Ten years of gathering on-farm data through the Panhandle AgriPartner Program is complete, and the wealth of knowledge will take agriculture in this region into the future, Texas AgriLife Extension Service leaders said.

The program was developed in 1998 by Dr. Bob Robinson of Canyon, then a regional AgriLife Extension director of agricultural and natural resources.

“It's been a great program,” Robinson said, now assistant to the director of AgriLife Extension. “We've been able to acquire water data that no one else in the world has. This information will be very important for our area's future water planning.”

The AgriPartner program utilized AgriLife Extension's infrastructure and partnered with private industry, universities, commodity groups and groundwater districts to provide information to growers during their crop production season, said Leon New, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist in Amarillo.

Through the years, the data show that the low-energy precision application center pivot and subsurface drip irrigation system efficiencies have continually increased crop production per inch of irrigation, New said.

Corn production averaged 342 pounds per inch of irrigation in 1998 and 708 pounds in 2007, with 507 pounds per inch averaged over the 10-year period, he said. Cotton averaged 69 pounds in 1998 and 235 pounds per inch in 2007, with 125 pounds per inch the 10-year average.

Ordie “Reggie” Jones, a 37-year career researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, came out of retirement to coordinate the program, and five farm demonstration assistants were hired to collect the data from growers' fields.

“The whole program started as a method of transferring new technology to producers,” Jones said. “We used demonstrations by progressive farmers to relay the latest improved cropping and irrigation practices.”

A total of 650 on-farm field-size demonstrations on nine different irrigated and dryland crops were conducted over the 10-year period with about 450 producers on 71,000 acres in all Panhandle counties, he said.

“Producers learn from their neighbors,” Jones said. “We would get innovative producers to conduct demonstrations and then the agents would host a turn-row meeting showing on the ground what can be done.”

He said AgriPartners was doing cotton demonstrations in the North Panhandle when there was little cotton grown there.

“We showed cotton could be grown there,” Jones said. “AgriPartners had a big hand in moving cotton north.”

The demonstrations over the years concentrated on:

  • Testing improved farming and irrigation practices, genetics and new technologies.

  • Providing information on water use, crop development and growth to farmers and consultants.

  • Studying, surveying and sampling for prevalent and potential pest problems (insects, diseases and weeds).

  • Gathering scientific information for use in the Texas High Plains EvapoTranspiration weather station network and other agricultural modeling and prediction efforts.

Coordinated by AgriLife Extension specialists and county agents, the farm demonstration assistants visited the fields twice weekly to take measurements, Jones said.

The demonstration assistants recorded irrigation, rainfall and soil water using sensors installed at 1, 2 and 3 feet in the soil root zone. They also documented plant growth stage, insect presence, disease systems and other overall crop production potential and adversities, New said.

“That was the best outcome from the whole thing,” he said. “We determined the production per inch of water with those measurements (irrigation, rainfall and soil water). “What makes it unique is the measurement of soil water,” New said. “Our people went into the field and got the data that really matters; we got the total water.”

With the data, producers know they need 32 to 34 inches total water to grow corn here and about 24 inches for cotton, he said. Producers irrigate from April through September, but the systems cannot apply enough water to meet the crop needs during peak growth. So it is important to know how much soil water was banked the other six months of the year.

Some other special projects included sampling for wheat virus, determining how it was transmitted; bindweed mite distribution; corn smut and aflatoxin work; cotton seedling diseases; sampling greenbug insecticide resistance and the water district meter project, Jones said.

All the information generated through AgriPartners can be found on the Web at http://amarillo.tamu.edu/programs/agripartners.

“The data and information on all crops provided to our producers has lead to greater efficiency of production practices,” Robinson said. “AgriLife Extension will be able to utilize this data as a foundation to build even more effective educational programs into the future.”

The AgriPartner effort was supported by the Texas Wheat Producers Board, Texas Corn Producers Board, Texas Peanut Producers Board, Texas Soybean Board, Cotton Inc., Texas Grain Sorghum Board, the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, North Plains Groundwater District, High Plains Groundwater District, Collingsworth County Groundwater District, Warrick's Inc., and the Texas Water Development Board.