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Captain Comedy

Sitting in an office surrounded by taxidermy, maps of Texas and legal documents, Captain Aryn Corley gives a flawless impersonation of Superman amidst countless jokes and belly laughter that can be heard down the hall.

Originally from San Angelo, Texas, Corley moved to Levelland, Texas, five years ago. Here, he works full-time as the Texas Game Warden Captain for Region 6, District 2 of Texas and teaches Wildlife Law in conjunction with CASNR. Corley has a part-time gig as well. He is a stand-up comedian, and his humor never turns off. Corley said he has always had a sense of humor and the inability to stop making jokes ever since he was a boy.

“I was almost voted the funniest person in my senior class of high school,” Corley said. “I lost by one vote!”

Corley loves making people laugh and regularly couples that with his love of law enforcement in order to maintain sanity despite the stress of the job.

“Getting to put my time and energy into making people better, it’s just totally worth it.”

Captain Aryn Corley

What many people do not realize is game wardens are state police officers and first responders. Game wardens are often in more extreme situations than other first responders when on the job. Game wardens are called for disaster relief, murder cases, drug cases and to act as border patrol agents in high-risk areas.

Corley became a game warden captain in 2015. He said this is the career he wants to retire from.

“Humor and levity certainly help in a high stress job,” Corley said. “In a way, you could say I’m a dopamine dealer.” His team agrees, including Drew Spencer. a Texas game warden stationed in Lubbock and Crosby counties.

“Corley, in general, makes us realize our job is fun,” Spencer said. “He isn’t always business, so it helps us stay calm, relaxed and not so serious.”

Corley said his favorite part of the job originally was ‘catching bad guys doing bad things’. Now it is seeing personal growth in the people he interacts with. Whether it is watching his own team hit their milestones or taking kids on youth hunts, it does not matter to Corley.

“I never get tired of sharing that experience with that person,” Corley said. “Getting to be involved in that is indescribable.”

Corley said he believes comedy offers a conduit of sorts for relationships and experiences. He said connecting with your audience, whether it is a crowd of people at a comedy club or a team member that had a hard day, with humor allows you to be entertaining while providing an experience they will not forget.

“Getting to put my time and energy into making people better,” Corley said, “it’s just totally worth it.”

Flying High: The Fat Tire Cowboys

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irt and dried grass swirl in the air as a spring breeze rolls down the runway. The sun is slowly setting in a clear, blue West Texas sky. The low, steady drone of an engine can be heard, first faintly, then much louder. Over a grassy area running between a line of hangars and the Slaton Municipal Airport taxi way, a Cessna 185 Skywagon roars into view. The small, high wing aircraft boasting large tires first flies effortlessly down the makeshift landing strip, 10 feet off of the ground. It then circles back, lands, and comes to rest in the field.

As the airplane door opens, golden light reflects off of the clean, white door. A pair of brown, leather boots step out of the sparkling machine and onto the ground by the large, black tires affixed to the airplane. A group of men, wearing boots and some—cowboy hats, approach the airplane.

An unsuspecting passerby would say the happy banter echoing off of the metal hangars were originating from the group of cowboys standing around the airplane with big tires in a field. For the most part, they would be correct. But they are no ordinary cowboys; they are the Fat Tire Cowboys.

We are not traditional airplane people,” La Rosa stressed. “We love it. We just go out and do it; we live it.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys are a group of Texans, primarily raised on the Llano Estacado, who share a background in agriculture and passion for aviation. What began with a simple YouTube post has blossomed into an international brand under the leadership of Bryan Rosa, from Tahoka, Texas. Rosa is better known as “La Rosa” to the other cowboys and their 28,000 followers across social media applications.

After La Rosa was shown fellow Fat Tire Cowboy Chad Bartee’s new bush plane, he knew he had to have one. Later that year, he bought and modified the same type of aircraft by replacing the standard 8-inch tires with a 31-inch pair, allowing the airplane to land in plowed fields, rock-filled river beds, and virtually any non-pavement runway.

La Rosa said the pair of pilots then took a trip to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. There, he created a video showing the airplanes flying over striking landscapes. After posting the video and receiving overwhelming positive feedback and views, he created the Fat Tire Cowboys along with a logo and shirt.

“We were doing all of this crazy stuff anyways,” La Rosa said. “Might as well go ahead and post it for other people to see, too.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys’ passion for flying goes beyond a hobby. Although all of the cowboys have careers outside of aviation, the group can regularly be found planning their next adventure in their hangars any given day. La Rosa said flying is more than a form of transportation to the cowboys. The cowboys fly because they love every part of the journey from the moment they pull their airplanes out of the hangar – to the moment their fat tires touchdown.

“Aviation: the essence of it brings richness to your life – it’s unexplainable to most people,” La Rosa said. “It’s the beauty of it all; you have to have knowledge, and you have to master all of these facets of science and the aircraft and how it behaves.”

The spirit of traditional cowboys lives within the Fat Tire Cowboys. The same drive and intensity that is needed to protect a herd of animals or bring a crop to yield can be applied to aviation. Many of the cowboys’ adventurous spirits and passion for aviation can be traced back to their agricultural roots.

A career pilot of 33 years, Scott Lane recalls working on his family’s farm and ranch near Dimmit, Texas. While driving farm equipment at 12 years old, he remembers watching the crop dusters fly by as he sat on a tractor all day.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Lane recalls as he points toward the sky. “So, I went and did it.”

