The ag industry in Texas often gets a bad rap when it comes to water conservation and irrigation efficiency. But many growers, researchers and irrigation districts in the Rio Grande Valley and around the state are actively conserving through daily decisions, changes in farming practices, and investment in new technologies or infrastructure.
The importance of irrigation efficiency grows with each season. The Texas Project for Ag Water Efficiency (Texas AWE) spent the last ten years studying and demonstrating methods of agricultural irrigation efficiency and water conservation in the Rio Grande Valley. Two irrigation techniques have been shown to both save water and increase productivity: narrow border flood and surge valve irrigation.
The perils of drought are on ample display along the Rio Grande, where a rising thirst has tested farmers, fueled environmental battles over vanishing fish and pushed a water-rights dispute between Texas and New Mexico to the Supreme Court. But you can also see glimmers of hope. Albuquerque, the biggest New Mexico city along the Rio Grande, has cut its water consumption by a quarter in 20 years even as its population has grown by a third. Irrigation districts and farmers — which consume perhaps seven of every 10 gallons of river water — are turning to technology and ingenuity to make use of every drop of water given them. FULL STORY
Farmers are usually the first to feel the impact of drought, often experiencing water shortages before any urban water users are affected. For this reason, they are among the first to adapt, adjusting practices to increase efficiency. FULL STORY
Brian Hurd, an agricultural economics professor and president of the Universities Council on Water Resources was quoted recently in the El Paso Times, saying that the threat of coming water shortages in New Mexico and Texas represents a serious problem for farmers up and down the entire basin region."The real big deal is going to be the change in the intensity of pumping," Hurd told the Times. FULL STORY
Not too long ago, J. Allen Carnes and his father made crop planting decisions based on market conditions, what they expected would be in demand several months down the road. “That’s no longer the case,” Carnes said during the opening session of the Texas Plant Protection Association’s 26th Annual Conference in early December at the Brazos Center in Bryan. “Now, we ask, do we have the water to produce it?” FULL STORY
WESLACO — Complaints from farmers nationwide have encouraged the Food and Drug Administration to take the almost unheard of act of revising landmark food safety laws that were scheduled to take effect soon, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service food safety expert. Dr. Juan Anciso, a horticulture specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, said the new rules on food safety are part of the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act designed to reduce food-borne illnesses.
In 2012, Texas voters passed Proposition 6, a constitutional amendment that would make available $2 billion in low-interest loans for safe water conservation projects in the state. Prewett said farmers are not directly eligible for loans, but municipalities, river authorities and irrigation water districts in the Rio Grande Valley can propose projects for funding.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley is an extremely productive and varied agricultural center. There are 26 irrigation districts that pump Rio Grande water to service growers and municipalities. Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 2 (HCID2) is one of those districts, supplying a reliable source of water for irrigation, municipal, industrial, and domestic uses of the lands within its boundaries.
Improving water use efficiency may require a handful of strategies that include using a more effective delivery system; increasing irrigation system efficiency; including evapotranspiration rates in irrigation scheduling; and reducing non-water production limitations—better variety selection, fertility management, weed control and proper start-and-stop time for irrigation applications.
Farmers can seek both technical and monetary assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve irrigation efficiency.
Moisture sensors offer farmers a useful, inexpensive tool to gauge crop water needs, says Oklahoma State University Extension water resources specialist, Saleh Taghvaeian.
South Texas farmers, crop consultants, technicians and anybody involved in crop irrigation are invited to a workshop to help brainstorm ideas on how to generate incentives for water conservation, according to experts at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. . . “Our water reservoirs have not been at full capacity since January 2011,” said Dr. Juan Enciso, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research irrigation engineer at Weslaco and a program organizer.
Now, with software improvements and the proliferation of cellphones and towers, the moisture readings are automatically downloaded at regular intervals and shipped remotely to the Internet, ready to be uploaded on a smartphone or laptop. What the relayed data essentially tells Kitten is how much moisture is in his soil, whether the water is 4 inches or 40 inches down. That guides Kitten’s watering choices.“It’s changed everything,” Kitten said. “Before, we were just guessing.”
As populations continue to swell on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border and competition for water becomes fiercer between agriculture and municipal users, the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority (RGRWA) is desperately on the hunt for new water sources.
