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natural resources conservation service

The Full-Time Part-Timer

Brandon Ray photographs the wildlife and landscape on his ranch.


s a kid, Brandon Ray would head up to Palo Duro Canyon once or twice a year to visit his grandparents’ ranch that has been in the Ray family since 1948. When Ray realized he could go to college at Texas Tech University, only an hour and a half from the ranch, he knew that was where he was meant to be.

“I grew up in Dallas, and I’m kind of the kid that grew up in Dallas that never should have been in Dallas,” Ray said.

Ray graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in ranch management, then moved to Canyon, Texas, to take over his grandparents’ land. His main job was ranching and guiding hunts, but then he found himself excelling in another niche.

Right after he graduated from college, he sold his first journal article. Today, he has written and photographed for over 20 different hunting and fishing publications including: Journal of Texas Trophy Hunters, Texas Wildlife Magazine and Bowhunter Magazine.

It’s like I have three part-time gigs, which is good, because when one is slow, hopefully another one is picking up, and you don’t have all your eggs in one basket with one job, Ray said.

“It’s like I have three part-time gigs, which is good, because when one is slow, hopefully another one is picking up, and you don’t have all your eggs in one basket with one job,” Ray said.

In addition to his many jobs, Ray also participates in the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Canyon. These programs provide assistance to agricultural producers to implement conservation practices on their land.

Ray said he has many different species to manage on his ranch, such as mule deer, aoudad sheep, feral hogs and turkeys. He said most of the time he sees ranchers that are completely invested in cattle or wildlife, but he strives to balance it all together with the assistance of the USDA-NRCS programs.

Jeff Lewter, NRCS district conservationist in Canyon, assists Ray in his conservation efforts, which include wildlife-friendly fences, improved grazing management for soil compaction on rangeland through monitoring activities, mesquite control through aerial chemical spray applications, and solar panel water tanks. Lewter said he has enjoyed working with Ray over the last few years and he is an exceptional steward of the land.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service is assisting Brandon Ray with conservation practices, such as solar panel water tanks.


“Brandon understands the importance of taking care of the land,” Lewter said, “as well as protecting and conserving the natural resources found on the ranch.”

New Partnership Program to Benefit Farmers, Environment

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered with the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) and six other underground water districts for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, known as RCPP, to help farmers remotely monitor soil moisture.

Greg Sokora, NRCS civil engineer in Lubbock, said the RCPP consists of a soil moisture monitoring system that measures the amount of moisture in the ground. A telemetry receiver, much like a cellphone tower, is placed either at the pivot or in the field allowing farmers to receive up-to-date soil moisture information every 15 minutes to an hour on their smartphones, tablets or home computers.

“Water flow meters and chemigation valves are the high priority practices in the RCPP program,” Sokora said.

Image courtesy USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Brandt Underwood, NRCS conservation agronomist in Lubbock, said the RCPP program is going to help farmers match their irrigation scheduling closer to their crop water needs by using the most advanced soil moisture monitoring technology available.

“I would call [the RCPP program] a three-way partnership between us, the landowner, and the contractor,” Underwood said. “It’s beneficial for us all to work together. What NRCS is doing is providing some technical and financial assistance. When we’re done, we have a quality installation and a quality practice on a piece of land that will help us increase that conservation level on that farm.”

Jason Coleman, general manager for HPWD, said he sees a possibility for the continuation of the program if it is as successful as producers believe it to be. He said there is roughly $2 million for the next five years to allow producers an opportunity to utilize those funds for some of the areas of water conservation and water management.

“It would be nice if this program is as successful as we believe it will be, and that this partnership program remains available through USDA,” Coleman said.

IrrigationTech_BHeff using app 2
Photo courtesy USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service

Coleman said through the program, the HPWD hopes to offer services and assistance to producers and well owners, specifically for producers with flow tests. Coleman said those services are aimed at educating and helping people understand changing water levels and changing water conditions on their properties. This allows the farmers to leverage that information with the equipment to better manage water resources on their properties.

Underwood said this program is designed to assist farmers with more opportunity to build on their existing management for irrigation scheduling.

“Depending on how a farmer has set up his operation determine how many flow meters he will need,” Underwood said. “Sprinkler systems are designed to run at a certain number of gallons per minute, and it’s hard to manage what you can’t measure. A flow meter is just another tool to help them manage what they’ve got.”

This program is also helping the environment in relation to managing water resources. Sokora said this program is pertinent to West Texas and water resources in the area.

“Saving water: That’s the big intent,” Sokora said, “That’s our intent, that’s the groundwater district’s intent.”

“If a farmer can stop two irrigations — one at the beginning of the season and one at the end of the season — he would have left that much more water in the aquifer,” said Sokora.

Example Root Summary Plot (Fig. 7)
Photo courtesy USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service

Coleman said farmers who want to sign up for the RCPP program may go to their local USDA-NRCS offices and inquire about the program. Sokora said there’s been heavy interest despite the program just beginning.

“I think it’s got off to a good start,” Sokora said. “There’s been a lot of outreach. A lot of the water districts had a waiting list for people to apply…we’re looking forward to a good sign up. There’s a lot of interest in that. Farmers have to save everything they can with the water and the energy and the money that they save by not pumping water.”

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