In Press: TAWC and on-farm projects test water management technology
By: Norman Martin
Recently, TAWC Project Director Rick Kellison was interviewed by Ron Smith, an editor with Southwest Farm Press. During their discussion, Kellison outlined how his organization works with producers to test and teach moisture-saving technology.
No silver bullet exists to help every Texas High Plains farmer who irrigates cropland save water. But resources are available, says Rick Kellison, project director for the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation based at Texas Tech University.
“All the growers I know face a declining resource, but are doing the best they can to utilize that resource as judiciously as they can,” Kellison said. “We need to use water judiciously, especially for irrigation, to make sure we get the most production we can.”
Producers need to consider the yield achieved for every unit of water. “If we don't get to the top end of the yield curve, we waste water,” he said. “Every year is different, but often we can save water on the tail end of the growing season. We used to think we would be done by late August, then by September 10, and lately not until the end of September. I think we may be seeing a tradeoff for cotton pounds, but a loss in quality.” In other words, the most profitable return might not be the maximum yield.
Separately, conditions after the final water application make a difference. Will it be warm enough to boost yield? Texas Tech can help with that through research, specifically studies dealing with moisture sensing.
Researchers in Tech's College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources have been working with growers over the last few years to help them learn how to use soil moisture sensing technology. One issue farmers have expressed is that technology changes so fast they can't keep up with it.
“At TAWC, we've used every brand of capacitance probe available,” Kellison said. “We want to show producers how to use them. We have the technology and can teach producers how to retrieve data, but it takes experience to have faith in the numbers.”
Research at the Texas A&M Research Center at Halfway, Texas, as well as research at Texas Tech, shows that soil can't store as much water as initially thought. “We've also done work to determine the optimum time to apply water to cotton,” he said.
For example, one TAWC on-farm project includes several styles of irrigation delivery — LISA, LEPA, subsurface drip, and varied row spacing for pivot systems. The irrigation circle is as uniform as any in the Panhandle for soil type. Research can show the difference in water infiltration and movement of water beneath the soil surface. Meanwhile, drone shots allow growers to see the wetting pattern from above.
Funded by a grant from the Texas Water Development Board, TAWC operates as a partnership of producers, technology firms, universities and government agencies working to extend the life of the largest subterranean aquifer in the United States. Stretching from the Texas panhandle in the south to the northern boundary of Nebraska, the Ogallala Aquifer lies beneath one of the most important agricultural regions in the United States.
The project uses on-farm demonstrations of cropping and livestock systems to compare the production practices, technologies, and systems that can maintain individual farm profitability while improving water use efficiency with a goal of extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer while maintaining the viability of local farms and communities. All production-related decisions are made by the more than 20 producers involved in the project.
CONTACT: Rick Kellison, Project Director, Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, Texas Tech University at (806) 292-5982 or email@example.com