Texas Tech University student strives to conserve water in the West Texas region
By Laura Maeker
Texas Tech University doctorate student Steve Oswalt and advisors Drs. Dick Auld and Thomas Thompson, professors in Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science department, have been working to determine the optimum irrigation of oilseed crops in the Texas High Plains.
Oswalt, originally from Abernathy, Texas, and a recipient of a $5,000 2007-2008 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant, said the focus of his study was to gain maximum oil production per acre with minimum water application and to determine which plants have the highest water efficiency.
Oswalt's experience led him to his research. "I have been a cotton producer for over 25 years and have always wanted to develop a new crop for our area that uses less water than cotton and still produces an economic return for producers," he said.
Oilseed crop production in West Texas could conserve water and enhance profitability for growers, but this type of production is unfamiliar in this area. Therefore, farmers must be informed of this type of production so that they make sound economic choices regarding crop selection and management.
"We plan to fill this information gap by growing a number of oilseed crops that show promise for West Texas under variable water regimes and to develop irrigation water production functions with respect to oil yield and quality," Oswalt said.
On June 1, 2007, seven species of spring-seeded oilseed crops were planted on plots located at the Texas Tech Quaker Street Research Farm in Lubbock, Texas. Oswalt's research will take place over a three-year span, 2007-2010.
"I hope the results of this research will lead to a new winter crop that is very drought tolerant with high economic return for all of Texas and the southern United States," Oswalt said.
His results so far show that the best crops for oil production are castor and safflower. "There are crops other than the traditional ones that farmers can grow to become energy sufficient, make a profit and save water," he said.
Oswalt said he hopes to continue research to develop new crops and cropping systems for all farmers to use in their farming operations. His research was funded by TWRI with funds obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Institutes for Water Research. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.
For more information on Oswalt's research, click here.