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Irrigation Training Program for Texas Agricultural Producers Final Report

B. L. Harris

Project Objectives

The Irrigation Training Program, funded by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) through an Agricultural Water Conservation Grant, began in 2006. Administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI), the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), Texas AgriLife Extension Service (Extension) and Texas AgriLife Research (Research) worked together to build a multi-disciplinary Irrigation Training Program (ITP) that included development of a core manual and training conferences that were designed to meet regional needs.

The three year project was divided into four main tasks with separate objectives and deliverables. Under Task 1, the TSSWCB, SWCDs and USDA-NRCS supported the development and implementation of the Irrigation Training Program. Task 2 required TWRI, Extension and Research, in cooperation with the TSSWCB and USDA-NRCS to identify primary agency personnel to provide training and the key conference sites. To meet the objective of Task 3, TWRI, Extension and Research, in cooperation with the TSSWCB and USDA-NRCS developed the Irrigation Training Program manual and promoted irrigation training conferences. And finally, TWRI, Extension and Research, in cooperation with the TSSWCB and USDA-NRCS implemented the Irrigation Training Program through the delivery of six irrigation conferences to meet the task 4 goals.

Project Deliverables

During the first year of the project, Extension and TWRI developed a core fundamental outline of the manual and identified a team of researchers, scientists, and agency personnel who assisted in developing the ITP manual materials by guiding Extension and TWRI on the basic and specific topics needed in the manual.

Also during the first year of the project, Extension and TWRI in conjunction with the TSSWCB identified and involved key individuals to not only assist with the development of the ITP manual, but also possibly serve as trainers for the conferences. Extension and TWRI along with the TSSWCB, USDA-NRCS, the TWDB and others identified six conference locations in Texas, focusing largely on irrigated agricultural production areas.

Once a core outline was developed and personnel identified the six conference locations, TWRI and Extension incorporated detailed information into the manual following identified key regional issues developed from input gathered from various scientists and agency personnel. Using the developed fundamental and regional information, Extension drafted the ITP manual by compiling existing resources and developing new information where necessary. The TSSWCB worked with USDA-NRCS to provide materials for the manual along with AgriLife Research as well as other universities. The Irrigation Training Manual was published just in time for the first irrigation conference scheduled in 2008.

To develop the conferences, Extension and/or Research, depending on the location, worked locally with the TSSWCB, USDA-NRCS, SWCDs and leading agricultural producers to identify and develop conference agendas per the local or regional needs. Once the needs were identified, specific trainers were located for each conference and the trainers were asked to develop presentation material for the event. TWRI, Extension, the TSSWCB and USDANRCS worked to promote the conferences at the local level. Extension often led the conferences by arranging logistics such as facility planning. Where necessary, however, the TSSWCB involved appropriate SWCDs or regional TSSWCB offices to host or co-host the events and identify facilities for the conferences.

Personnel delivered six ITP conferences throughout the state. The primary audience included agricultural producers, AgriLife County Extension Agents, SWCD personnel, crop consultants and other individuals who received information on improving irrigation management skills. Surveys were completed after each conference to evaluate the efficacy of the conference and build upon future programs to ensure optimum delivery of materials and information and to document “outcomes” such as behavior changes and water savings.

Project Outcomes and Impacts

The multi-agency, multi-discipline Irrigation Training Program created two separate editions of an inclusive 500-plus page ITP manual that addresses both fundamental information and region specific needs. The manual was also built so that it could easily be adapted to address new regional issues that change from year to year yet cover the broad scope of agricultural irrigation in Texas. Because the manual has regionally specific irrigation practices, cropping systems and climate, both the North and South Texas editions of the ITP manual are state-wide tools for transferring water conservation and related crop management technologies.

In addition to the two editions of the ITP manual, this project resulted in the successful completion of six irrigation conferences throughout the state. Each ITP conference included an evaluation instrument for participants to complete after the event to gauge knowledge gained and determine potential behavior changes as a result of the information presented at the conference. Through the six, region-specific training conferences, ITP was able to provide locally applicable irrigation water management training to irrigation farmers, consultants, educators and agency personnel in Texas while relying on the core and fundamental information provided in the ITP manual.

Overall, during the six conferences, Extension reached a total of 532 individuals. Based on the survey response rate and the question asking participants to select their occupation, Extension estimated the number of producers, crop consultants, agency personnel, etc. reached through the ITP conferences. Of the 532 attendees, Extension estimates that 296 of the attendees were agricultural producers, 18 were crop consultants, 37 represented AgriLife Extension, 118 of the participants were local, state or federal agency personnel including local districts such as groundwater or irrigation districts, 62 attendees were irrigation dealers and 52 chose ‘other’ as their occupation. It is important to note that some attendees indicated more than one occupation on their survey as they attended the conferences representing more than one occupation. For example, a local agency representative could have also attended as an agricultural producer.

In addition to participant occupation, Extension also asked attendees to provide the acreage they manage as well as the amount of irrigated acreage managed. The Lubbock conference survey did not include the specific question about irrigated acreage, but did inquire about overall acreage. Based on the six conferences, attendees manage an average of 2,365 acres and of that, 1,438 acres are irrigated. Using the estimate of total agricultural producers reached (296), the ITP conferences impacted approximately 700,000 acres with 425,600 acres of those being irrigated. TWRI estimates that the Irrigation Training Program saved a total of 93,848 AC-FT of water during the project.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The need for future conferences and a continued process to update the Irrigation Training Manual definitely exists as the agricultural industry is expected to reduce its consumption of irrigation water by 16 percent over the next fifty years (TWDB 2007). However, it is also important to consider what agricultural producers will attend and adopt. Factors such as timing of the conference, the length of the actual program and willingness of producers to adapt to new technologies and systems are important considerations when planning future events.

Therefore, Extension is encouraged to continue outreach activities, such as the irrigation conferences held during this program, using the existing or updated irrigation training manual. Cost-share programs to promote adoption of more efficient systems or upgrade existing older systems are needed from agencies such as the TSSWCB and USDA-NRCS. And a cooperative program between these three agencies assisting producers to take advantage of cost-share available and provide technical assistance to effectively use and maintain efficient systems is needed and recommended.

TWRI recommends additional funding for training conferences and related field demonstrations. The ability for agriculture to improve efficiency will take time and with each program, more producers will be reached and more producers will then adopt new and more efficient technologies.

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