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Agriculture Conservation Efforts Recognized with Blue Legacy Award

story by Dee Ann Littlefield

The Water Conservation Advisory Council recently announced the 2011 winners of the Save Texas Water Blue Legacy Award in Agriculture. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas is proud to relationship with each of these awards winners.

"Water use critically influences our national food supply, local and national economic well being, as well as ecological stability," says NRCS Texas State Conservationist Salvador Salinas. "Wise water use is a must for the future of our nation.

"Our agency is proud to work with these Texas landowners to help them accomplish their water efficiency goals," Salinas continues.

The Blue Legacy Award in Agriculture is an annual award that recognizes the outstanding water conservation efforts and successes of the agriculture community. Award winners were selected based on their demonstrated willingness and commitment to incorporate water conservation practices into their operations as well as their leadership to furthering water conservation in their community's or within the industry.

The Council recognized the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District Agriculture Committee for their Excellence in Collaborative Partnership. Believing it is the role of the groundwater conservation district to show producers how to save water, not just require that they do it, they created a demonstration project, the "200-12 Reduced Irrigation on Corn Project." The five year on-farm demonstration shows how currently available water conservation technologies and irrigation management practices can reduce groundwater use and allow farmers to remain profitable and financially viable with restricted and diminishing groundwater resources.

In 2011, the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District, in partnership with the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation and Texas Tech University, was awarded an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) for almost $500K for their Texas High Plains Initiative for Strategic and Innovative Irrigation Management and Conservation. The Initiative will demonstrate strategic irrigation and crop system management technologies and practices that will result not only in water savings across the region but also best practices that are applicable nationwide to regions facing similar resource concerns.

The Council honored three Texas families and their farming operations with Blue Legacy Awards for successfully promoting and incorporating water conservation through efforts in their operations.

D & D Farms and the Ford Family of Dumas, TX

Fourth generation farmers, David Ford, and brother, Donald, grow corn, cotton, and wheat in the northern Texas Panhandle, near Dumas, in Hartley, Moore, and Dallam Counties. After 37 years in the business, the D&D Farms partnership has grown to include David's sons, Kevin and Jeff. The family manages nearly 5,000 acres which they own or lease, as well as custom farms 5,000 additional acres.

D&D Farms was historically a conventional farming operation, raising corn and cotton crops. However, the Fords decided to become more involved with water conservation in order to save water and be more economically efficient. In the northern Panhandle region of Texas, near Dumas, average rainfall for the year is 18 inches. For to the Fords, dryland farming in the Panhandle is too unpredictable, so nearly all crops are irrigated. Producer David Ford has worked with NRCS District Conservationist Mike Caldwell to make the most of the resources available.

With moisture being the limiting factor, they converted their farming operation to utilize strip-tillage as a method to help keep the moisture in the soil and cut irrigation costs. Through NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) the Fords have been able to convert outdated irrigation systems to more efficient models. The Ford's use irrigation water management (IWM) to monitor water use as well as soil and crop conditions.

When the Fords were practicing conventional tillage, they were pumping 24 to 25 inches of water on their corn, costing about $130 per acre. Now, under strip till, they apply 20 inches per year, for an average annual cost of about $100 per acre. Using 20 percent less water by switching to the conservation tillage system, they are still maintaining crops yields at approximately 200 to 250 bushels per year.

The Fords are conservation tillage pioneers in the Texas Panhandle. As a result of their success, hundreds of other Panhandle farmers have followed their lead and learned new conservation strategies from the Fords. The Ford's passion and commitment to conservation is evident in the boards they serve on, the audiences they speak to, and the time they take to educate others on the value of water conservation.

Gertson Farms and the Gertson Family of Lissie, TX

Gertson Farms is a family farming and ranching partnership of fourth generation rice farmers managing operations on over 9,000 acres. The partnership farms about 2,500 acres of rice annually using a combination of surface water from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and groundwater from private wells. Their 300 head cow/calf operation shares in the land rotation by grazing the land that is laid out between rice crop rotation years.

