Thornton Distinguished Chair
Plant and Soil Science
What are your current research interests?
I do agricultural research on grasslands, specifically on testing agronomic methods of improving pastures grazed by beef cattle. The aim is to reduce the amount of irrigation coming from groundwater that is used for beef production, and testing that by measuring water use by the grassland and animal growth. From that we calculate the 'water footprint' of a pound of animal weight gain. We have made progress in lowering that water footprint by incorporating forage species with superior nutritional quality into the pastures.
What types of outreach and engagement have you been involved with?
I am administrative director of a project called the 'Texas Alliance for Water Conservation.' It is a demonstration and educational program for the agricultural community in the South Plains area. We work with farmers to demonstrate irrigation methods that use less water while maintaining or improving profitability so that we can reduce the amount of groundwater used in agriculture. We put on presentations such as the annual Water College, and we host field walks and field days on TTU research facilities and local farms.
Why did you choose this field?
My interest in the agronomy of pasture management is stimulating because it involves the integration of many branches of science to reveal methods of animal production that preserve the ecological benefits of perennial plant communities, soil health, carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change, and support populations of pollinating insects and birds. Besides plant physiology, those sciences include soil microbiol ecology, soil physics, water engineering, and animal nutrition.
How do you define good teaching?
Effective teaching involves clarity in explaining new knowledge to students in several different ways to accommodate the variable learning processes that students possess, such as theory matched with hands-on demonstration and practice. Good teaching also involves challenging students to reconstruct the logic of their new knowledge, which builds their skills in analyzing and synthesizing new information.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment was the formation of graduate students who are now leading researchers and teachers in their fields. They developed into such fine professionals partly because I challenged them with research projects that aimed at solving problems faced by farmers while also contributing to improving the environment.
How do you integrate research and outreach into teaching?
For topics covered in the courses, I often give examples of how research, either mine or of colleagues I know, contributed to development of that knowledge, while also pointing out the nuances in the knowledge which require students to modify the applications according to local growing conditions. I also point out how I frame the technical information for farmers who have to make economic decisions on whether to invest in new technology to produce crops and livestock to meet some long-term sustainability goals.
More about Charles West
Even though I grew up in a city, I was stimulated by my father's and grandparents' legacy of farming to consider studying agronomy in college so that I can combine biology and ecology principles with practical food production. I got my B.S. and M.S. degrees at the University of Minnesota, spent two years in Morocco in the Peace Corps transferring agronomic technology to dairy farmers, then pursued the Ph.D. at Iowa State University. Then I spent two years in New Zealand on a postdoctoral fellowship studying nitrogen fixation in pastures. I was on the teaching and research faculty at the University of Arkansas from 1984 to 2012, then joined Texas Tech University as the Thornton Distinguished Chair in Plant and Soil Science, with emphasis on forage agronomy in support of livestock production.