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Ogallala Aquifer research team wins prestigious national USDA Award

Ogallala Aquifer research team wins prestigious national USDA Award

The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has made headlines over the past several years and has been a big concern to many who live on the Southern Great Plains region, including the Texas High Plains, along with portions of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The aquifer encompasses more than 170,000 square miles, making it a sizeable and vital water resource.

The importance of preserving the aquifer is why a decade ago Texas Tech University teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, as well as other universities, including Kansas State, Texas A&M and West Texas A&M, to study the aquifer in more detail, said Michael Galyean, dean of Texas Tech’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

For its work and dedication to finding water-saving solutions, the team of researchers involved in the Ogallala Aquifer Program had been awarded the ‘2013 USDA Secretary’s Honor Award’ in the category of Enhancing Economic Vitality and Quality of Life in Rural America. The award, considered by many as the most prestigious departmental award given by the USDA secretary, was presented last month in Washington, D.C.

The research was aimed at:

  • Investigating and improving water management within existing cropping systems.
  • Developing and evaluating integrated crop and livestock systems that reduce dependence on underground water resources while optimizing productivity, product quality and profitability.
  • Investigating designs, performance and management strategies for water conservation.
  • Assessing groundwater resources in the Ogallala Aquifer and their relationships with climate.
  • Enhancing knowledge base of producers, water professionals and policy makers about soil water, crop water use, precipitation management and irrigation principles.
  • Developing an information program for youth about the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • Developing and evaluating water-saving technologies for concentrated animal feeding operations and industries that process agricultural commodities.
  • Evaluating the implications of alternate water policy options.

The combined work has helped to better understand water management and allow for the development of tools farmers and ranchers can use.

Among the advancements within Texas Tech’s portion of the program were:

  • A new method based on satellite observations is being developed to provide real-time irrigation recommendations on a field-by-field basis to farmers. This meth­od could reduce the total amount of water applied to a typical irrigated field by around two inches per growing season, resulting in a saving of over 350,000 acre-feet of Ogallala Aquifer per year across the Southern High Plains.
  • Helped create Turffalo-Buffa­lograss, Shadow Turf-Zoysiagrass, and the Red Raider Native Wildflower Collection that have been distributed statewide for use in water conserving landscapes
  • Developed an integrated crop, livestock, forage production system that requires 23 percent less irrigation water over cotton monoculture systems, potentially saving Texas producers an estimated $18 million in cash expenses
  • Recent research challenges the argu­ment for managing groundwater as a common property resource and suggests that a CRP type of policy would be superior to tax and quota-based ones to achieve water conservation goals
  • A survey of producer and water district managers in Kansas and Texas revealed that the most relevant water conservation policy options for the southern portion of the Ogallala Aquifer would be: 1) investments in bio-engineered drought resistant crop varieties, 2) investments in efficient irrigation technologies, 3) short-term water rights buyouts, 4) long-term water rights buyouts, and 5) water use restrictions
  • Conducted outreach programs for producers and agribusiness leaders highlighting current and future production and water management best practices. Emerging technology presentations were given on the new SmartCrop irrigation man­agement technology and Exactrix anhydrous delivery systems.

The Ogallala Aquifer region produces about 4 percent of the nation’s corn, 25 percent of its hard red winter wheat, 23 percent of its grain sorghum, and 42 percent of its fed beef. Water availability, cost, policy, technology development and adoption rates will shape the rural landscape in the coming decades.

CONTACT: Michael Galyean, Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2808 or michael.galyean@ttu.edu

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