For others, the journey to the sky was not as simple, but the benefit of having a past in agriculture is clear. 

We are not traditional airplane people.

Koby Reed, a fifth-generation cotton farmer from Seagraves, Texas, grew up watching his grandfather fly. He loved everything about the plane – the smell, the look – but he never made the time to learn. After he realized he was nearing the end of his 30s, he wasted no more time and got his license.

Learning to pilot the skies, Reed said, was easy after growing up on a farm. After years of working on farm equipment, he possessed a deep understanding of mechanical equipment that he has carried over into aviation. Most importantly, through farming, he learned to have a determined mindset.

“Growing up on a farm, you’ve got to be out there.” Reed said. “You’ve got to make it work at the end of the year, and somehow make the crop work. That was the drive instilled in me; you’ll never quit keep going.”

Time and technology have changed the landscape of the working cowboy, but the culture and foundation remain the same. As the Fat Tire Cowboys brand grows and their audience increases, they hold on to their roots and their cowboy attitude.

“Every flight is an education,” Lane said. “Aviation is something that you learn from every flight every day.”

The future for the cowboys looks bright, but no matter what, they are enjoying each day, one flight at a time.

“That’s the fun part about it,” La Rosa said. “We have no clue, but we are enjoying the ride.”

Beyond their shared love of aviation, the cowboys share a true sense of community.

After seven years of restoration on La Rosa’s late father’s Piper Cub, a particularly bad hail storm rolled into West Texas. The massive hail punched holes through the hangar’s skylights and into the carefully painted canvas that makes up the airplane’s wings.

Surrounded by shards of plastic skylight and fragments of the Piper Cub, La Rosa stood in his cold hangar. With years of painstaking work seemingly lost, it would be easy for him to walk away from the aircraft, but giving up was not an option.

Just as a cowboy shepherds his herd in all weather – the Fat Tire Cowboys rallied together to rebuild what had been lost. Before long, the hangar was again filled with the group’s usual banter as the cowboys swept up any evidence from the disaster and got back to work.

Today, the Piper Cub again flies through the sky.

The Mentor

Kristina Butts Visiting
Butts visits with Delanie Crist, a past mentee, about their time in Washington, D.C.

From a young age, Kristina Butts was involved in the agriculture and cattle industries. Because of that background, Kristina thought she would find a job within production agriculture after she graduated. Like many students, however—because of an opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C.—those plans changed. That opportunity blossomed into years of work in D.C., but more importantly, that opportunity grew into a habit of mentoring.

“When I came to Texas Tech, I didn’t really know what my career was going to be. I just assumed I was going to find a job in the cattle industry,” Butts said while sitting in the office of Texas Tech University System Chancellor Mitchell. “If you would have told me I was going to be living in Washington, D.C., for nearly 15 years working on ag policy, I’m not even sure I could have told you what ag policy was.”

But because of a few good mentors throughout college and early in her career, Butts found her way down a completely different path. Made possible through her studies at Texas Tech and her work in D.C., she began bridging the gap between agricultural producers and the consumers they serve.

“I’m really passionate about the role models I had throughout my career who found ways to encourage me and inspire me,” Butts said.

Because of the mentors who helped her and her experiences in 4-H, FFA and Texas Beef Ambassadors, Butts found a new passion that has helped guide her career—returning the favor by becoming a mentor herself and creating more opportunities for students around her.

While many of her positions throughout her career have dealt with policy, creating opportunities for others has always become a focal point of hers.

It started when she accepted a graduate position in the animal science department back at her alma mater—Texas Tech—immediately following her congressional internship in Washington, D.C.

“I had a couple of job offers in D.C.,” Butts said, “but Texas Tech called and asked if I would be interested in a food safety research project.”

During her graduate research, Butts also worked as a graduate assistant in the Texas Tech President’s Office where she mainly worked to help expand the university’s congressional internship—the very one she had just completed.

“At the time, we only had one floor of what we call the Texas Tech house, so our program could accommodate eight students, and we wanted to grow that,” Butts said, “but we needed to grow the housing. We were able to grow up to 18 students. I worked with several presidents to expand the internship program over that three-semester program.”

Kristina’s accomplishment of expanding the Texas Tech Congressional Internship Program—creating new opportunities—during her time at the president’s office was her first real-world taste of helping others professionally.

After Kristina finished her graduate studies in animal science, she had a five-year stint as a staffer for U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith—the same place she worked during her Texas Tech congressional internship.

“I was very fortunate he was my first boss, to really kind of show me what the statesmanship really is in D.C. and how to work across lines,” Butts said with a smile.

I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future. I always tell them I want them to be better than me.

After learning the ropes of the political culture of Washington, D.C., Butts took a position with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

As the lead for NCBA’s lobby team, Kristina led many high-profile events and meetings on Capitol Hill, but there was more to it than just that for her. She took great passion in reestablishing the organization’s internship program.

“When I was at NCBA, I worked to reestablish their internship program,” Butts said. “My joke was, one day I’m going to leave D.C., and when I leave, I want to make sure there’s a pipeline—some really great future minds in agriculture who understand policy, who want to come to D.C. and want to be that advocate and middle person to help support the industry.”

