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Texas High Plains

Reducing uncertainty on the Southern High Plains

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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.

3-3-1

Newsom, Hill and Rowdy Bolen, co-owners of Trilogy Cellars, started their business venture just to make a three-family malbec for their closest family and friends. When Hill’s grandmother decided to sell her building on Levelland’s main street, the trio knew the time was right to start a tasting room. In fact, Newsom was so sure about it he told Hill to “write her a check or I will.”  Nine months later, Trilogy Cellars opened its doors.

The Texas wine grape industry is growing, especially in the High Plains. According to Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, there are nearly 500 acres of wine grapes grown in Texas. About 80 percent of those grapes are grown on the High Plains which is the northern and western side of Texas. The wine grape economy in Texas is valued at $13.1 billion. These figures, among other things, contributed to the opening of Trilogy Cellars.

Three Families

Trilogy Cellars represents three families: the Newsoms, Bolens and Hills. The three families are agricultural-based families with different growing experiences. Each family plays their own special role in making Trilogy Cellars work.

“The care and consideration we put into our product,” Bolen said, “is unlike what you would get if you were just buying a bottle of wine from a retail store.”

Newsom is a third-generation cotton farmer who started growing wine grapes in 2008 after researching viticulture for five years. Newsom and his wife, Cindy, have two kids, Raenee and Keegan, who are continuing the farming tradition through growing wine grapes. Newsom has a field-first outlook to making wine and believes a good product starts in the field.

“We could not produce the product in the bottle we have,” Newsom said, “if we didn’t do a good job in the field.”

Hill is a fifth-generation farmer who started growing wine grapes as an alternative to growing cotton. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 2005 with a degree in horticulture, Hill decided to expand the vineyard and grow wine grapes full-time. Hill is now the manager of Krick Hill Vineyards, as well as owner and operator of Chace Hill Vineyard Consulting, LLC.

We have dirt in our veins; that’s what makes Trilogy Cellars completely different.

Bolen is a first-generation wine grape grower who started his vineyard in 2010. Bolen and his wife, Tameisha, own and operate Bolen Vineyards in Smyer, Texas. Their daughter  Reese is so passionate about wine grape growing that, at just fourteen, she is planting her own vineyard.

“Reese is really intrigued by the end-product and what the potential could be,” Bolen said.  “That is really what drives her to develop her vineyard and make it her own.”

Three Vineyards

The three families’ vineyards are located in Hockley County, just west of Lubbock. During the growing season, each family, with the help of some hired hands, spends about 40 to 50 hours a week in the vineyard getting ready for harvest. Harvest takes place as early as the first week of August and goes as late as mid-October. During harvest, they work up to 60 hours a week and work throughout the night in order to keep the fruit cool for transportation to the wineries.

Newsom, Hill, and Bolen are very hands-on with every aspect of the winemaking process. They pride themselves on growing high-quality wine grapes that result in high-quality wine. Newsom says the work in the field is what sets Trilogy Cellars apart from other wineries in Texas.

“We have dirt in our veins,” Newsom said, “that’s what makes Trilogy Cellars completely different.”

Once the fruit has been harvested, it is sent to Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock, Texas, to be made into wine. Although the wine is not made at Trilogy Cellars, it is carefully directed and monitored by the Trilogy Cellars team. After the wine is made, it is sent to McPherson Cellars where it is bottled and labeled.

After the wine has been bottled and labeled, it goes to the tasting room where it can finally be enjoyed. The tasting room is in a remodeled building that was built in 1926. Prior to Trilogy’s grand opening in October 2016, Newsom, Hill, and Bolen stripped the building down to its bones to expose the original plaster that was chipped away to uncover some of the original brick.

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A group of Texas Tech law students enjoys a glass of Malbec and a meat and cheese board at Trilogy Cellars.

One Vision

Guests who come into the Trilogy Cellars tasting room can enjoy a variety of award-winning wines, including the pinot grigio, reserve malbec, reserve merlot, and gewurztraminer.  These wines and many more can be enjoyed by the bottle or glass in the tasting room. Guests can also enjoy a tasting while learning more about Trilogy Cellars.

Newsom, Hill, and Bolen enjoy sharing their passion with the local community and explaining how wine grapes are grown, harvested and crafted into wine. Newsom says the challenges he faces from growing wine grapes differ from the challenges he faces growing cotton because of the delicate nature of grape production. While a cotton grower will more than likely never wear a shirt made from his crop alone, the experience of a wine grape grower is much different.

