Demonstration Projects; TAWC lays groundwork for water conservation
Hard times brought on by drought have taken a toll on a number of South Plains producers, but not, it seems for Idalou alfalfa farmer Randy McGee. These days he's taking a negative situation and turning it into something positive.
"The 2011 drought was a big learning curve, I guess you could say," he said.
Some of McGee's agricultural answers came from a huge demonstration project that started nine years earlier, known as the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation. The program hosts demonstrations and field days focusing on research-based, water-saving techniques and technologies, in addition to providing management tools that conserve water and help producers remain profitable.
Former Senator, now Texas Tech University Chancellor, Robert Duncan, is to thank for the TAWC. He clearly understood the water and drought issues Texans faced. "Water conservation is vital to the future of agriculture in West Texas," he said.
Working with the Texas legislature, a $6.2 million grant was funded through the Texas Water Development Board to establish the TAWC project. The project is directed by a board of area producers in Hale and Floyd counties and started with more than 4,000 acres that demonstrated diverse production and irrigation systems. The success of the project has led to similar activities in other counties and a second grant from the state.
"The last session of the legislature in Austin appropriated another $3.6 million to carry the project for another five years, with 2014 actually being year one of Phase Two," said Rick Kellison, the TAWC project director. "So, we will go through the growing season of 2019."
Initially, the project was only in two counties, Floyd and Hale County. Last year the TAWC has added six more counties, six additional growers and added two more sites within Floyd and Hale counties. Currently, that puts them at 23 growers, 33 sites, and about 6,000 acres.
The TAWC goal is to demonstrate to producers ways in which they can be more conservative with the amount of water that they are using, but at the same time maintain an economic viability. Demonstrations are a big part of the TAWC, Kellison said. In 2013 field walks began, which are a series of meetings through the growing season.
During these walks they bring growers to the field, look at the various crops, talk about the plant's current stage of growth and water demand, and how much water had been applied. New technologies have also been tested on these demonstrations with the results being shared at field days and during field walks.
One such technology is capacitance probes. A capacitance probe is installed in the field and can have moisture sensors every four inches. Using mobile technology such as the iPhone, iPad or laptop, a grower can pull up his real-time sensor in his field and be able to see how deep the crop is rooted and where that crop is pulling moisture from.
Separately, on Wednesday (Jan. 21) the TAWC's first annual 'Water College' will be held at Lubbock's Bayer Museum of Agriculture. The event features presentations from experts in the industry discussing soil moisture probe technologies; soil and water relationships; grain sorghum, corn and cotton water and fertility issues; weed control in crop fields; and the latest in irrigation research.
"We've worked hard to put together a program well worth producers and crop consultants' time, and we are confident they will leave TAWC Water College with the water management knowledge they need to be well equipped going into this next growing season," Kellison said.
Written by Heather Wilson
CONTACT: Rick Kellison, Project Director, Texas Alliance for Water Conservation Project, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2774 or firstname.lastname@example.org
0116NM15 / Editor's Note: Heather Wilson's article first appeared in the Spring 2015 Issue of "The Agriculturist," a publication of Texas Tech's Department of Agricultural Education & Communications
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