After eight-and-a-half years working on behalf of the U.S.’s beef producers, Kristina got a call from Texas Tech University asking her to return to the university to help set-up its federal affairs program—keeping her in Washington, D.C.

“The other hook they gave me was to help work on the Texas Tech vet school,” Butts said with a smile as she remembered that moment, “and that was a big passion of mine.”

During her time working on behalf of Texas Tech on Capitol Hill, Delanie Crist—a young woman participating in the university’s congressional internship program—met Kristina.

While in D.C., Crist said Butts was extremely helpful to the Texas Tech congressional interns—both CASNR and the president’s interns.

“The most time we spent with her was when she would bring us lunch,” Crist said. “We would eat in the [House Agriculture Committee] room and go around sharing our experiences and talking with one another.”

That experience, for Crist, allowed Butts to become a mentor for her during her time representing Texas Tech in D.C., motivating Crist to take all the opportunities she could.

“She was invested in us,” Crist said with a nod. “The lunches were something that weren’t an obligation for her, but she did it through her desires to help interns and to influence them in a positive light.”

Crist’s experience is not an outlier—it’s representative of Butts’ influence on students and interns she’s mentored throughout her career.

Even today—as the Chief of Staff for the Texas Tech University System Chancellor—she creates new opportunities to gain real-world experience for student assistants in her office.

“I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future,” Butts said. “I always tell them I want them to be better than me.”

Through all her work with students and interns in the past, one thing is very clear—she is invested in the future.

According to the American Psychological Association, mentors—including those found within an internship—are likely to increase professional identity, involvement in professional organizations and satisfaction with the job. Butts’ investment in the future generations through mentorship and creation of opportunities will leave a lasting impact.

“I just like finding the time to give back and help nurture the next generation, whether that’s here [at Texas Tech] professionally within higher education, politically in D.C., involved in policy or just involved in agriculture,” Butts said. “I’m just trying to get them plugged in.”

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.

Where the Grass Grows Greener

The researchers will utilize a drone, equip with various sensors, in hopes of identifying the optimum sensor to detect drought stress on turfgrass. Golf courses in the Lubbock area provide economic benefit to the region according to the projects lead researcher, Joey Young Ph. D.

A situation is playing out in the Texas Panhandle and local golf courses are feeling the heat. During the end of 2017 and into early 2018, the region has gone through an extreme drought, and the main source of groundwater has been in rapid decline for over a decade. Two Texas Tech University faculty members are gearing up to tackle the water issue.

Although an afternoon on the golf course sounds like a fun way to spend the day, for Joey Young, Ph.D. and Wenxuan Guo, Ph.D., two assistant professors in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, it is an opportunity to solve overwatering of recreational turfgrass.

With the region in an extreme drought and the Ogallala Aquifer at risk of total depletion, golf courses like the Rawls Course at Texas Tech are under pressure, said course superintendent, Rodnie Bermea.

“Golf courses use a lot of water,” Bermea said. “In times of drought, it’s especially hard to water all areas of the properly and efficiently. We can end up using more water than we need to, which costs us money and hurts our water supply.”

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, turf requires an average of 25 to 60 inches of water annually, depending on climate, to maintain a healthy appearance. This is one reason some argue golf courses are wasteful. However, Young, an assistant professor of turfgrass science, sees it differently.

It’s more than a tee time

“There’s definitely a perception that golf courses and turfgrass are something that’s basically a waste of a lot of water, and therefore unnecessary,” Young said. “But that’s just not the case. Courses provide a big economic benefit for cities like Lubbock.”

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[Left to Right] Joey Young Ph. D., and Wenxuan Guo Ph. D., discuss plans for their turfgrass research at the Rawls Golf Course as the drone waits, ready for takeoff.
Young argues tournaments and other events hosted at courses like the Rawls impact the local economy by bringing people into the city who utilize local businesses. A sentiment echoed by Bermea.

“Tournaments aren’t only beneficial to the Rawls course, ” Bermea said. “They help everyone. There are the obvious businesses that benefit directly from visitors to the golf course, like hotels, restaurants and all that. But there’s a trickle-down effect on the economy that just can’t be understated.”

While it is apparent golf courses use a lot of water, Young and Guo have devised a plan that could help not only the drought-stricken Lubbock area, but could impact courses around the country and the world.

“Water is our No. 1 limiting resource,” said Guo, an assistant professor of crop ecophysiology and precision agriculture. “Everyone knows the Ogallala Aquifer is depleting at a rapid rate. So, we need to figure out how to save the water or use the water more wisely, more efficiently. This is important from both an economic and social perspective.”

Driving with the drone

Guo said it is not only important to save water for the next generation, but also to conserve water for conventional agriculture production. With a grant provided by the United States Golf Association, the two researchers have developed an experiment with the potential to allow more accurate water allocation on golf courses.

Courses provide a big economic benefit for cities like Lubbock.

“Our goal is to utilize drones and different sensors that will be attached to the drones to collect imagery that could basically determine areas of drought stress on a golf course,” Young said. “The overall purpose would be to utilize various sensors that may give us different information.”

Once these optimal sensors are identified, they could be utilized by golf courses to identify drought stress, potentially before it is even visible to the human eye, Young said. This technology would be used by course managers to adjust irrigation from areas that stay wetter to areas that tend to dry out more. This will ultimately help lower water usage on the golf course and achieve more balanced playing conditions.

