Essays on Producer Profitability, Strategies, and Attitudes for Water Conservation in the Texas High Plains
Water is a vital resource for agricultural crop production in the Texas Panhandle and greater Texas High Plains Area. This semi-arid region relies almost solely on the Ogallala Aquifer as the primary source of water. Three studies were conducted to evaluated producer profitability, water management strategies, and producers’ attitudes towards water conservation for the region. Study one focuses on the top 26 counties, known as the Texas Panhandle. Producers in the area are evaluating new strategies to diversify their operations. Vegetable and vegetable seed production are examined for potential impacts on producers’ profitability. Analyzing the feasibility of specialty high-value crops will allow producers to make informed decision regarding the addition of vegetables and vegetable seed to their operations. Yields, costs, and revenue from high tunnel productions systems are compared to the standard open field systems. The study suggests high tunnels produce higher yields, but require a higher initial investment cost. With the support of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s High Tunnel Initiative program, producers can decrease their initial investment costs to increase overall profit. Agricultural production dominates water use in the area and is projected to account for 92 percent of total water use by 2020. Since agriculture is such an essential sector of the regional economy, prolonging irrigation capability through improvements in crop production methods is warranted. The area of concern and evaluation in study two consists of Texas’ northernmost 21 counties where groundwater withdrawal rates continue to exceed the aquifer’s recharge rate, resulting in less available irrigation resources. Within the region, seven counties in the Panhandle Water Planning Area of Texas are projected to incur water shortages in the 2020-2070 planning horizon. A regional analysis evaluating several agricultural water conservation strategies and combinations to address the decline of water use in the region is presented. The analysis examines potential water savings and implementation costs associated with the alternative strategies to provide useful information to stakeholders such as producers, groundwater conservation districts, and regional water planning groups. Study number three evaluates the counties within the greater Texas High Plains. Twenty producers were surveyed to obtain information on their water conservation management practices and attitude towards such efforts. Results indicated producers are implementing multiple irrigation technologies and management practices. Respondents were all concerned with the future water availability in the area. This study provided researchers feedback to reassess the survey for future studies.