Conservation Matters January 2013

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Water savings potential in high-value crops examined by TWRI grant recipient

By Alejandra Arreola-Triana

Cotton - AgriLifeAs water supplies continue to decrease, producers across Texas face several choices, such as planting high-revenue crops that require a lot of water or saving water but potentially reducing economic returns. According to recent research, farmers in the Texas High Plains can have high-revenue crops and save water, too.

"My research will aid in developing drought-resistant, deep-rooted cultivars that could be a viable alternative to more water-intensive crops in water-scarce regions," said Cora Lea Emerson, Texas Tech University doctoral candidate and recipient of a 2011-2012 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant. Through this grant, she is exploring water-saving alternatives to traditional crop rotation systems.

Traditionally, producers in the Texas High Plains alternate their cotton crops with grain sorghum in an effort to reduce the incidence of cotton diseases such as Verticillum wilt. However, Emerson said, "Placing grain sorghum in rotation with cotton doesn't compare favorably to continuous cotton crops either economically or in terms of water use efficiency."

Farmers in the region also rotate cotton with crops that are important in biofuel production. "To supply this market farmers in the area have increased the production of water-intensive corn," Emerson said. As a result, the groundwater is being depleted at a faster rate, but the demand for biofuel is still not being met.

Emerson studies cotton rotations with plants such as safflower, sunflower and forage sorghum, instead of corn or grain sorghum. "These plants can adapt to the region and have potential value as animal feed or biofuel sources," she said.

"Our ability to continue producing enough food and fiber to meet the ever-increasing demand is directly linked to our ability to grow crops that provide economic returns while using less water," she said.

Emerson's research was funded by TWRI with funds obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

For more information on Emerson's research, see TWRI Research Grants.

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