“If this technology could allow us to see an area that’s dryer or an area that’s wetter we would be able to water those areas more efficiently,” Bermea said. “We could create a more sustainable irrigation program that would be environmentally beneficial and save us money.”

Simply lowering the golf courses irrigation by 10 to 15 percent would be a huge financial saving for the Rawls, Bermea said.

The research is being conducted at the Rawls Golf Course as well as the Amarillo Country Club, which use different kinds of turfgrass. The varying sensors will give a broader picture of how cool season and warm season turfgrasses handle drought stress.

Young says ultimately he hopes to identify sensors to address specific issues on golf courses and would then like to share that information with course managers around the country. But, it is not just golf courses that may be reaping the benefit of his research.

A put for all mankind

In tandem with the research being conducted on Lubbock and Amarillo golf courses, Guo will also be utilizing the drone and sensor technology to look at lowering water usage in conventional agriculture.

“My area of research is in crop ecophysiology and precision agriculture,” Guo said. “I will be using drones to identify the crop growth variability in fields, within the same season. So, before the final yield at the end of the season, we can look at how the plants are growing and adjust irrigation and other imputes to minimize resource use.”

He said even though different plants sometimes require different methods to study, all plants show drought stress in the same way.

Just like the work being done on the courses, Guo hopes to utilize drone imagery to identify areas of drought stress in crops like corn, cotton and sorghum.

“It has become increasingly important to conserve our water,” Guo said. “The water in our area has been diminishing much faster than originally expected, and we don’t know what our water supply will look like in 20 years. Our whole economy is driven by an adequate water supply, so that makes it urgent.”

This joint research endeavor to ultimately lower water usage in West Texas could have a lasting impact on the region, through improving sustainability and protecting the economic stability of golf courses and conventional agriculture practices. But Young hopes their research will have an even greater impact.

“It’s important to us that we are doing what’s right for our region,” Young said. “But bigger than that I want to communicate our findings to the scientific community in hopes that the information can be shared with course superintendents around the world. For my research to have that kind of reach and impact communities around the world would be the ultimate reward.”

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.

Understanding Agricultural Water Use and Conservation

Johnson, Evan (Photographer). (2018). A center-pivot sprinkler system at sunset in West Texas irrigates a cotton field. [photograph].

Water in Texas 

Water is undoubtedly one of the most important resources in Texas. The state of Texas has attempted to solve water shortages for over fifty years with many different water plans. Though many Texans know water preservation is critical, the methods to conserve water are hotly debated. However, farmers cannot produce the food and fiber you need to eat and wear without access to sufficient water.

According to a report by the Texas Water Resources Institute, annual estimated water use in Texas totaled 16.2 million acre-feet in 2009, with about 57 percent used for agricultural irrigation. With a large amount of water being used in agriculture, it is important to understand individual’s attitudes on irrigation and then work to spread accurate information. It is widely believed policy measures that support water saving irrigation methods will make water more available for cities and environmental issues; however, little has been done to test these ideas.

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A center-pivot sprinkler system at sunset in West Texas irrigates a cotton field. Photo Credit: Evan Johnson

Water Conservation

As standards of living continue to increase, water consumption also rises and available water diminishes. As a society, it is important to understand that we must also take responsibility and action in conserving water. In addition to farmers, many cities and power plants must think about conservation in industrial uses.

Water planners hope the drought of 2011 is enough initiative to make changes in the lack of major investment in water infrastructure. The public’s support, your support, is imperative to creating proposals, and getting constituents involved in resolving water shortages while allowing farmers to have access to the water they need.

Aspects including water supply regulations, changes in climate, and increased population growth have intensified the search for methods to help conserve water in irrigated agriculture, as agriculture is the world’s largest user of water. Texas requires an effective water plan for reasons like recent droughts and predictions that the number of people living in the state in 2060 would reach 46 million.

Field
Bones and debris rest among dead grass in a field. Photo Credit: Evan Johnson

What You Can Do

Though the drought has served as the push companies needed to innovate, lawmakers’ involvement is essential in obtaining funds and encouraging conservation. However, there are many issues in water resource development and regulation in Texas, and pressure for progress is growing.

Society is beginning to understand that we also must take responsibility and action in conserving water. So, it is extremely important to communicate information on water use and preservation to consumers that may be uninformed. Educating the consumers will hopefully result in personal water conservation and an interest in Texas water policy and legislation.

Pump rig
Johnson, Evan (Photographer). (2017). A pump rig replaces a submersible well. [photograph].

Why Water is Important for Agriculture

According to the United Nations, the world population is anticipated to grow from 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. By 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50 percent, and 70 percent by 2050.

Every living creature needs water and food to survive and thrive. Water is necessary to producing food. A farmer’s role is to produce food while actively working to preserve water. The public’s role is to become educated and involved in pressuring lawmakers to work toward a solution that will allow farmers to have access to plenty of water while planning for future water security.

So today, educate yourself about agricultural water use then share why it is so important for farmers to not be cut off from this critical resource with someone who might not know.

To learn more about water use in Texas and how you can get involved, visit the below links:

http://www.cropsreview.com/importance-of-water.html

http://www.twdb.texas.gov/waterplanning/waterusesurvey/index.asp

https://www.texastribune.org/2017/05/30/water-update/

Conservation of Land & Heritage

Dan and Tom Griffin stand strong on their family ranch in front of angus cattle.

