WT Ag professors secure major USDA grants for regional research

By Chip Chandler

Agriculture professors from West Texas A&M University have secured almost $500,000 in grants to research several projects of vital importance to regional farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service has granted $214,000 to WT’s Drs. Lal-Khan Almas, Bridget Guerrero and Craig Bednarz for a three-pronged research project.

In one arm of the project, the researchers will study the economic and policy implications of underground water use in the Southern Ogallala region. The underground aquifer’s water levels are steadily declining, so the professors will evaluate the region’s transition from irrigated cropland to dryland cropland and run studies to see how the region’s economy can still be viable. They’ll also look at ways to improve water-use efficiency and study a high-tunnel crop system in specialty crops, as well as examine the impact of increased cotton production on the High Plains.

The project is supported by the Ogallala Aquifer Program, a consortium of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, WT, Kansas State University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Tech University.

The Ogallala lies beneath eight states in the Great Plains, supporting nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States. The USDA’s program is meant to develop and evaluate water management strategies and technologies that could reduce water withdrawals for irrigation while maintaining the economic viability of the agriculture industry in the region.

“The Ogallala Aquifer has long been the main water supply for irrigated agriculture in the High Plains, and it’s being used at an unsustainable rate,” said Almas, associate dean and Regents professor in the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. “These studies are meant to find new strategies and technologies that will help to sustain our regional economy and rural communities and to extend the economic life of the aquifer.”

In a separate project, Drs. Almas, Guerrero and Joy Sukcharoen have secured a grant of $200,000 from the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Farm Business Management and Benchmarking for research into Texas farm management.

The research endeavor is a collaborative project between WT, Texas A&M University — Commerce and regional AgriLife agencies and is the first time these Texas institutions have successfully secured funds under the program.

The project will provide agriculture producers professional consulting services for farm financial management, business analysis, credit analysis and financial benchmarking. In addition, data will be benchmarked for a variety of crops and livestock enterprises into a national farm management database for use by agricultural producers and other stakeholders.

“A majority of the crop and livestock producers in the region are facing financial challenges, especially during the current pandemic situation, and are looking for help to improve their farm profitability for their livelihood and sustainability,” Almas said. “This research project will make financial analysis tools available to these producers in the region and help them to improve their management practices.”