Project Goals/ Objectives: The goal of this project is to demonstrate and quantify the effects of improved soil health generated by implementing conservation tillage with cover crops and regenerative agriculture by measuring changes infiltration rates, soil water holding capacities, surface runoff volume, erosion, off-site agrochemical transport, crop yield, crop quality, and economics across Southern Great Plains production systems.
Healthy soils help optimize inputs and maximize nutrient and water use efficiencies. Converting cropping systems from conventional tillage to conservation or no-till enhances soil health by increasing soil organic matter content and carbon. In order to increase soil carbon and potentially reduce irrigation water requirements and improve water quality, soil health promoting practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops, and irrigation management practices must be incorporated. In 2009, the United States accounted for 25% or nearly 70 million acres of the World’s acres in no-till (Derpsch et al., 2010). However, practice adoption in Texas remains low. Within the US, recent reports estimate that conservation tillage is used on the majority of acres planted to wheat (67%), corn (65%), and soybeans (70%); whereas only 40% of cotton acres were under conservation tillage (Claassen et al., 2018). Furthermore, cotton under conservation tillage within the Southern Great Plains region was less than 30% compared to nearly 70% in the Southeastern US (Claassen et al., 2018). This report also highlighted that over 60% of planted cotton acres followed a low-residue crop, suggesting continuous cotton cropping systems. Realized time, labor and fuel savings yield higher economic returns relative to unsustainable tillage practices are the driving forces for adoption. The numerous environmental benefits that improved soil health produces are an added bonus.
Regenerative agriculture has recently gained much attention and has numerous definitions varying upon the source defining the term. In short, regenerative agriculture promotes the use of crop rotation, cover crops, and no-tillage with decreased use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer and eventual eradication. Hence, another staple of regenerative agriculture is the use of animal manure or compost. Mismanagement of animal manures has led to numerous water quality issues, thus management of manure and/or compost applications must be closely managed and monitored, especially in areas with little experience with organic amendments. The Rodale Institute (https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/issues-and-priorities/water-pollution/ ) states that organic amendments holds soil together and holds water better due to increased organic matter.
Project Location: Wilbarger County, including Beaver Creek, Buffalo Creek, Paradise Creek, and Wichita River watersheds
Project Costs: $109,643
Project Partners: TSSWCB, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Project Workplan: 21-53