crop production. We must explore new options and combinations of row crop cultural practices to develop a system that will fit into a farmer's overall management plan and produce viable sustainability of our water supply as well as maintain the long term succession of farming families.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Develop an easily adaptable crop practice that farmers can implement without incurring major equipment costs, or changes to the land. This on farm research is partnering a local grower with Texas A&M Agrillife Research and Extension Personnel; Dr. Juan Enciso Research Agricultural rrigation Engineer (who is currently conducting research on Non-Point Source Pollution in the Arroyo Colorado), Dr. Luis A. Ribera Associate Professor and Extension Economist, and Donnie Valdez Texas Water Resources nstitute/Institute of Renewable Natural Resources AgriLife Extension Outreach into the development of a practical and adaptable Best Management Practice in irrigated row crop production. The rationale behind this on-farm research is very simple. By using tools and methods already in place on the farm, just change the where, when and how on a few production practices to make a noticeable difference. Based on previous experience and familiarity with on-going research our goal is to improve the sustainability of current high yield narrow row farming in the region. We aim to incorporate a sustainable conservation approach to growing narrow row (30'') corn on a wide row (60'') so that a cropping system can be developed that will potentially offer water savings, decreased nutrient run-off in irrigation water,and increase soil health by reducing tillage throughout the cropping system. Focus areas of project are: 1. Reduce nonpoint source pollution runoff from row crop production: a. Follow Soil Sample Analysis recommendations b. Precise placement of soil fertilizers in the space between the rows, where no water will be directly applied by surface furrow irrigation. This is commonly called alternate row irrigation; in this project we are completely eliminating one furrow between rows. c. Use plant petiole testing for any additional crop needs and directly apply foliar fertilizers to the plant if needed. d. Manage herbicide placement to areas needed such as the non-tilled space between rows on wide seed bed (1st year) where furrow irrigation will not directly contact herbicide. 2. Reduce amount of water used for irrigation: a. rrigate only every other row or every 60 inches in 30 inch planted corn. Alternate row will be eliminated by removal of tillage in that area. b. Manage irrigation water sections or sets c. incorporate the use of Soil Moisture Measurement Tools by using soil tensiometers to determine crop water needs 3. improve the soil structure by: a. increased organic matter content in the topsoil layer by not using any tillage on the large bed system itself (2nd year) b. Reduction in loss of soil due to soil erosion c. increase the soil biological activity in the large undisturbed seedbed root-zone between the planted rows (2nd year) d. Decrease nutrient losses in surface/irrigation runoff 4. Decrease total inputs while still maintaining profitable yields: a. Less water units used to irrigate crop b. Less tillage requirements c. Long term buildup of nutrients thereby reducing future needs d. increases soil surface organic matter, reducing the need for herbicides. e. Increase total soil health by incorporating a muti-year reduced tillage stale seed bed practice.

    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.