“There is an intimacy that you grow with grapes that when you finally pop that cork or unscrew that bottle and pour it for someone, it’s special,” Newsom said. “There is nothing like sharing something that you have taken from the start all the way to finish with a customer.”

As tedious as the winemaking process is, Newsom, Hill, and Bolen continue to grow Trilogy Cellars. They hope to spread their vision of producing high-quality wine grape and encourage other growers to take pride in what they grow and share it with their local community.

Four Reasons Why Texas High Plains Wine Grapes are Making a Name for Themselves

A cluster of Tempranillo grapes a few weeks from being harvested on the High Plains. Photo by: Olga Koldin on https://www.freeimages.com/photo/wine-yards-1324683

The Texas High Plains is home to roughly 4,000 acres of commercial vineyards and about 80 percent of all wine grapes grown in the state. This came as a surprise to me because I thought the only thing grown in this region was cotton. After learning about this statistic, I set out to find exactly why High Plains wine grapes grow so well.

1. Soil

The Texas High Plains has sandy loam soil with some caliche underneath. This soil is perfect for growing wine grapes. The grapevines thrive here because the soil has good drainage, which helps the water reach the roots. Our well-drained soils encourage the roots to seek out water, ultimately produceing better roots.

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Stepping into the vineyard on a nice spring day. Photo by Mario Gonzaga

 2. Climate

The Texas High Plains is perfect for growing high-quality wine grapes. In this area, we have some really hot summer days; this is essential for ripening the grapes. Due to the altitude, we have cold nights, which allows the grape’s juices to cool off and slow down the ripening process. Unlike cotton production, low rainfall and humidity are ideal for conditions for grape production because it reduces the presence of grape diseases. The amount of sunlight we have is great for the red grape’s skin color, which makes more intense flavors and colors in the wine. Our warm, dry climate is ideal for grape varieties acclimated to Mediterranean conditions.

3. Educational Resources

Texas Tech plays a vital role in helping the wine industry flourish in the High Plains. Texas Tech actively promotes the education of viticulture and enology by being the first university in this region to offer certificate programs and coursework relating to this industry. Texas Tech also has a Wine Marketing Research Institute that educates various audiences interested in the wine industry. With the support of Texas Tech, the local government and community have accepted the wine industry as a part of their culture.

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A cluster of Tempranillo grapes a few weeks from being harvested on the High Plains. Photo by: Olga Koldin

4. Agricultural Economy

Because the High Plains is prime real estate for agricultural businesses, it’s no wonder the wine industry has found its home here. We have resources such as irrigation companies, skilled laborers and the knowledge of farming to help this industry thrive. According to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, there are more than 436 wineries in Texas, most of which are fueled with grapes from the High Plains.

The High Plains was built on the foundation of agriculture. This cultivates a community that supports viticulture because they view it as what it is — another form of farming.

The High Plains is thriving in the wine industry and is continuing to grow. Now that you know more about wine grapes in the High Plains, make sure to grab a bottle of wine made with local grapes.

Sowing the Seeds of the Future

Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.
Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.

It all started with farmers. Farmers who were searching for stability in an uncertain cotton market and thirsting for the knowledge to run their operations more efficiently. It started with farmers wanting to have the courage to start all over “come planting time” and sow the small cotton seeds that would largely determine their future. It started with farmers recognizing that in order for the cotton industry to survive, it has to be passed on to the next generation.

Cooperatives all started with farmers. Likewise, the Cooperative Producer Orientation, hosted by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, Farmers Cooperative Compress and PYCO Industries Inc., started because of the need to educate High Plains cotton farmers on the regional cotton cooperative system headquartered in Lubbock, Texas.

Cooperatives, whether ginning, marketing, warehousing, or cottonseed processing, enable cotton growers to keep their farming operations stable even when the volatile market, like a wolf at the door, threatens to devour their life’s work in seconds. To do so, any profit each cooperative makes is returned to its grower-owners in the form of monetary dividends.

Lincoln Devault, an orientation attendee and 2015 agricultural economics graduate of Texas Tech, commented on the importance of the dividends cooperatives provide farmers.

“If you don’t have a profit, a lot of these farmers aren’t going to be able to make it, so that is pretty important,” Devault said.

