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Newsletter #9 – May 2019

Heading into Project Year 4

With our official March 15 project "birthday" behind us, our team is very busy with fieldwork and lab analyses, running and refining code for a large integrated modeling effort, preparing many publications and presentations, and organizing workshops and outreach events across the region that will be added to our project website events calendar as dates are announced.

Our team has grown from about 40 collaborators to more than 80 team members as students, postdocs, and staff have joined us. Several exciting collaborations not initially planned as part of our project's original proposal are currently underway due to new cross-state & cross-institution relationships that have formed between our team members. Most importantly, through our project work we are are directly engaging with many producers, industry partners, groundwater management district groups, and others. We are energized looking ahead and motivated to make lasting, positive contributions within the region.

Clockwise from top left: Daran Rudnick (UNL) in dryland corn research plots in North Platte, NE. Jonathan Aguilar (KSU) speaking in Goodland, KS at Northwest KS Technical College's first Water Technology Farm Field Day. Post-doc Sumit Sharma (OSU) and PhD student Garvey Smith (CSU) during our annual team meeting poster session. Economists and hydrologists from TX, CO, and KS discuss how to link model inputs and outputs to help improve our understanding of the potential impacts of economic and cropping decisions on the aquifer.

Go Figure!

This newsletter segment offers up a project-related data snapshot along with brief takeaway on what it means and why it matters. This "Go Figure" installment features the work of West TX A&M Master's student Noah Jesko.

Photo of cattle on sorghum stover courtesy of N. Jesko

Dryland producers can use predictions of oncoming El Nino-La Nina years to inform their management decisions.
In a modeling study spanning the years 2000-2009, yields and profits were greater during the typically wetter El Niño years.
Imposing a decision in the model to graze cattle during El Niño years but not during La Niña years for a Wheat-Sorghum-Fallow dryland rotation led to the highest profit particularly when cattle were contracted.

Noah presented this information during our project's annual team meeting poster session in November 2018. To see his full poster, visit:

2019 CPIA proceedings

Many of our project team members and collaborators with the USDA-ARS funded Ogallala Aquifer Program presented at this year's Central Plains Irrigation Association conference, held in Kearney, NE on February 26-27, 2019. The meeting's conference proceedings span a wide range of topics, including: limited irrigation, irrigation scheduling, nitrogen leaching and fertigation, variable frequency drives, residue management, and more.

To access the full set of 15 proceedings articles, visit:

Limited H2O field management practices featured at Clovis, NM April field day

About 40 people attended a chilly morning field day on April 11th at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. The group, mainly crop and cattle producers, were drawn by a terrific slate of topics featuring station research on cover crops, forage quality, soil health, soil moisture monitoring, native grass buffers to support insect biodiversity, and more.

Mark Marsalis, Extension Forage Specialist from ASC Los Lunas, spoke with the group about winter forage crop quality considerations.

Practices potentially beneficial to soil health were highlighted throughout the morning. Hot, dry conditions and limited water availability in this part of the Ogallala region elevate the potential for soil organic matter loss and increased erosion. Several experiments underway at the center are evaluating how cover cropping may help address these threats, while identifying effective approaches with regard to timing cover crop planting/termination and selecting appropriate species that could provide benefits such as improved water infiltration, soil nutrient availability, and weed suppression, reduced erosion, and more.

Rajan Ghimire speaking from a multi-species cover crop plot during the field day. "We tell farmers the truth about what we are seeing in our research," says Ghimire. "In wetter years, we see good cover crop establishment and biomass production; dry years are less successful." From a soil organic matter point of view, "cover crop contributions from the wetter years can beneficial" over time and cost-effective, especially when grazed, Ghimire says.

In Ghimire's limited irrigation experiments, no more than 5 acre-inches/acre of irrigation is applied per crop season. With low well capacity and short reserves of groundwater underlying the region, using as little water as possible will help extend its groundwater availability even 5-10 years or longer into the future; this  is an important key to limiting soil erosion and keeping agriculture (the main economic driver in this part of NM) productive.

These limited irrigation research findings should interest people in other Ogallala region states and beyond. "We are planting cover crops in February and terminating them in mid-May. Then, there's a month-long gap before planting sorghum, or a 5-month gap until we plant winter wheat in October," Ghimire explains. "While in May we see a difference [less moisture] in the top 20 cm of soil under the cover crops compared to the fallow plots, summer rainfall events and the mulching effects of the cover crops mean that by planting time we find no soil moisture difference among these plots." 