 

On the Griffin Ranch, family traditions are a blueprint for decisions about college, livelihoods and ranch management, but are difficult to amend. Tom, Dan, and Ben Griffin graduated from Texas Tech University like their father and are the fifth generation to manage a portion of the family ranch in Borden County, Texas.

Tom and Dan perpetuate stewardship attitudes they learned from previous generations, but have fostered a stronger relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve their conservation practices.

Dropping off the cap

The Griffin Ranch is about 30,000 acres in total and lies right off the caprock, a stunning 250-mile-long geographic border marking the end of the Southern Plains. They also have another portion of the ranch around Channing, Texas.

“You drop off the cap, and it has a lot more character as far as up and down, breaks and creeks,” Tom said. “Every pasture is a little different.”

Tom, Dan and Ben take care of separate portions of the cow-calf ranch. However, the Griffins act as a team during times like branding and weaning and will help each other take care of the ranch regardless of whose “portion” they are working. They treat the ranch as one cohesive family business and “plan to keep it that way,” according to Dan.

The family has been managing the land since 1926 when Thomas Louis Griffin first established the ranch.

Taking back the land

Based on stories from his grandpa, Tom said the landscape was completely different back then. It would’ve looked more like the Rolling Plains with a few short mesquite trees, if any.

“It has changed quite a bit I’d say,” Tom said and chuckled, “but I think it’s always been dry.”

Thomas Lane Griffin, the brothers’ dad, began battling mesquite on the ranch, a struggle that has continued into the next generation. The trees, a problematic invasive species, suppress grasslands and dominate water resources. They are hard to eradicate, but spread easily.

“Whether you get governmental assistance or not, you have to fight it,” Tom said, “or else it takes over. It crawls through and spreads like wildfire.”

Dan and Tom said they administer brush control through aerial spraying, grubbing with a tractor or excavator, and have recently experimented with prescribed burns collaborating with the NRCS.

Firm foundations

“Since I can remember, Dad pretty much took care of the ranch himself with a couple of hands from time to time,” Tom said. “He’s done more on this ranch than we’ve done together.”

Tom explained Griffin Sr. is not resistant to new ideas and management practices, but he is a careful and cautious, especially not wanting to detriment the ranch’s grazing capability.

“He’s seen a lot more drought in his lifetime than Dan and I have,” Tom said. “He has more experience and is still the final say on a lot of things.”

The brothers consider drought a family hardship along with the passing of their grandfather.

“Paw Paw died in 2010,” Dan said, “and then it didn’t rain.”

“Paw Paw died in 2010, and then it didn’t rain.”

Since 1996, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports droughts have taken more than $38.5 billion from the Texas agriculture economy with farm and ranch losses totaling $21.62 billion.

Tom said 2014 and 2015 were positive years for the ranch. Since the “worst” drought Tom has ever experienced in 2011 and 2012, the ranch’s populations of quail, deer, and bobcats have skyrocketed, largely due to the conservation work the Griffins do with the NRCS.

NRCS conservation partnership

With their increasing roles as ranch managers, Tom and Dan have brought new ideas to the table by working closely with the local NRCS’s field office to improve the ranch using conservation enhancements through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The Griffin brothers are able to enroll in NRCS programs as Young Farmer and Ranchers. This incentive gives young families like the Griffins, who are beginning to establish or expand their agricultural operations, a slightly higher cost-share rate on conservation practices and improvement projects.

Dan said the NRCS has helped cost-share projects on the ranch including building fences to help prevent overgrazing, spreading out water sources for cattle, and building a water storage system to save water for drought years.

“Because these improvements are cost prohibitive, we would’ve had to get loans,” Tom said. “The financial assistance from the NRCS makes it easier to do these conservation enhancements.”

The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance but also supports ranchers as an educational resource with a team of district conservationists, water quality and grazing land specialists, and agricultural engineers.

Dan has worked with Matthew Coffman, the NRCS Southern Rolling Plains grazing lands coordinator, to formulate a prescribed burn plan for the Griffin ranch.

“Matt made the entire fire plan, and it didn’t cost us anything,” Dan said. “The prescribed burns have helped with productivity of the grasses and brush control and has made our pastures healthier.”

Dan said working with Coffman and other NRCS staff has sparked his interest to learn more about grasses and how to keep the land productive.

Coffman said he began working with Dan in 2014. He said he is inspired by the large-scale impact on the health of the land from work his NRCS predecessors did nearly 20 years ago.

Coffman said goals for the ranch include building the burn program to the point where the Griffins have applying prescribed burns “down to a science” with a regular rotation of acres and are able to take more control of the process.

“They are just great guys,” Coffman said. “I enjoy working with them, and I can tell they want to benefit their land. They’re working really hard.”

Strong family bonds

Responsible stewardship is one of the many Griffin family traditions that the brothers said is “in their blood.”

Tom said his wife and kids enjoy Texas Tech football games and are able to sit in the same seats that Tom and his brothers did growing up. Tom and Ben were able to get the season tickets their grandparents used to have.

Gloria Griffin, the brothers’ grandmother, still lives at the homeplace and celebrated her 87th birthday in October. Tom said she has plenty of great-grandkids who visit her daily. The brothers indicated their strong ties to their family motivated them to return to the ranch after graduating.

