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Managing dwindling water resources presents challenge

Farmers and others attending the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation seminar in Muncy, Texas, had to be aware of the irony of gathering to discuss the problems of their rapidly diminishing resource while sheets of rain pounded the metal roof over their heads.

They were also aware that rainfall in west Texas is as fickle as a lovesick tom cat and that although winter moisture accumulation will help get crops off to a good start, a hot and dry summer may still limit production.

Thus the reason to conserve, said Darren Hudson, professor and holder of the Larry Combest Chair for Agricultural Competitiveness at Texas Tech University.

“Water has become the defining issue of our time,” Hudson said. “Water drives the local economy (of the Texas High Plains). We get a $3 billion direct benefit from irrigation agriculture and $6 billion if it’s extrapolated out to include indirect benefits.”

Hudson said farmers and ranchers in the region will do well to pay closer attention to how much water they use in their operations. TAWC was created to help understand and manage the resource.

“Meters make a difference,” Hudson said. “Many operators are using less water than they thought for irrigation. So they may be over using other inputs, based on the amount of water they think they are using. Accurate information leads to better management decisions.”

He said water use comes with two risk factors: using less and reducing production or over applying in relation to other input costs.

Learning to manage moisture more efficiently will be crucial to farmers and ranchers as water resources become scarcer. Crop rotation can help.

“Diversification can be profitable,” Hudson said. He suggested farmers look at forage crops, grain, and cotton, all of which work well in an integrated production system.

“But expect some management challenges,” he warned. “Equipment needs will change and crops have major management differences. But producers can use rotation to concentrate water on the most valuable crop. ‘A one size fits all’ water policy does not work across west Texas. We have to start conserving water while we have it.

“Farmers must be cognizant of the variables, including price and production costs. Energy costs will be a huge factor in water policy and water use. Management and policy changes have costs and if a policy results in a net benefit, farmers would already be doing it. Consider if the benefits (of policy or management change) outweigh the costs.”

Hudson said farmers must consider the benefit of saving water. “What is the value of water in the future? We are managing depletion of a resource. We will run out of water for agriculture at some time in the future, so producers have to manage a limited resource for both short-term and long-term profit. It is a difficult decision on how to manage into the future. TAWC is looking for answers.

“We’re trying to keep agriculture as profitable as possible.”

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TAGS: Management
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