2012 Blue Legacy Award ~ Agriculture Winners

The Council recognizes this year’s 2012 Agriculture Award Winners for successfully promoting and incorporating water conservation through efforts in their operations.

The Council would like to recognize the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Panhandle District 1 for their work on the 2011 North Plains Corn Irrigation Demonstration Project: Efficient Profitable Irrigation in Corn (EPIC).

Efficient Profitable Irrigation in Corn (EPIC) is a results demonstration effort conducted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and funded primarily by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District designed to address the adoption of improved irrigation management strategies to increase water use efficiency, crop productivity, and production profitability. EPIC is a cooperator based, field level project conducted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service within the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District.

EPIC’s in-field, scientific approach utilized two side-by-side field plots (separate fields or split fields), maintaining one plot as a control and management of irrigation on the experimental plot to meet two objectives; 1) maintain or improve yield as compared to the control and 2) reduce pumped irrigation water by one to four inches. In the inaugural season, 2011, five (5) irrigated producers in the Texas North Plains became EPIC cooperators, contributing field-scale control and experimental plots, all farm operations, and all production costs with no monetary compensation from EPIC.

From the preliminary results from one year of the EPIC project, the implication is that grain corn yields can be maintained or increased with a reduction in applied irrigation water. To further mature this concept and verify the 2011 results, it is recommended that EPIC is continued for at least three additional seasons (through 2014). The operational recommendation is that producers who have participated in one season of blind technology utilization are advanced to full exposure of the management tools with appropriate training. New cooperators would still be expected to participate in one season of blind participation to ensure a control. This component of EPIC proved absolutely essential from a human nature standpoint as multiple cooperators admitted desire to alter the management of their Legacy plot to match the EPIC strategy. Future iterations should include one producer from each of the eight North Plains Groundwater Conservation District counties.

Members of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Panhandle District 1include Nicholas Kenny, Scott Strawn, J.R. Sprague, Marcel Fischbacher, Michael Bragg, Kristy Synatschk, Brad Easterling.

The Ogallala Aquifer Program, a research-education consortium, is recognized as a group that promotes water conservation while helping to maintain or improve the profitability of farming and the prosperity farming communities of the Texas High Plains. Irrigated farming on the Texas High Plains is dependent on withdrawals from the Ogallala Aquifer, an aquifer that has very limited recharge in Texas.

In many places on the Texas High Plains, withdrawals have exceeded recharge for many years leading to substantial decreases in groundwater availability. Continued prosperity of farms and communities in this region are dependent on conserving water from the Ogallala Aquifer while maintaining the agricultural productivity. Changes in water laws and policies in Texas are creating the situation in which agriculture will have to use less water. The challenge for farmers and communities on the Texas High Plains is to maintain agricultural productivity and community prosperity as water use declines.

The Ogallala Aquifer Program is a research-education consortium led by the USDA-ARS laboratories in Bushland and Lubbock, TX, and includes the four major agricultural universities on the Southern High Plains: Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, and West Texas A&M University. The program’s two objectives are to: 1) develop, evaluate and disseminates knowledge and technologies for water users with emphasis on water use by agricultural producers; and 2) provide scientifically based data and knowledge by which policymakers can make effective decisions regarding water use and conservation. Program projects leverage existing state and federal resources, and approximately 80 state and federal scientists participate.

Program participants include USDA-ARS, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, and West Texas A&M University.

The Texas Alliance for Water Conservation began in 2005 and was made possible by a grant from the Texas Water Development Board. 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.

Since 2005, data has been gathered, fields have been observed and research summaries have been formed by the TAWC to aid producers and commodity groups in their efforts to manage water. Outreach activities include an annual field day, meetings, and demonstrations.

With expansion of the project to include more field sites throughout the Texas High Plains equipped with monitoring equipment and creation of additional easy to use tools that can be accessed on mobile devices, TAWC will continue to play a role in the future research and conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer as well as productivity and profitability of area producers.

Robert Meyer has owned and operated his family farm in Deaf Smith County for 30 years. His parents started farming in the county another 23 years before that, in 1959. Meyer has been a leader by adopting conservation practices on his own farm and ultimately by stepping up to lead the State’s largest groundwater conservation district as president of the board of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1.

Meyer farms about 2500 acres of food corn, silage, milo, wheat and cotton. Over the years, economics, common sense and respect for the land have led Meyer to look for ways to conserve and protect his resources. As with any operation on the High Plains of Texas, availability of water now and in the future has always been a significant driver of Meyer’s farming decisions. Meyer began using high-efficiency, low-energy center pivot irrigation about 15 years ago and has used them exclusively for the last 8 years. He began incorporating conservation tillage practices on the farm about 12 years ago. For the last 3 years all of his acres have been either strip tilled or no till. The benefits of conservation tillage: reduced evaporation, cooling of the soil, improved soil health, and improved water holding capacity are critical to Meyer making the most of the water that’s available.