Pairing Groundwater and Climate Data to Inform Sustainable Ranch Management in Uncertain Times

Project Overview

OW18-034
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2018: $49,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: New Mexico State University
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Amy Ganguli
New Mexico State University

Information Products

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine, equine, goats
  • Animal Products: meat

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: water management
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop

    Proposal abstract:

    Ranchers and farmers in northeastern New Mexico have been, and will continue, to face urgent
    challenges related to uncertain groundwater supplies and frequent drought. To address these
    challenges, New Mexico State University has partnered with the High Plains Grasslands Alliance
    (a collective of northeastern NM ranchers who have been working together since 2011), Zeigler
    Geologic Consulting (ZGC), and Think Ubiquitous to incorporate scientific data into
    management decision-making. The overarching research question being pursued through this
    partnership is: How can groundwater and weather data be used to inform land managers
    that are faced with making critical decisions that influence long-term sustainability and
    operational profitability? The economic and ecological viability of ranch businesses is
    inherently tied to long-term water availability, but research by ZGC since 2011 has shown that
    many aquifers in northeastern NM are not recharging. Furthermore, drought is a persistent threat
    to short- and long-term forage supplies. The Alliance has supported ZGC’s ongoing research
    since 2014 through member participation and financial contributions toward regional data
    collection. In addition, the Alliance has been working with NMSU since 2016 to collect detailed
    weather data, in effort to elucidate better understanding of the local hydrologic cycle. Funding
    from Western SARE will enable the member ranches of the Alliance to continue participating in
    the collection of essential scientific data, provide the resources necessary for our science team to
    facilitate comprehensive analysis of groundwater and weather data, and support the development
    of a producer-oriented, web-based data access platform. The outcome of this project will be the
    development and implementation of a user-friendly platform that will be used by producers to
    access comprehensive hydrologic and climatic data which will assist them in making informed
    decisions about key operational management practices such as stocking rates, grazing moves,
    and drought planning.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The following objectives will support our goals of, 1) expanding key hydrological and climate
    data collection, 2) developing a tool that provides land and livestock managers with easy access
    to this data, and 3) integrating this data into management decision-making to improve farm and
    ranch sustainability:
    1. Develop a clear picture of local water table dynamics on producer lands: Continue measuring
    static water levels; Integrate existing water level monitoring and supplemental highresolution
    measurements to capture daily fluctuations; Integrate subsurface hydrogeology
    data with regional geologic mapping to create educational materials.
    2. Compile, analyze, and expand on climate data collection efforts from Decagon weather
    stations installed on participating producers’ lands: Provide summaries of local and regional
    climate data for individual properties as well as the region relevant to drought planning and
    grazing management; Integrate climate and groundwater data for development of
    comprehensive water resource management materials.
    3. Develop, test, and refine a web-based tool for data input, management, visualization and
    communication: Customize and field test features and functions to meet producer needs;
    Develop animations/visualizations capable of conveying complex data relationships for
    application in land and livestock decision-making

    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.