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Reducing uncertainty on the Southern High Plains

F

arming practices on the Southern High Plains, and more specifically a farmer’s choice of whether or not to change them, are affected by irrigation methods and crop insurance.

Dr. Darren Hudson of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics is the graduate director and helps put together funding for research.

Dr. Hudson said, “We have students from all over doing research that impacts this area.”

Jorge Romero-Habeych is not your traditional student, he served in the Army and worked as an analyst in the natural gas industry before returning to school. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Central Florida. As a doctoral student in Agricultural and Applied Economics, Romero-Habeych’s research explores how farmers choose irrigation techniques.

Agriculture on the Southern High Plains was significantly impacted by the introduction of center pivot irrigation.

 “Prior to the center pivot in the 1990s, … irrigation was very inefficient,” Romero-Habeych said.

By adopting center pivots farmers were able to sustain yields while using less water.

In recent years farmers have had the option of adopting an even more efficient alternative, subsurface drip irrigation. Adopting efficient irrigation techniques along with the right kind of crop insurance is essential for farmers to reduce their exposure to risk.

“Why is it that we don’t see a wider implementation of this technology in the area?” Romero-Habeych asked. “My theory is that crop insurance in conjunction with already existing irrigation techniques might be making drip irrigation less attractive,” Romero-Habeych said. “On the margin, adopting drip is relatively expensive and the benefit in terms of risk reduction is likely not worth the cost.”

In terms of water use, wider adoption of drip irrigation by farmers on the Southern High Plains does not necessarily translate to less pressure on the Ogallala aquifer. Romero-Habeych made an interesting point on the issue.

“Past experience with the center pivot shows that its adoption led to more water use. Farmers actually started using more water than before because they started planting in fields that had previously not been economically attractive,” Romero-Habeych said.

Using the most efficient farming practices possible is vital for all farmer’s to continue production and not give up yields.

“Perhaps drip irrigation would be more widely adopted in the area if existing crop insurance choices were not made available. The combination of current insurance and irrigation options to reduce risk exposure might be crowding out drip,” Romero-Habeych said. “However, that might be a good outcome for the aquifer.”

How farmers on the Southern High Plains are affected by government policies, along with understanding how they use the tools at their disposal to reduce uncertainty, is what drives Romero-Habeych’s research.

Welcome to The Agricultural Drone Age

Today’s farmers are exposed to an influx of technological advancements which claim to increase their yearly crop yields. It is often difficult for farmers to analyze the differences between each new technological advancement in order to decide which is best to meet their particular needs on the farm. One advancement making its way onto farms is unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. Drones are small handheld aircrafts controlled by a remote and range in size, price, and complexity. A study conducted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International found that farms may eventually have an 80 percent share of the drone market.

Crop Health Analysis

According to an article on MIT Technology Review’s website, there are many influential ways drones are making their way into agriculture. Drone-driven analysis provides insight to farmers as to what condition the soil is in, when the best time would be to plant crops, and what level of maturity the plant is at. Additional analysis by drones include water deficiency examination and nitrogen levels of the soil. Drones allow soil and plant information to be processed much more quickly than normal. This is vital to the instantaneous society we live in today where people want the information they are searching for as soon as possible.

drone
The stealth characteristics of drones allow for precise application of chemical to crops without over spraying. http://www.agribusiness.com.pk/agriculture-drones/

Planting Benefits

Some companies such as DroneSeed have future plans to offer aerial planting. Aerial planting cuts manual labor by humans completely out of the equation. The company’s website says some of their drones are even equipped to shoot nutrients into the soil as well as seed pods, so the seed is supplied with enough nutrients to support the plant to full maturity.

Crop Spraying

Drones completely revolutionize crop spraying. The light-weight, quickness of a drone allows the vehicle to swiftly scan crops and precisely apply the correct amount of liquid to a plant without overspraying. Not overspraying the plant keeps chemical costs down and also helps prevent the contamination of groundwater. I personally think this is the most important issue the use of drones withstands. The MIT article also states that aerial spraying is five times faster than traditional spraying.

Sensor Monitoring

The Texas Panhandle is known to face four seasons of weather in just one week’s time. Quick changing weather patterns can often make crop monitoring quite difficult. Time-series animations provided by drones educate farmers on the production of their crop as well as nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Sensors on drones are a vital component of these aerial vehicles being used in agriculture. Visual, thermal infrared, multispectral, LIDAR, and hyperspectral are all of the sensor types drones can be equipped with. Each sensor has its own unique and complex function. These sensors allow the drones to scan soil moisture, plant growth, and heat signature, which explains the amount of energy the crop emits.

sensors
These six sensor types all provide a different view to the user. https://bestdroneforthejob.com/drone-buying-guides/agriculture-drone-buyers-guide/

Other Utilizations

All of these uses provide unique functions that can be implemented on farms. Some farmers and ranchers omit hiring a company for their drone services and just purchase their own less-complex version. This group of users usually operate their drones for more simple things such as making sure irrigation systems are working correctly and running wildlife such as wild hogs out of their crops. Another utilization of this group is mapping out fence and field perimeters.

The rapidness of health assessments provided by the research drones conducted on crops can essentially save a whole field from being taken over by disease, saving farmers and ranchers time while increasing their return on investment. Next time you are someone you know is in the process of deciding whether to integrate the use of drones on cropland, consider these possible uses of drones. Click here to read about them more in-depth.

2016-2017 Cotton Crop Brings Unexpected Measures of Yield and Quality

Cotton is king on the High Plains of Texas.

The 2016-2017 cotton crop year on the High Plains exceeded the expectations of many, including Plains Cotton Cooperative Association Director of Sales Grady Martin.

“There are a couple of things that made this crop unique,” Martin said. “One was the size. There is an old saying that ‘big crops get bigger.’ I think that is the perfect way to describe this one.”

The United States Department of Agriculture reported 10 million total cotton acres planted in the United States for the 2016-2017 crop year, which was a 1.4 million-acre increase from 2015-2016.

Not only did the increase in planted acres contribute to the size of the crop, but across much of the nation, weather conditions played a role in its levels of yield and quality, most notably on the High Plains of Texas.

“We had some late rains in August and then a warm October, which created the perfect conditions for this crop to finish itself out,” Martin said. “The other thing that was special about this crop is the quality, which has been higher than most crops.”

PCCA Director of Risk Management, Chris Kramedjian, said the quality and quantity levels of this year’s cotton crop have generated demand within the market.

“We have high quality, non-contaminated cotton coming out of the United States and there is usually a lot of demand for that,” Kramedjian said. “It has been a remarkable year to have a crop grow beyond expectations as much as this one.”

Improved demand in the cotton market is but one of the positive outcomes of this unforeseen crop. Martin said producers have also seen an improvement in their returns as a result, a factor that could also drive up cotton acreage for next season.

“With the yields that producers made this year, they are making more revenue per acre,” Martin said. “A lot of producers are looking at cotton, comparing it to other competing crops and thinking, ‘what do I need to plant next year?’ Right now cotton looks relatively good, so there should be more acres planted next year.”

Though the 2016-2017 cotton crop has finished, the potential held in the 2017-2018 crop is on the minds of market analysts and farmers alike.

“I think there is plenty out there to look forward to,” Kramedjian said.

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