Overall, Tom describes the Griffins as blessed to be able to continue living on the ranch and passing down family traditions and values down to the next generation.

“We grew up riding horses, working cows, hunting, fishing, and going to church,” Dan said. “Visiting grandma next door seem to be about as good a lifestyle to raise kids in as we can think of.”

 

 

Old Legacy, New Farmer

Layton and Glenn Schur look forward to working along side each other on the farm.
Layton and Glenn Schur look forward to working along side each other on the farm.

As he walked out the front door of his farmhouse, he met the crisp winter morning with an eagerness that comes with a new beginning. While this farm was familiar ground to 21-year-old Layton Schur, this day was the start of something new. He may have grown up on this farm, but now he was a real farmer.

Layton’s lifelong passion for agriculture has led him back to the family farming business. The young farmer said coming back to continue the traditions his father and grandfather have set before him has always been his dream.

“It’s kind of like hitting the lottery,” Layton said. “I feel pretty lucky to get to go back and farm with my dad.”

A Farming Legacy

In 1947 Layton’s grandfather, Martin Schur, began farming in Plainview Texas. With humble beginnings and years passing, the family farming operation has expanded tremendously, now farming thousands of acres in multiple counties. The family has survived ruthless crop years and 70 years later, the legacy that Layton’s grandfather originally started will soon be passed to him.

Layton enjoyed his time working on the farm before leaving and going to Texas Tech University in the fall of 2013. He said the hard work instilled in him from his parents and grandparents has attributed to his success in college and will help as he takes the next step into his farming career.

It’s kind of like hitting the lottery. I feel pretty lucky to get to go back and farm with my dad.Layton Schur

“There is never a time you can run out of things to do when you grow up on a farm,” Layton said. “Some kids say they always got bored. I never got the luxury. There was always a weed to be hoed, a weed to be sprayed, or something to be done. Even if you weren’t doing anything in the wintertime, there was always a cow to be fed. So, growing up I got the true value of work ethic drove into me.”

Layton said he realizes how financially difficult it can be to get started as a young farmer and believes this is one of the reasons the number of first-generation farmers have declined in recent years. He will be one of few from Plainview, Texas, whom will return to the farm after attending college.

“You come to college not just to throw away what you learned; it’s to learn something to bring back to the farm with you,” Layton said. “I hope that in my education I’ll be able to bring a different twist to the farm.”

Furgeson_barn
The Schur family farms a variety of crops, including: cotton, corn, sorghum and wheat.

Water Conservation

Layton said his involvement in the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) has also opened his eyes in the way that he will utilize the water available on his farm.

“It’s a project to help agriculturalists realize that there are other alternatives rather than just turning the pivot on and letting it run,” Layton said. “The TAWC has done a good job helping me realize that there are other challenges for us besides just making a crop every year, making money to put in the bank, or losing money for that matter. They have shown me how to raise crops and how to do it efficiently with new technology.”

Glenn Schur, Layton’s father and president of the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, said he knows Layton understands the value of water conservation and the role that it plays within their farming operation.

Layton said his family sees a future where land must be farmed without underground irrigation due to the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The issue has been a concern for several years and is more of a matter of when the water runs out, not if it runs out.

“All of us pride ourselves on water conservation,” Layton said, “As a whole, we look at technology and the potential to make every drop of water count.”

Layton said technological advancement will act as a balancing element in years to come. How much water one has and how efficiently one is using it, will be the product of that crop. He said farmers investing time in learning soil and water technology practices will benefit greatly.

“The current fear for many new farmers is financially surviving,” Layton said, “and having water to nourish your crop is part of that. Not having the necessary resources to make a crop is terrifying. Maybe that’s why so many young people are having a hard time going back to the farm. There isn’t a secured pay at the end of the year. But on the other hand, if you play your cards right and manage your assets, you can still make a good life in farming.”

Furgeson_Layton&Glenn
After graduation Layton will farm with this father, Glenn Schur, in Plainview Texas.

Heading Home

Layton leans on the wisdom of his father as he begins his farming career.

“I’m going to benefit the most from the knowledge of my father,” Layton said. “He has been very successful in the industry, and being able to use his knowledge will be enormously helpful, especially in my first crop year.”

Glenn said he is very excited to have Layton back on the farm. He looks forward to working alongside Layton and watching him in his first harvest year.

“He’s been involved in agriculture since he was a little kid,” Glenn said, “and seeing him starting to farm on his own is really exciting.”

Layton said he plans to plant a short seasonal corn crop and cotton on his newly rented farm in west Floyd County. He said he hopes to shift water around and catch a few rains in the spring to help his watering rotation. The young farmer said he specifically chose to plant cotton because of its arid characteristics and its ability to “take a beating” when it comes to drought.

“I’m going to get started with a semi-irrigated farm with less than 300 gallons a minute for a half-section of land,” he said. “That little bit of water I have is going to have to go a long way.”

The 21-year-old farmer said getting his land ready for planting season is the first step in his life long dream. He said, more than anything, he has pride in going back to the family farm and being able to continue their family business.

“My history is farming. It’s been developing in me since I was little. The farm means more to me than it does to the banker. The farm has always been my life.”

Underground Livestock: Reaching New Depths in Soil Health

RN Hopper showcases his healthy soils as a result of the no-till and other conservation practices he and his father have implemented since 2004.
RN Hopper showcases his healthy soils as a result of the no-till and other conservation practices he and his father have implemented since 2004.

