Organic and Conventional Agriculture: Learning from Each Other to Promote Soil Health and Economic Viability in West Texas

by Dr. Katie Lewis, Texas A&M AgriLife Research-Lubbock

In Texas only about 16 percent of all cropped acres are under some conservation tillage. In semi-arid environments, soil health promoting practices such as cover crops are not well received due to potential soil moisture use and additional input costs. 

However, organic producers have been successful in these environments using crop rotation and cover crops under irrigated and dryland agriculture. It has been estimated that around half of Texas producers are open to the idea of organic farming and thousands of farms are already using at least some organic methods. The National Center of Appropriate Technology (NCAT) recommended that assistance to transitioning producers be a priority as well as a greater commitment for university research and extension efforts in organic production to accelerate the closing of the gap between consumer demand and the supply of Texas grown organic products. 

While Texas lags in organic production overall, Texas is the leading producer of organic cotton, peanuts, and rice. Texas grows over 90 percent of the organic cotton, 95% of the organic peanuts and 41 percent of the organic rice in the U.S. However, organic management practices are not always considered sustainable as tillage is the primary weed control tool. In addition, full benefits of cover crops may not be realized in organic production systems of West Texas as very low seeding rates coupled with early termination via tillage are common. 

We have teamed with the Texas Peanut Producers Board and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative to identify agronomic production limitations in respective organic systems. In addition, the research team has a long history of working closely with farmers using conservation measures in conventional cropping systems. Our long-term study goal is to identify management practices that enhance soil health in organic and conventional agriculture and share successful practices that may be incorporated within respective farming operations to improve soil health and economic viability. Results from this project will empower both organic and conventional growers to make informed decisions on inputs that will result in effective soil health promoted practices and optimum economic options.

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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