In November, Mexico announced its water-priority list, which allocates 100 percent of the country’s water to various users and entities along its river basins. The United States, again, was not on that list of water users, despite specific requirements laid out concerning water sharing between the two countries that impact the Rio Grande Valley.
Farmers, ranchers and some small businesses in the Rio Grande Valley that were hurt by prolonged drought are eligible to apply for low-interest federal emergency disaster loans. Eligible small businesses are those dependent on farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Small Business Administration are making the loans available in response to damages and losses brought on by drought conditions from April 1 through Oct. 31, 2013.
The National Climate Assessment is the product of hundreds of experts and scientists, organized by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. They claim it’s “the most comprehensive, authoritative, transparent scientific report on U.S. climate change impacts ever generated.” The report focuses on current and future climate change impacts to the U.S. For Texas and the Great Plains region, climate change caused by carbon emissions will exacerbate the issues the region has long faced: droughts, heat waves, storms and flooding. Agriculture will suffer, water wars will increase, and it’s going to get even hotter. FULL STORY
The 500,000 backyard citrus trees in the Rio Grande Valley represent the biggest problem facing the Rio Grande Valley’s citrus industry as it tackles the devastating disease known as citrus greening. The annual farm-gate value of the Valley’s citrus crop is $72 million. Associated businesses -- packers, shippers, implement and crop care suppliers -- bring the industry’s overall economic contribution to the region to $134 million. “If we go by Florida’s experience since 2004, 100% of their citrus has been infected” with citrus greening, said Texas AgriLife economist Luis Ribera.
December 2013 – Texas A&M Department of Agricultural Economics Farm ASSISTANCE Focus
“Border flood” irrigation produces the highest net cash farm income (NCFI) for citrus growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. A new analysis of the data collected for border flood, micro-jet, drip, and flood irrigation in citrus conducted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Department of Agricultural Economics puts the projected 10-year average annual NCFI border flood at $1,360/acre, almost 68 percent higher than the projected NCFI for flood irrigation.
December 2013 – Texas A&M Department of Agricultural Economics Farm ASSISTANCE Focus
Surge irrigation in cotton is more profitable than furrow irrigation over the long term and can increase net cash farm income (NCFI) by as much as 56 percent per acre, say Texas A&M experts in a December 2013 analysis of average NCFI under various water-pricing scenarios in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
20 December 2013 – Southwest Farm Press
"Cotton is unlikely to regain its prominence in the Lower Rio Grande Valley without drastic changes in climate and the global market. The days of quarter-million acre cotton crops in extreme South Texas are a thing of the past, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts." FULL STORY
13 December 2013 – Southwest Farm Press
“Texas NRCS is participating in the USDA StrikeForce Initiative. The Strike Force Initiative is designed to provide relief to persistent high-poverty counties - 90 percent of which are in rural areas - by accelerating technical and financial assistance delivered through the Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency, and Rural Development.” The Initiative includes Hidalgo county.
“Speakers at the recent opening session of the 25th annual Texas Plant Protection Association in Bryan, Texas, took time to reminisce and acknowledge the association’s growth, but they also considered the significant challenges ahead and offered opinions on how to meet them." The Texas Project for Ag Water Efficiency attended and exhibited at the conference, promoting the Surge Valve Cooperative and other water-saving strategies.
The Bureau of Reclamation is making funding available through its WaterSMART program to support new Water and Energy Efficiency Grant projects. Proposals are being sought from organizations with water or power delivery authority to partner with Reclamation on projects that increase water conservation.
For details click here. Applications are due Jan. 23, 2014.
The Lower Colorado River Authority voted 8-7 to require its two key reservoirs near Austin to be filled to 55 percent of their capacity by March before releasing water downstream for rice farmers. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will have the last word on the issue.”
Texas is one of four states in the United States where sugar cane is grown, and it is all grown within 50 miles of Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers’ mill just west of Santa Rosa. Other sugar cane producing states are Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii.”
The Harlingen Irrigation District has been named a winner of the 2013 Blue Legacy Award in Agriculture by the Texas Water Conservation Council. The award was created "to identify and honor those whose practices enhance water conservation while improving on-farm profitability." Criteria include the use of best management practices or innovative technologies as they pertain to water conservation, water quality, and water resources, and leadership in water conservation within the community and the agricultural industry.