Just north of Petersburg, in the High Plains of West Texas, lies what seems to be dry, unmanaged fields. The surface is cracked from the heat, and corn cobs from the past harvest litter the fields. But what actually lies in RN Hopper’s fields is anything but dry and unkempt. Beneath the surface is a world breaming with life and a future in sustainable agriculture.

Hopper Graduated from Texas Tech University in 2000 with a degree in agronomy. He came home to work with his dad, Ronnie Hopper, and together started Harmony Farms in 2004.

Hopper’s passion for farming and the land led to an understanding of the soil beneath the surface and how it can provide for him and the land in the future. This understanding was garnered from both his college education as well as an informative experience at a No-Till on the Plains conference in Kansas.

The main goal of Harmony Farms was to take what Hopper had learned and put no-till conservation practices into action.

“A lot of times when people start down the no-till road, they don’t seem to have success with it because they don’t have a diverse rotation,” Hopper said. “You have to have a very diverse rotation of crops; as many species as possible. For the most part, it won’t work over an extended period of time if you’re just cotton after cotton after cotton.”

Hopper’s fields cycle cotton one out of every three years. He follows cotton with wheat, wheat with corn, and corn with cotton. He said no-till practices are very much about getting a bacterial-dominant soil back to a fungal-dominant soil, which is done by ceasing tillage.

“We’re trying to return some of the structure to the soil,” Hopper said. “It’s impossible to build organic matter if you’re oxygenating the soil with tillage because it immediately gets consumed by the microflora, once it is gone, their populations crash.”

Hopper said a healthy soil has the equivalent microbial biomass of three to five beef cattle units per acre. That is a tremendous biomass that must be fed, and the currency of nature is carbon.

Burnett, Abbie-1938
RN Hopper holds the end of a 6 ft pole inserted into his no-till field. No-till fields are composed of compact, healthy fields soils that can hold 75 percent of rainwater.

“So, if you’re not cycling that carbon slowly and naturally into your soil, you don’t have anything to steadily feed that underground livestock,” Hopper said. “And if they’re not being fed, they die. And if they die, they’re not helping to make nutrients more available or doing the thousands of other things that they do.”

Hopper said these “underground livestock” are billions of microscopic organisms that live under the soil. They feed off carbon that comes from recycled organic material. In doing so, they help create healthy soil for future crop seasons.

However, cover crops and no-till are not just about returning carbon back into the soil. John Zak, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech, said he has been working with RN for three years conducting research on microbial health and manipulation.

“Really what we’re trying to understand is how soil can do certain things in terms of productivity if you manage it,” Zak said. “They have their own microbiome the same way humans do. So, the question is, how do you manage that microbiome, and what are the consequences of managing practices to the functionality of that microbiome?”

Zak said the microbiome in soil is what directly contributes to crop yield. He attributes healthy soil to a healthy microflora. One determining factor that makes soil healthy is lowering the variability in daily temperature range, or DTR, which is the difference between how hot and cold soil gets in a 24-hour period. Zak took this idea to Big Bend National Park before using it in Hopper’s fields.

“We decreased solar input (on the soils).,” Zak said. “What that does is raise the night time temperature a little bit because the soils don’t dissipate as much heat, but they don’t heat up as much during the day. You decrease DTR by about three to four degrees centigrade.”

Burnett, Abbie-1938-10
RN Hopper pulls back the trash from past season’s corn harvest to show the cover no-till practices provide for the soil. Using practices like no-till and cover crops keeps the daily temperature range (DTR) minimal to develop healthier soils and microflora.

What was showed from the lowering of DTR in the soil, Zak said, is that microbial activity in soils can increase without any change in soil moisture by about 30 percent. He explained that one of the reasons deserts are deserts isn’t because of lack of moisture: it’s because of DTR.

Zak said the results from these experiments meant farmers could create healthier soils and higher yields without irrigating more than they were already.

Hopper said no-till has greatly increased water infiltration and holding capacity in his fields.

“(The fields) probably catch 70-80 percent of the rain,” Hopper said. “But, if you have something that’s conventionally tilled, there’s probably some of the times of the year they’re only catching 30-35 percent to be used by the plants and the rest is going to runoff or evaporate.”

Hopper said he and his father did not start irrigating last season’s cotton crop until the first week of August.

“I think we’re barely tapping the potential of what we already have,” Hopper said. “Most people argue no-till is worth 5 inches of water. I would argue that it’s considerably more than that. We have the ability to get to a point, hopefully, where we can consistently capture 75-85 percent of the rainfall and get it to the root zone. And in the worst conditions, the 35 percent zone. In my opinion, it’s usually a 5- to 8-inch advantage.”

Hopper said that cover crops or residue from the past season act as armor for the soil surface. and trash from past seasons acts as a barrier to the soil. When rain falls, the impact is busted on the cover crop and then drains into the soil.

“If it rains in permanent grass, the water doesn’t run out,” Hopper said. “It all goes into the ground. You’ve got mulch cover and grass to deflect the impact of the raindrops. You only see soil uncovered in two cases, shifting landscapes or a desert. But, you won’t see any other natural landscape that’s not covered in plants. You won’t ever find anything clean tilled in nature. If there’s nothing above ground, there’s nothing to feed what’s below ground. Most, if not all, of the benefits of no-till come from that mulch cover.”

