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Specialty crops potential: more return for water and utilize center pivots

Agriculture producers in the Texas High Plains could potentially diversify their operations by growing specialty crops and get higher returns for their water – without having to replace their irrigation systems.

With a declining water table in mind, Texas A&M AgriLife, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and three industry partners will investigate the potential of producing high-quality vegetables under irrigation for fresh market sales.

The research will include the use of mobile drip irrigation, MDI, integrated with a patented, computerized irrigation scheduling system that uses plant and soil water sensing and weather feedback. The system is called Irrigation Scheduling and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or ISSCADA.

Charlie Rush, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist, Amarillo, has been evaluating melons, peppers and tomatoes for AgriLife Research’s breeding program in the High Plains climate for many years. His interest spiked when he started working in high tunnels, and he has compared production inside and outside the tunnels for produce quality in the different climates.

The focus of Rush’s latest study is on types of irrigation and irrigation scheduling. The study is funded by a grant from the Irrigation Innovation Consortium at Colorado State University. The Consortium is funded by a $5 million, five-year grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

More production and profit per drop of water
Approximately 4.5 million acres of cropland are irrigated by over 30,000 center pivot systems in the Texas High Plains. Most of these irrigated acres are planted to corn and cotton. However, due to declining groundwater and increasing pumping costs, growers are continually searching for economic alternatives to those commodity crops. Among those alternatives may be high value specialty crops, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes and peppers.

“It’s fairly well recognized that where people are commercially growing high quality, fresh-market tomatoes outside, they are doing so with drip (irrigation),” Rush said. “So, if we want people in the Texas Panhandle to grow high value crops, they need to do it with drip irrigation. However, our farmers have already invested in center pivot systems. So, how do you grow higher value produce when everyone has a pivot and we know drip irrigation does best? That’s where we will focus this study.”

Read the complete article at www.agrilifetoday.tamu.edu.


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