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Rainfed Cotton Production on the
Texas High Plains: Opportunities for
Sustainable Production

February 2020



By Paxton Payton, Ph.D.
Research Plant Physiologist
USDA-ARS
Cropping Systems Research Laboratory
Lubbock, Texas
Phone:
806-749-5560
Email: paxton.payton@ars.usda.gov

By James Mahan, Ph.D.
Research Plant Physiologist
USDA-ARS
Cropping Systems Research Laboratory
Lubbock, Texas
Phone: 806-749-5560 ext. 5221
Email: james.mahan@usda.gov


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Summary: Rainfed cotton production is expanding in many regions around the world. Expansion is due to both physical (declining aquifers and surface water resources) and socio-political factors (reallocation of water to urban areas). The Texas High Plains is the largest contiguous cotton producing region in the world. The Ogallala aquifer provides irrigation water for this region, but has steadily declined over the past 3 decades. This decline has resulted in the region transitioning from largely irrigated to rainfed cotton production. We present here our current approaches to improving rainfed production, i.e. stabilizing yield across hyper-variable seasons, through management and agronomy. A fundamental question of this research is “can we apply new technologies, like remote sensing and crop modeling, to maximize yield and quality in an unstable and seemingly unpredictable environment?”





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