The annual orientation featured 46 farmers and their spouses from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. The attendees were educated on each phase of the cooperative system, or level of the supply chain as industry leaders call it, and how the legacy of farming is preserved in each. In doing so, the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock continually sow the seeds of the future by educating their grower and gin owners.

Devault said he is currently keeping his family’s near 100-year tradition of farming going with help from cooperatives.

“Pretty much my whole life I wanted to come back and farm on the family farm,” Devault said. “The No. 1 important thing for us is to be able to market our cotton at the highest price possible, and the only way for us to do that is to stick together in coops.”

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The 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation featured the largest number of attendees since the program’s creation.

Working Toward a Common Goal at PCCA

The theme of “sticking together” is how Plains Cotton Cooperative Association began the orientation event. The marketing cooperative provided an overview of its rich history, services, and marketing strategies that blend together to help producers get the best possible price for their cotton. The cooperative, which is one of the largest cotton marketing organizations in the world, was founded in 1953 by producers across the High Plains of Texas and has since led the industry in innovation and service. PCCA currently serves an estimated 9,000 grower-owners across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Devault said PCCA’s presentation began with an explanation of the value of being a coop member.

“The first thing they did was go into the benefits of being part of the coop,” he said, “which is how a group of farmers that are like-minded come together and work toward one common goal, which is putting more money back into the farmer’s pocket.”

It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going. Lincoln Devault

Harvesting Profit at FCC

Following the presentation from PCCA, attendees had a working lunch at Farmers Cooperative Compress. The warehousing regional cooperative followed suit with its presentation and provided an overview of its history, services, and even included a tour of its cotton warehouses. In 1948, producers came together to resolve the issue of cotton storage on the High Plains, thus creating Farmer Cooperative Compress. Today, the cooperative has 208 warehouses, 7,000 members, and a USDA licensed capacity to store over 2.2 million bales of cotton. The cooperative recently celebrated a milestone in returning $1 billion back in dividends to its members since its establishment.

Orientation attendees also were provided a tour through the cotton warehouses, which were full of cotton bales from the 2016-2017 cotton crop’s unexpectedly high yields.

Travis McCallister, a new cotton farmer and 2014 Texas Tech agricultural economics masters graduate, said it was very educational to view the operations at Farmers Cooperative Compress.

“My favorite thing about going to the compress was going out in the warehouses and getting to see the production of how they move cotton in and cotton bales out and ship those,” McCallister said. “It was really interesting to see the production of it all.”

After a brief question and answer session in the cotton warehouses at Farmers Cooperative Compress, attendees traveled to PYCO Industries Inc.

Extracting Value at PYCO

PYCO Industries Inc., shared its history and an overview of its services and procedures prior to the tour of its facilities. The oil mill, which was established in 1936, is the oldest of the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock and is the largest cottonseed cooperative in the southern United States. The cooperative is also owned by cotton gins, rather than cotton growers like PCCA and Farmers Cooperative Compress.

PYCO Industries Inc. currently serves 60 member-gins and processes cottonseed from those gins to extract and refine cottonseed oil for cooking in various forms, as well as cottonseed byproducts, including cottonseed meal, hulls, and linters.

Cooperative Producer Orientation attendees had the opportunity to take a walking tour through the oil mill facilities to see every part of the operation possible, including real examples of the products and byproducts that result from processing the seed.

Devault noted the tour of PYCO Industries Inc., and its complex operations served as a valuable learning experience.

“A cotton plant is one of the most diverse plants as far as the amount of products that can come out of it,” he said. “It was really interesting to see how they develop all the different products that they sell and what they are used for.”

The tour of PYCO Industries Inc., concluded the 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation.

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Orientation attendees took a walking tour through the facilities at PYCO Industries, Inc.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF PRODUCERS

Devault and McCallister, both young producers, cooperative members, and former Red Raiders, said their takeaways from the event were second to none.
“I now have a vested interest in not only the cotton I grow here, but also getting it to the consumer in the cheapest way, and that turns me back more money,” McCallister said. “It allows my operation to have a wider reach than what it would if I was just taking it to the gin and selling it and if I didn’t have anything invested in it further down the supply chain.”

Devault echoed McCallister’s comments.

“Anytime you get a chance to visit a coop that you are a part of or that you are thinking about going into, you should jump on it,” Devault said. “You are going to learn something, and the more young farmers my age can get out and see what these coops are about the better it is going to be. It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going.”

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