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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Research Project #444650

Research Project: Dryland and Irrigated Crop Management Under Limited Water Availability and Drought - OAP with Texas Tech University Phase 2

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Project Number: 3090-13000-016-073-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2023
End Date: Dec 31, 2025

This agreement supports the Ogallala Aquifer Program, an ARS led research-education consortium addressing problems arising from declining water availability from the Ogallala Aquifer on the Central and Southern High Plains. The current objectives of the related in-house project and this agreement are: 1) Develop tools for evapotranspiration (ET) yield and crop water productivity determinations, and management in irrigated, dryland and mixed precipitation dependent/irrigated cropping systems. 2) Develop sensors, technologies, and models that facilitate site-specific irrigation management. 3) Develop water management decision support tools and databases to facilitate better water allocation and irrigation scheduling decisions under limited irrigation.

To meet the nutritional, fiber and energy needs of a growing world population, agricultural productivity needs to increase. Further agricultural production increases from much of the Great Plains region may not keep up with increases in demand because of an inability to meet the water needs of future crops. Mean annual precipitation provides 40% to 80% of crop water demand; the remainder being supplied by irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer. Unfortunately, because of the severity of aquifer depletion and ongoing drought conditions, water management strategies such as shifting to less water-intensive crops, allocating water among sectors within a pivot, conversion to dryland, etc., must be evaluated for their economic feasibility and effectiveness in prolonging the life of irrigated agriculture on the Central and Southern High Plains (C&SHP). Also, this project seeks management practices that increase the resilience and sustainability of dryland crop production. The Ogallala Aquifer Program (OAP) is part of project 3090-13000-016-000D. The OAP is a congressionally directed program that is led by the ARS locations in Bushland and Lubbock, Texas. The OAP objectives are: 1) develop knowledge and technologies to reduce the dependence of agriculture on groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer on the C&SHP; and 2) provide knowledge and tools for water policy makers so they can make better decisions about ground water conservation practices based on science. This new agreement is Phase 2. A multi-disciplinary approach of research is conducted on the lab bench, small field plots, large field plots, and with data from remotely sensed platforms operating at scales from plots to fields to regions. Lab bench experiments develop and test various sensors related to crop water status, plant health and soil water content. Once tested under control conditions, sensors are deployed to the field where they are tested first in small plots and then in larger plots. Field conditions vary from dryland cropping systems to marginally irrigated plots to fully irrigated fields and measured parameters are compared to traditional methods that have been used previously. Data from sensors and weather stations are then compiled and integrated into irrigation schedules that are tested for their performance. Similarly, management protocols for dryland farming are tested initially at limited time and spatial scales and those that support either higher yields or reduced risk are investigated at larger spatial and temporal scales. Economic implications of research outcomes and alternative practices are assessed. Four universities contribute to the OAP: Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and West Texas A&M University. All four universities use similar methods as the in-house project. However, the four universities have access to field plots that differ from Bushland in soil type and climate. In addition, each university has expertise and resources in agricultural economics and technology transfer that are not available at the Bushland ARS location. This agreement describes Texas Tech University’s contribution to the OAP.