To learn more, check out recent publications featuring work by NMSU ASC-Clovis researchers supported by our project, including: "Soil Health Response of Cover Crops in Winter Wheat-Fallow System" (Agronomy Journal First Look) and "Efficacy of Cover Crops on Weed Suppression, Wheat Yield, and Soil Water Conservation in Winter Wheat-Sorghum-Fallow" (Crop Science).

2019 TAPS competitions

Wet spring season conditions haven't dampened excitement about this year's Testing Ag Performance Solutions (TAPS; programs! TAPS uses a competition format in which farmers and others test out a wide range of cutting-edge technology and management methods during the growing season, extend their peer network, and expand their awareness of what drives profitability on their operations.

Entering its third year, TAPS continues to grow. In Nebraska, a subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) corn production competition was added this year involving sixteen teams. Eco-Drip of Hastings, NE, donated, designed, and installed the new SDI system at University of Nebraska-Lincoln's West Central Research & Extension Center in North Platte being used for this competition. Competitors from Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado will make growing and marketing decisions on twenty-three "farm" teams participating in this year's corn center pivot competition; twelve competing "farms" will compete in the UNL-TAPS sorghum sprinkler competition this year. Read about the 2019 UNL-TAPS 2019 program launch in this April 3, 2019 Cropwatch article.

Meanwhile, a lot of preparatory work over the winter led by Ogallala Water CAP team members Jason Warren (OSU) and Daran Rudnick (UNL) led to the launch in late February of the new "OSU-TAPS" program, hosted at the new McCaull Research and Demonstration Farm located in the Oklahoma Panhandle (Eva). Six competing "farm" teams will duke it out alongside three university managed "farms" to see who will be the most input-use efficient and profitable at growing center pivot irrigated corn in a limited well capacity scenario. Ogallala Water CAP investment helped fund new variable rate irrigation system infrastructure that will be used by OSU-TAPS as well as for a wide range of field-scale nutrient-management related experiments.

TAPS program leaders from OSU and UNL discuss program details and logistics with OSU-TAPS participants at a kick-off meeting in late February, 2019. Ogalalla Water CAP advisory board members and farmers Russell Isaacs (Turpin, OK) and Roric Paulman (Sutherland, NE) are both participating in this friendly competition. As the growing season progresses, be on the look-out for some lively discussion and bragging rights on Twitter to come in future months!

Wet conditions have delayed planting in NE and OK; once things finally dry out, there will be great stories to share from these programs! Follow the action by subscribing to the TAPS newsletter at:

Recent publications

Araya, A. Gowda, P. H., Golden, B., Foster A. J., Aguilar, J., Currie, R., Ciampitti, I. A., Prasad, P. V. V. (2019). Economic value and water productivity of major irrigated crops in the Ogallala aquifer region. Agricultural Water Management 214, 55 – 63.

Haacker, E.M.K., K.A. Cotterman, S.J. Smidt, A. D. Kendall, and D.W. Hyndman (2019). Effects of management areas, drought, and commodity prices on groundwater decline patterns across the High Plains Aquifer. Agricultural Water Management 218, 259-273.

Haacker, E.M.K., V. Sharda, A.M. Cano, R.A. Hrozencik, A. Nũnez, Z. Zambreski, S. Nozari, G.E.B. Smith, L. Moore, S. Sharma, P. Gowda, C. Ray, M. Schipanski, and R. Waskom (2019). Transition Pathways to Sustainable Agricultural Water Management: A Review of Integrated Modeling Approaches. Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Lo, T.H. Rudnick, D.R., Krienke, B.T., Heeren, D.M., Ge, Y., Shaver, T.M. (2019). Water effects on optical canopy sensing for late-season site-specific nitrogen management of maize. Computers and Electronics in Agriulture 162: 154-164.

Sharda, V., P.H. Gowda, G. Marek, I. Kisekka, C. Ray, and P. Adhikari (2019). Simulating the Impacts of Irrigation Levels on Soybean Production in Texas High Plains to Manage Diminishing Groundwater Levels. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 1 – 14.

Shepler, R., J. F. Suter, D.T. Manning, and C. Goemans (2019). Private Actions and Preferences for Coordinated Groundwater Conservation in Colorado’s Republican River Basin. Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

For more project-supported publications, visit:

Copyright © 2019 Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project, All rights reserved.

Research and outreach to support farmer decision making and productivity in the Ogallala region, today and for future generations. Supported by USDA-NIFA under award number 2016-68007-25066.

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Ogallala Water CAP · CSU Soil and Crop Sciences Dept. · Campus Delivery 1170 · Fort Collins, CO 80523 · USA

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