For the last 10 years, the Gertson Family has been working with the NRCS office in Wharton County to implement a number of new strategies for achieving water conservation and has overseen numerous transformations in their farming operations in order to use water more efficiently.

They have used the EQIP program for irrigation land leveling for more even distribution of water over their rice fields. The program has also helped them install underground irrigation pipelines and multiple inlet water control structures for increased water efficiency.

In 2010, the Gertsons were awarded a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract to implement nutrient management practices on over 4,000 acres of cropland which includes rice, fallow cropland, and Bermuda grass pastureland.

In particular Mr. Ronald Gertson's passion for agriculture and commitment to water conservation, has led him to participate in numerous water related events where he has demonstrated leadership in the community and promoted water conservation in the industry. He serves as president of the Coastal Bend Groundwater Conservation District and serves on the NRCS state technical advisory committee.

Schur Farms and the Schur Family of Plainview, TX

The Schur family began farming land in Hale County in 1947. Before modern irrigation techniques, the farming operation utilized older irrigation technologies such as furrow and ditch irrigation. The Schur's began working with the NRCS office in Plainview to adopt more efficient irrigation methods. As a result of that partnership, most of the Schur's land that is irrigated now utilizes the most efficient Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) irrigation technology in conjunction with crop rotation, residue management, and irrigation scheduling and monitoring.

Glenn Schur's operation is unique in the Texas High Plains in that crop diversification is an important and integral part of the 1,800 acre operation located east of Plainview, Texas. Schur produces a variety of crops which currently includes cotton, grain sorghum, wheat, seed crops (sorghum and millet), alfalfa, CRP, and a 100-head registered Limousine cow/calf operation. The Schur farm incorporates a variety of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and conservation tillage techniques. His environmentally conscientious management practices recently earned him a CSP contract through NRCS which will enable him to make even more conservation improvements.

Glenn's operation includes a variety of technologies which allow him to closely monitor his irrigated land and how much water he is using across his ten center pivot LEPA irrigation systems. Glenn's operation currently has 1,370 acres of land irrigated under LEPA center pivots and an additional 140 acres of row water corners using gated and flex pipe. Additionally, Glenn has installed his own water meters on several pivots to track water application rates. Glenn has always had an interest in and a passion for conservation of the resources which allow him and his family to farm the land. His current efforts as the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) Producer Board Chairman have made Glenn the producer spokesperson for the 4,500 acres of demonstration land that the project is currently evaluating.

The award program provides an opportunity to broaden water conservation awareness in the agriculture industry. The Council hopes to use these success stories to promote the agricultural industry's efforts in water conservation as well as promote the individuals themselves as credible spokespersons. To read more about the 2011 winners and to learn more about the Save Texas Water Blue Legacy Award in Agriculture, visit www.savetexaswater.org .

Additional information about NRCS and the technical and financial assistance available to agriculture producers can be found on the NRCS Texas Programs page.

North Plains Groundwater Conservation District Agriculture Committee works to show producers how to save water in their farming operations through on-site demonstrations. Pictured left to right, Phil Haaland, Harold Grall, Brian Bezner, and Dan Krienke. In addition to his family's 9,000-acre ranching and rice farming operation, Ron Gertson is actively involved in many conservation efforts at the state level.

North Plains Groundwater Conservation District Agriculture Committee works to show producers how to save water in their farming operations through on-site demonstrations. Pictured left to right, Phil Haaland, Harold Grall, Brian Bezner, and Dan Krienke.

In addition to his family's 9,000-acre ranching and rice farming operation, Ron Gertson is actively involved in many conservation efforts at the state level.

David Ford (far right) and his family farm over 10,000 acres in Dumas, in Hartley, Moore, and Dallam Counties in the Texas Panhandle. Glenn Schur's operation includes a variety of technologies which allow him to closely monitor on his farm east of Plainview, Texas.

David Ford (far right) and his family farm over 10,000 acres in Dumas, in Hartley, Moore and Dallam Counties in the Texas Panhandle.

Glenn Schur's operation includes a variety of technologies which allow him to closely monitor on his farm east of Plainview, Texas.