J.W. Sij, J.E. Slosser, D.G. Bordovsky, T.A. Baughman, S.J. Bevers
Statement of Innovation
Today, more than ever, conservation and management of natural resources is essential to sustained agricultural production. Water supply is the most important input for cotton production in semiarid regions like the Rolling Plains and High Plains. Decreasing supplies of surface and underground water for irrigation must be countered with more innovative and efficient water management systems and tillage practices that capture and conserve limited rainfall. Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) has been recognized as an efficient method of supplying water to crops. Most SDI systems utilize conventional tillage on field crops or conventional tillage plus plastic mulch on high-value horticulture or ornamental crops. Information to combine SDI with conservation tillage involving cover crops is lacking. Cover crops are, perhaps, the most economical method of providing mulch on large, field-scale operations. Even SDI systems using conventional tillage are still subject to soil erosion by wind and water, blowing-sand damage to seedlings, and loss of nutrients from rainfall through runoff. A terminated cover crop greatly reduces or eliminates these problems. Captured rainfall should result in lower costs associated with SDI trough less pumping and maintenance of the system. Conservation tillage coupled with SDI should allow producers to raise more cotton under irrigation with the same well capacity and/or reduce draw-down of the aquifer to permit more efficient irrigations during the season with marginal-capacity wells. The result would increase revenue to the producer, the cotton industry, and accelerate paying for the cost of SDI installation.