Improving irrigation efficiency for agriculture will be the crucial challenge for the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center as it begins its second century of service to West Texas farmers and ranchers, citizens and industries.
“We have to get all we can from every drop of water we use,” said Jaroy Moore, resident director of the Lubbock, Texas, station that has been a force for agricultural innovation since 1909.
The Research and Extension Center celebrated that 100-year milestone recently.
Texas State Senator Robert Duncan echoed Moore's assertion that water will be the key to continued profitability for agriculture in the region.
“We have to preserve sustainable agricultural irrigation in West Texas,” Duncan said. “We must come up with producer oriented solutions. We need collaboration to solve problems.”
Duncan said the Texas High Plains plays too significant a role in not only the Texas economy but also in the nation and the world. “This area grows one-third of the nation's cotton and one-third of its grain sorghum,” he said.
Balancing science and economics will be a key. “The Ogallala is a different aquifer,” he said. “It does not recharge fast enough to keep up with the pressure from irrigation agriculture. So we have to come up with ways for producers to manage water more efficiently without losing profit.
“We can't expect producers to make the initial investments in a crop and then cut back on water.”
He said similar thinking that got the boll weevil eradication program on track will be critical to solve agriculture's irrigation issues. “Boll weevil eradication got off to a rocky start,” he said. “But when growers got involved it worked. We can do the same with water.”
Duncan said he does not envision a time when the state will take over managing groundwater resources. “Local control is the state's preferred method.”
That's one reason the city of Lubbock built Lake Allen Henry, he said. City officials realized the important role agriculture plays in the region's economy and decided to use a reservoir for city water supplies, leaving groundwater for agriculture.
Duncan said he hopes “common sense will prevail” at the federal level to maintain water laws that are not overly restrictive.
“How much water can we take out of the aquifer?” asked Dr. Michael McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. “Senator Duncan has asked that question and it is the right question,” he said. “This is a Texas problem.”
McKinney said agriculture is an important part of the Texas A&M name, part of its heritage and part of its future. “Agriculture is as relevant as it can be.”
He said the Lubbock station has seen many changes in 100 years. “This center is a prime example of the importance of public and private partnerships. This center epitomizes the land grant system providing teaching, Extension and research for the common person.”
He said scientists at the station have “made profound differences in the health and well being of Texans. Farmers are more effective and more efficient. Only 2 percent of the population now feeds the world.
“I trust the next 100 years will be as successful as the first 100.”
Jim Schwertner, member of the Board of Regents, said the collaboration between the research center and Texas Tech University is a key to that success. “I hope the collaboration continues and the focus remains on agriculture. Agriculture has the brightest future ever. The world has a lot of people who need to eat.”