West Texas Producers Embrace On-Farm Research

Shelley Heinrich
Slaton, Texas

Research has long been an anchor that helps cotton producers achieve high production and profitability in their operations. Likewise, ag research is at the core of Cotton Incorporated’s mission. The collaboration between scientists and growers participating in on-farm research creates a unique opportunity for both parties to work together, answer tough management questions and implement new technologies, while still striving for gains in production and profitability.

For the purposes of this regional update, I will highlight two exciting Cotton Incorporated-funded on-farm research projects happening in the West Texas region.

Martin County Project

This multi-institutional collaboration is between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cropping Systems Research Laboratory and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Established in fall 2019 with five area growers, it is funded by Cotton Incorporated. The project focuses on how cover crops could be a viable tool for this area, and how they could affect production, water use, fertility, wind erosion and economics.

Researchers hypothesized that the main advantages to cover cropping in this region would be soil stabilization to prevent wind erosion and seedling protection from sand abrasion.

The region receives about 17 inches of rain annually, with 10 inches falling between April and October during the cotton growing season. Since the cover crop is established after cotton is harvested, the research included moisture amounts needed to establish a viable cover crop. The research also studied the effect on the following cover crop year’s establishment with minimal rainfall from November to March.

Tillage’s Influence On Moisture

Two large field-scale experiments were placed on each of the five fields. One field consisted of cover crop and no-till. The other field was conventional tillage used in the region. Each field was equipped with new soil moisture sensors to track water infiltration and crop use, as well as infrared plant canopy temperature sensors to track plant stress and crop responses to rainfall.

The systems provided a continuous stream of information about soil and crop water status and climate conditions via farm-specific webpages. These links could be accessed by both the participating growers and the researchers.

on-farm research collaborators
From leftt: Rakesh Singh (India), Pawan Devkota (Nepal), producer Jeremy Brown (Brownfield, Texas), Taiwo Osoko (Nigeria) and front, Dr. Natasja van Gestel (Texas Tech) gather in one of Brown’s fields to conduct Cotton Incorporated-funded research with the Citizen-Scientists Microbiology Project — photo by Shelley Heinrich

With two years of information collected, Dr. Paxton Payton, a plant physiologist at the Cropping Systems Research Laboratory in Lubbock, Texas, says, “The preliminary data for rain-use efficiency suggests a significant increase in rain infiltration in the conservation tillage fields with cover crops compared to the conventional fields.

“Additionally, plant water extraction patterns show that conservation tillage plants have deeper roots and extract water at twice the depth of conventional tillage plants. While the 2021 crop is not yet harvested, it is expected the increased moisture extraction will be reflected in yield.”

Citizen-Scientists Microbiology

With Cotton Incorporated funding and the expertise of Dr. Natasja van Gestel, assistant professor of biological sciences at Texas Tech University and her team, 20 West Texas cotton fields have been equipped with moisture sensing and temperature sensing technology. These tools provide farm-specific data.

During specific intervals throughout the season, soil samples are taken from precise locations within each field and evaluated. Researchers are looking at the effects of moisture, fertility and microbial activity during preplant, in season and post harvest in various production operations and tillage practices and at what depth they are most active.

About 20 fields have been scouted for the 2021 season, and data is currently being evaluated. Participating growers have seen preliminary results from each individual soil sample and look forward to evaluating the 2021 results. “With the growing season starting hot and dry and turning wetter than average, the results are expected to be dramatically different than in previous years,” Gestel says.

For both projects, growers in West Texas are actively participating on the farm to gain a better understanding of improving production practices for their area. Scientists are engaged in learning more about the effects of these practices. Both segments are gaining knowledge to increase the profitably and the sustainability of the crop for today and generations to come.

For more information on Cotton Incorporated-funded on-farm research in your area, contact your Cotton Board regional communication manager.

Shelley Heinrich is the Cotton Board Southern Plains regional communication manager. Email her at sheinrich@cottonboard.org.

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