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irrigation

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.

Texas Alliance for Water Conservation Reaches out to Farmers

TAWC President Glenn Schur and his son Layton Schur on their farm located in Plainview Texas.
TAWC President Glenn Schur and his son Layton Schur on their farm located in Plainview Texas.

The Texas Alliance for Water Conservation is working to help farmers utilize technology to conserve underground water. The TAWC project was made possible through a grant received by Texas Tech University from the Texas Water Development Board.

According to Rick Kellison, Texas Tech alumnus and TAWC project director, TAWC members are gaining recognition and raising awareness by holding meetings and field walks throughout the year. These events cater to producers but also involve many agricultural companies who help extend their reach.

“When we were trying to find a location for the Water College,” Kellison said, “we asked ourselves, ‘Where do we need to take people to help them most?’ In Lubbock, we could entice a larger audience from a larger area.”

On Jan. 18, the TAWC held their third annual meeting at the Lubbock Civic Center and attracted around 200 area farmers.

Kellison said the organization’s goal for these outreach efforts is to put technology in growers’ hands, do their best to support them through training and answering questions, and let them evaluate the value of these efforts to their farming operation. He said the producers keep detailed records for the TAWC and, in turn, they compile an economic analysis on each site involved in the project for the farmer.

“Helping doesn’t cost us anything,” Kellison said. “Just a little sweat. It’s a situation where there is no silver bullet and no one size fits all. Different producers have different comfort levels with technology.”

Glenn Schur, TAWC president, said they have some of the best raw data from different crop varieties.

“We’ve never gone in as a board and told the farmers they need to plant this or this,” Schur said. “Whatever they want to plant, we will look at it.”

Kellison said he believes the organization is making a significant impact and producers view the TAWC as an unbiased source of information.

“We are not pushing one technology over another one,” Kellison said. “We tell growers the difference in technologies, but we don’t tell them which one we think they should use or which we think is better. All we are trying to do is make producers aware that there are different technology’s there, and we believe regardless of what the farmer uses, as simple or as complicated as it can be, as long as they are using something to help them manage their water, it’s better than using nothing.”

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