On October 27th, 2021, forty-four people convened at the brand new civic center in Hereford, Texas to discuss techniques and solutions for water recharge in the Ogallala Aquifer region. HMI Executive Director, Wayne Knight, set the stage by sharing his story of water management on his former ranch in South Africa and stressed our ability as land stewards to make positive impacts, ecologically, socially and financially. Dr. Chris Grotegut, veterinarian, grass, livestock, and crop farmer who hosted the event, outlined his family’s incentive for embarking on a journey towards regeneration. The trend lines on their land were obvious: the water table was declining, the erosion gullies deeper and the yields deteriorating while input costs climbed in relation to income. “If the kids were going to inherit something, then we had to try something different”. Chris shared his key realizations:
- Healthy soils are key to water effective water utilization in an arid environment.
- Plant diversity is essential for soil health.
- Animals are essential, but the timing of exposure to animals and enough time for plant recovery are critical.
- Tillage accelerates water evaporation and carbon loss from soils
- Plant inject liquid carbon for soil microbes when grazed effectively
- Native grasses and forbs are superbly adapted for animal nutrition and thriving in the local climate
- His experiment found that management and surface conditions have a huge impact on Ogallala water table recharge over time.
- With judicious pumping of wells water tables rise over time.
- Findings may be very site specific. Principles can help everywhere.
- Regenerative Agriculture is not just another fad. It is a cause to work towards as working with nature builds stability in water availability, community sustainability, healthy food and economic sustainability. Now that’s a lot to be excited about!
The next speaker was RN Hopper, a continuous no-till farmer from Petersburg, TX. He and his wife, Lyndi, live on the farm with their three children. They grow corn, cotton, wheat, sorghum, and sunflowers. RN is one of the founders and current President of the No-Till Texas organization whose focus is to increase awareness of soil health issues and to establish a network of producers helping each other implement soil conservation practices. RN encouraged the group to think of their land management practices through a lens of stewardship. Only when we are responsibly caring for and nurturing the land will we see positive results in soil health and financial health.
Chris, RN and Wayne all shared personal stories and experiences that spoke to approaches that foster profitable, sustainable, and regenerative practices.
The group enjoyed a delicious lunch catered by Parson’s Steakhouse of Hereford and took advantage of the unstructured time to network and chat with other attendees.
After lunch, Dr. Richard Teague, Professor Emeritus of Grazing Ecosystems Ecology in the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management at Texas A&M University shared his research findings from his study exploring the hypothesis that using Holistic Planned Grazing improves soil health and is a sustainable base to improve ecosystem function and increase net farm profits.
Co-funder and collaborator, Kara Kroeger of NCAT Soil For Water, presented on ways the Soil for Water Program supports farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States who are taking steps to catch and hold more water in the soil. Folx can find out more about their programs here.
Dr. Pancho Abello followed Kara and spoke on our need to change how we value water. How our current paradigm, that water is worth what it costs to pump out of the ground, is deeply flawed and needs to change. And that our current production paradigm, capital intensive agriculture, is a significant impediment to changes towards regenerative agricultural practices. He shared how there either needs to be significant institutional change, in terms of consumer demand, financial or crop insurance, or change will only come through new entrants to the industry, and that will be too slow. The current incentives and entrenched production models and support incentives are not enough to foster large-scale conversions to regenerative agriculture. However, folx like Chris Grotegut, Wayne Knight, and RN Hopper are doing it. And a lot of attendees are as well. And, most importantly, there is help and support available through HMI’s RAMP Peer Mentorship Program that supports incremental change towards more regenerative practices.
The group caravaned out to Chris’s land in the later afternoon and witnessed how his management practices have produced more diversity in their grass species, more growth and healthier soils as well as better water infiltration for aquifer recharge.
Every rain drop counts and in uncertain times like these, farming and ranching can be stressful. Solutions can seem hard to come by, but it is reassuring to know that some folks within the Ogallala Aquifer Region are finding ways to improve their situation.
|Do you intend to change management practices or apply ideas you learned during this course?||80%|
|Did you expand your network today by meeting new people or learning about resources available?||100%|
|Overall satisfaction of the event||100%|
|Would you recommend this event to others?||100%|
Participants reported the most useful things they learned during this workshop were:
“Using rotational crops that can be grazed or harvested. Lamb prices are currently much better than cattle. Rainfall in certain areas haven’t changed in 100 years but use/preservation/ infiltration have”
“Economics depends on ecology, we have control over our own enterprises, Global aspect-we are not facing this only here – Argentina 20yrs of not ill, Holistic Approach- One size does not fit all.”
“AMP Grazing, Looking out for future generations by doing things better. Value of 1 inch of water.”
“Keep on keeping on, Great people doing great things”
“No till vs Low till, Water absorption increases w/ground management.”
“Incorporate animals, economies of water”
“Ecology & economics balance. Water & carbon balance. Every farm/ranch is different & solutions will vary.”
“Work with nature not against it”
“Gained confidence that we are on track managing our grazing”
“Ecology & economy are intertwined. Beauty is really balance.”
A huge thank you to our funder the Tecovas Foundation for making this day possible. Thank you to our collaborator and co-sponsor, NCAT for funds and outreach support. And thank you to Ogallala Commons and the Dixon Water Foundation for collaboration and support in putting the day together.
Thanks too to our excellent speakers, RN Hopper, Dr. Richard Teague and Dr. Pancho Abello from Texas A&M Agrilife at Vernon. Your knowledge, time and eloquent sharing are highly appreciated.