Expert: Irrigated crops on the High Plains “all over the map”

High Plains corn and cotton conditions are “highly variable.” Increasing irrigation efficiency is important. Irrigation in the High Plains is almost always supplemental.

Though there have been some recent rains and irrigation pumping is in progress, High Plains corn and cotton is “highly variable,” according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Currently a number of factors are making it hard to categorize the overall condition of irrigated crops, said Dr. Dana Porter, a Lubbock-based AgriLife Extension agricultural engineer specializing in irrigation.

“There are several things going on,” she said. “First of all, for a lot of the state, especially the High Plains, we’re in the third year of drought. That presents its own problems, particularly where we have declining well capacities and regulatory pumping limits.”

All these things come together to amplify the importance of increasing irrigation efficiency, Porter said.

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For years, High Plains irrigators have been converting to highly efficient low-pressure systems, such as low energy precision application, commonly known as LEPA (low elevation spray application) and subsurface drip irrigation,” she said.

“We have a very high adoption rate of these systems, and we have the technology to be very efficient, so mainly we’re fine-tuning the management these days,” she said. “For example, one of our strategies with corn under limited irrigation capacities is to plant fewer acres of corn and alternate it with a crop that uses less water.”

But irrigation in the High Plains is almost always supplemental. It depends upon help from Mother Nature, and that help has been limited for years.

“As far as annual rainfall, we’re still way behind — about half what we should have,” she said.

There were some recent good rains that helped some High Plains crops and even gave dryland farmers a chance, she said. But the outlook for corn and cotton is still going to depend upon growth stage of the crop, if it had a good foundation of soil moisture and if it had been irrigated well.

“On a case-by-case basis, at the field level, it’s all over the map,” she said. “We have some fields that are in pretty good shape and others that are really stressed.”

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at


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