Water Issues Often Leave Growers Feeling High and Dry

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From Cotton Grower Magazine – July 2014

 

For cotton growers across the High Plains of Texas, the lingering drought has been all-encompassing. It changes the way they look at insurance. It disrupts alternative crop production and crop rotation. It has the ability to make dryland acres entirely barren. In many cases, irrigation isn’t enough.

Lubbock and surrounding communities typically average just over 19 inches of precipitation a year – already well under the averages for the rest of the state. So when yearly totals dwindle to only 12 inches, as they did in 2013 throughout much of the southwest Texas Panhandle and in portions of the southwest South Plains, agriculture is bound to suffer. In a state where an estimated 75 percent of cotton acreage is classified as rain-fed or limited irrigation, this is doubly true. Unfortunately, drought has been the norm in the region since 2011.

Many growers have developed their own responses for dealing with the problem. Dryland growers are often hesitant to sink large sums of resources into producing a crop that will likely never see the light of day. Producers with limited water have taken to letting half of an irrigated circle go fallow while doubling up the irrigation regime on the other half.

Real World Testing

Luckily, though, cotton companies and the research community have intensified their efforts on the issue. Based out of Plainview, TX, Bob Glodt has had a bird’s eye view of both the drought and the research efforts it has inspired over the past few seasons.

Glodt is the president of Agri-Search Research and Consulting, through which he conducts contract research work for several cotton seed companies. One such project he works on is a study he conducts with Monsanto on his 140-acre research farm.

“We’ve been doing these trials since 2006, I believe, and they are designed to evaluate the efficiency of various cotton varieties under different irrigation treatments,” Glodt says from the cab of his pickup truck one afternoon late in the 2013 growing season. “We have irrigated under four treatments – one was rain-fed, one was 30 percent of evapotranspiration or ET, one was on 60 percent ET and the other was at 90 percent ET.” Glodt explained that ET, put simply, is a measurement of the amount of water a plant receives.

The idea, as Glodt says, is to get a real world feel for how each of the varieties in the Deltapine portfolio will respond to various degrees of water. Deltapine can then take that data and match cotton producers with the right variety for the specific water scenario on their acreage.

“We have four and a half million acres of cotton on the Texas High Plains,” Glodt says. “All of that cotton does not have the same production capabilities in terms of the amount of irrigation water that can be applied to it.

“Even as little as eight or nine miles away in distance can be the difference between someone who can water at 30 percent ET and someone who can water at 60 or 70 percent ET.”

Seed companies haven’t always embraced this real world approach to water research and variety development. For years, companies developed their potential seed lines based largely on how they performed under ideal water scenarios.

“The companies would put them in areas where you got the maximum yields and maximum production values,” Glodt says. “In reality, those scenarios represented a very, very small slice of what the actual production capabilities were in most areas.”

Barnes is the senior editor for Cotton Grower magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, he assists in online content production and in event production. He joined the Cotton Grower staff in May 2008.
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