Hot summers are common in Texas, and this summer was no exception. In his tenure year at Texas Tech University, Eduardo Segarra has not seen a drought that compares to this year’s drought. The U.S. drought monitor has described West Texas’ current drought as exceptional, the most extreme drought rating.
With bouts of heavy precipitation during spring and summer 2010, dry weather has now consumed the South Plains. Through the winter, spring and fall, the south plains region has recorded some of the lowest precipitation numbers in the region’s history. With drought comes crop concerns, and this growing season is concerning to agriculture producers.
“As far as I am concerned it is a life changing event, an economic disaster,” said Rick Kellison, the project director of the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation. Composed of farmers, ranchers, researchers, state and local agencies, the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation works to develop strategies and methods for reducing water use.
When questioned on the drought and its various impacts on farmers and ranchers.
Kellison responded, “The difference between the livestock industry and row crop farming is when there is some normalcy of rain fall we can get back to a normal field in one year but when you look at the livestock industry and we liquidate our cow herds and were looking at rebuilding those herds we are looking at thirty six months at least. That’s going to have a longer lasting effect than the devastations of the row crops.”
Segarra looks to a future where high drought conditions will not make farming so difficult. Segarra hopes for change on the High Plains water conservation with more focused research and technology development.
Texas Tech’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is in the initial stages of a water program for semi-arid lands. This is crucial to the future of agriculturalists, as well as a successful research university. Segarra has proposed a call to bring focus in technology research.
“We need to take a lot more time to target and plan our efforts,” said Segarra. “It is just a matter of time before things get really scarce. I do not know if we are there just yet.”
Throughout his career, Segarra has focused his research on improving farm-level decision-making with respect to emerging technologies and environmental constraints. Drought is one of the environmental constraints that concerns Segarra the most. Segarra could not over emphasize the need to conserve water resources.
“We cannot have enough of that resource. In the High Plains, for the most part people are getting water and transforming it into wheat, cattle or cotton. They are selling that water in terms of those products,” Segarra said, discussing conservation locally.
While Segarra focuses on the academia side of the research, Kellison is completely field research with producers using emerging technologies.
“We now have an irrigation calculator which the producer can enter their amount of contiguous and acres irrigated acres, and either how much water will be allocated to him based on the water district policy or how much water he has available or wants to use for the growing season,” said Kellison on recent developments.
Dr. Rudy Ritz, a Texas Tech alummni and professor in the agricultural education and Communications department, currently teaches the course technology transfer in agriculture. Technology is only helpful if the knowledge to use it correctly and efficiently is available. When questioned about water use on the high plains and how technology can aid us, Ritz was quick to respond.
“Water is not an ag issue; it is a people issue. Everybody is going to use that water, but it has to be across the board,” Ritz said. “ We all need to contribute to the research from the farm, to the ranch to the city. We have to tell them what the research is finding.”
With drought and water consumption on the rise and an ever-growing population, research on conservation has become a neccesity for the future.Segarra caalls for a focus of efforts within the research field. With a more narrow focus in research some long term solutions should be found.
“If we are expected to produce enough food and fiber in the future there is no question that technological progress will have to play a role. The level of population growth that we are talking about will require us to extract more from the resources that will be less available in the future.”
Segarra, Kellison and Ritz are relentlessly searching for solutions. With Kellison’s involvement with the Texas Alliance for Water conservation and within the university, Texas Tech is primed for a future in water. This current drought and ever-diminishing resources are definitely an environmental and economical concern for the present and future. There is constant progress being made towards water sustainability. With a bright future ahead of us and with smart planning water is a future Texas Tech can keep.