The award will be presented to HID at the 13th Annual Texas Commodity Symposium on Dec. 4, 2013, held in conjunction with the Amarillo Farm & Ranch Show.
Ag producers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley can learn about the water-saving features of surge valves Thursday, Nov. 14, 10-noon, at the AgriLife Research Annex Farm in Mercedes.
“Because usually with the rains, in the past, we were able to comply with Mexico's obligations under the treaty," he said. "So we didn't have the need to make any operations in Mexico in order to comply.” FULL STORY
The June 2013 issue of the Irrigation Leader featured an interview with HID General Manager Wayne Halbert, along with several other articles featuring Valley leaders and issues. to read the full magazine,
The Weslaco Extension Center has been awarded part of a nationwide $5.3 million Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service to “develop guidelines for managing irrigation under drought conditions and computer programs for linking weather stations with irrigation scheduling,” according to Dr. Juan Enciso, an irrigation engineer at the center.
The South Texas center will receive $233,000 to develop irrigation guidelines, starting with crops like sugarcane, citrus, corn, cotton, onions and watermelon, as well as for pastures in the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley. FULL STORY
Representatives from the Harlingen Irrigation District, Wayne Halbert and Tom McLemore, will be presenting on Texas AWE at the 13th Annual Law of the Rio Grande Conference, taking place April 25-26 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Conference has long recognized the Rio Grande as essential to the lives, jobs and traditions of millions of residents along the U.S.-Mexico border. The annual event examines conflicting interests and works toward possible solutions to water rights, conservation, drought, and other issues surrounding the Rio Grande. Dr. Benjamin Tuggle of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will present the keynote address. For more information, visit the CLE website.
It’s no secret that agriculture has always been, continues to be and will be into the foreseeable future a challenging way to make a living. The risks are numerous and the stakes are high. The line between profit and loss is typically razor-thin. But technology can take at least some of the guesswork out of the process, says a Wharton County, Texas, cotton and grain farmer...FULL STORY
"Despite significant investments over the past decades, rapid population and business growth, lack of financial resources, gaps in authority and the declining quality of water resources contribute to significant water and water infrastructure needs" along the U.S. border with Mexico, says the Good Neighbor Environmental Board in its 15th annual report on environmental infrastructure needs within the U.S. states contiguous to Mexico. The Environmental, Economic and Health Status of Water Resources in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region was released Dec. 12, 2012.
The report recommends a number of specific actions to be initiated by the federal government that will lead to increased collaboration and coordination, reduced discharge into border water bodies, enhanced drinking and wastewater infrastructure, and improved financial conditions.
It also cites Texas AWE as a water supply case study (also known as the Agricultural Water Conservation Demonstration Initiative; see page 31 of the report).
The Good Neighborhood Environmental Board is an independent federal advisory committee managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency that advises the President and Congress of the United States on good neighbor practices along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Wayne Halbert and Tom McLemore made a presentation about Texas AWE at the Texas Water Conservation Association's fall conference in San Antonio in October. A copy of the presentation can be viewed here.
An enthusiastic group of canal riders and other district staff plus state agency personnel explored the efficiencies of district automation at a Nov. 7-8, 2012 workshop at the Rio Grande for Ag Water Efficiency. Classroom instruction alternated with hands-on training at the virtual flume, featuring automated gates and water level sensors, all networked and controlled through a telemetry system accessible via any linked computer device, including cell phones and tablets. Besides the capability to remotely manage gates, the group was impressed by the fact that the system also eliminated the need for canal riders to carry water tickets.
The next training session at the Center, scheduled for Jan. 24, 2013, will focus On-Farm Irrigation Advances. This workshop, designed for ag producers, will cover low- or no-cost irrigation techniques and technologies to improve yields and boost net farm income.
Districts interested in scheduling training for their staff on automation technology can call Heather Stock at 956.423.7015.
Friday, Nov. 2, is the deadline for registering for upcoming workshops at the Rio Grande Center for Ag Water Efficiency:
Space is limited. for workshop details and registration forms or call Heather Jones at 956.423.7015.