With average annual rainfall at 7 inches and the Elephant Butte reservoir dependent on meager rain and unpredictable snowmelt from New Mexico and Colorado mountain ranges, Far West Texas cotton farmers can ill afford to waste one drop of irrigation water.
“We have to manage water carefully,” says Bill Lovelady, who raises mostly Pima cotton in El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
His goal is to become water independent—relying on groundwater to irrigate his usual 1,000 acres of cotton and some 80 acres of pecan trees—and to stop depending on the uncertainty of river water and Elephant Butte, which was holding only about 8.5 percent of capacity in late September.
“Everything gets laser leveled,” Lovelady says. “We cut off the little hills across the fields to improve irrigation efficiency.”
Lovelady, the 2016 Farm Press High Cotton Award winner for the Southwest Region, understands conservation from a need to improve irrigation efficiency to the necessity of preserving topsoil in what has to be one of the most challenging places in the region to grow profitable yields of high quality cotton.