I can see a future in farming without irrigation, but I can’t see a future without a healthy soil. RN Hopper

However, Hopper said this whole process has been a challenge and a good learning curve.

“By 2006, we were committed to continuous no-till. There was a lot of steep learning curves, and there’s not a lot of people out here that do it,” Hopper said. “And so, we made plenty of mistakes and continued to make mistakes, but we’ve never had enough trouble with it to deter us from staying on the path.”

Hopper said he believes that the future of agriculture in the United States and West Texas lies in no-till practices.

“I can see a future in farming with no irrigation, but I can’t see a future without a healthy soil,” Hopper said. “I don’t know everything, and I’m definitely not right about everything, but I know there’s not a best way to do anything, but only better ways, and that’s the very definition of progress.”

At the end of the day, all Hopper does for his fields is because of his love and passion for farming and the land, he said.

“People refer to crop production as yield: it’s what you get at the end of the day, but, really, it’s what nature has yielded to you,” Hopper said. “So, I guess what I love most about being a farmer is trying to be the best steward of what God has given us that I can be. And that’s the challenge and that’s what keeps me excited about each coming year, and that’s what gets me up in the morning — just the hope of what might be yielded to us at the end.”

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.”

Grazing a Gold Mine

 

Born and raised in Burkburnett, Texas, Keith Easter said he is a rancher/farmer or vice versa. While attending Texas Tech University, he worked for a friend who farmed and ran stocker cattle.

“I had always wanted to run cattle on my own wheat,” Easter said. “That’s all I have ever really wanted to do.”

Once ready, Easter was given the chance of a lifetime.

“I was very blessed to get the opportunity to buy the ranch I grew up on,” Easter said. “My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.”

The ranch came with quite a bit of farming, Easter said. However, he was excited to be in control of his own operation and his source of feed and wheat.

My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.
Keith Easter

Hard Work and A Lot of Faith

Wheat is a cash crop in the region. From mid-fall until late spring, Easter said, wheat provides a good source of protein for stocker calves.

Easter said the great thing about wheat is that it enables ranchers to have an opportunity to have cattle on high protein forage, and do well, through the winter months when warm season grasses are dormant.

“Wheat is a dry land crop, but it is also a cool weather crop,” Easter said. “It is well-suited for our area. If we can get the wheat planted and established early along with some timely rain, it’s hard to beat.”

For farmers and ranchers to depend on wheat for a forage supply, wheat must be planted early. Early planting allows the plants to get a good start before cold weather and short days set in.

“TAM 401” and “Razor” are the beardless wheat being used by farmers in the region. This type of wheat matures earlier, and it has proven to be a good fall and spring grazer.

Easter said once cattle ship in the spring, he starts running the chisel on his ground, to break it up.

Easter uses two four-wheel drive tractors, a chisel plow with a disc, and an air seeder.

“Once you get it broken up enough,” he said, “you are then able to fertilize and sweep the ground through the summer to keep summer annuals from growing up and robbing your moisture.”

The objective is to get the ground in better shape to have a good seed bed in the fall.

Any time after the first of September when there is an adequate amount of rain, he will begin to plant his wheat. If no rain is in the forecast by the first of October, Easter will dry sow his wheat.

“It is all dictated by weather,” Easter said.

While there are many variables, time and rain are key for a successful wheat crop.

Firm, wet ground is desirable for sowing wheat. “You want your moisture, but you don’t want to get it so shallow it’ll dry out,” Easter said.

Wheat: A Rancher’s Gold Mine

Owner and operator of the Wichita Livestock Sales Company, Billy Joe Easter, said he uses wheat as a source for economical weight gain through late fall, winter, and early spring.

Keith and Billy Joe are cousins who both grew up with agriculture. Their dads are brothers who were raised on a farm.

“Our dads’ good reputations have helped both of us in starting and growing our businesses,” Billy Joe said.

Through the years, they have stayed in close contact because of their interest in the stocker wheat grazing.

“Wheat pasture is a very suitable cool-season grazer that one should take advantage of for fall weaning calves,” Billy Joe said.

Along with his cattle auction, Billy Joe runs his own cattle/wheat operation.

“I use wheat to grow stocker calves into yearlings ready to go to the feed yard,” Billy Joe said. “Along with that, wheat allows me to grow breeding bulls for resale.”

If the market allows, Billy Joe said, he will put first calf heifers on wheat to give the young females a better opportunity to breed back and raise their first calf with ease.

Since Billy Joe does not harvest, he plants a wheat and oat mix to improve grazing.

“I want a variety of wheat that puts out lots of leaf,” Billy Joe said, “and is late maturing so it will last longer.”

Depending on moisture, Billy Joe said his cattle will graze on wheat from December until May.

Right now, the expense to harvest wheat for grain is far too high for farmers to take that kind of loss.

By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef.
Billy Easter

Billy Joe said thousands of wheat acres are strictly used to grow grain outside of Texas.

Local wheat prices may see a slight impact (slightly higher prices due to less wheat being harvested), but globally it does not affect the price of wheat.

“By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef,” he said.

Billy Joe is thankful to be able to grow his cattle on wheat pasture, which allows stocker calves to spend less time in the feed yard.

“Wheat is giving us an opportunity to make money,” Billy Joe said.

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