Diversifying organic cotton production in semi-arid environments of Texas
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Texas is the leading state in organic cotton and peanut production. Through our surveys, organic growers have identified weed control and soil management as a top area of concern. Cover crops, crop rotation, and compost management are tools that can potentially address these concerns. Producers are hesitant of using cover crops in semi-arid environments due to soil water use and adoption of crop rotation is also low in organic cotton systems. Our goal is that results from this project will empower organic growers to make informed choices on inputs that will result in effective weed management, higher and more consistent yields, improved soil health and function, and improved nutrient cycling. We propose to conduct research in leading organic regions within two varying ecoregions: Vernon in the Texas Rolling Plains, and Lubbock in the Southern High Plains. We will determine the effects of commonly used cover crops and crops that may not be typically used as cover crops but may have the potential to improve weed suppression when used as a cover crop. We will also evaluate the potential for other crops as an organic commodity to increase crop rotation and diversity. Through these trials, measurements will be made to determine how well the soil captures and stores precipitation or irrigation water, cycles nutrients, influences soil microbial diversity and how agronomic production and economic returns are affected. As the most common way to incorporate dry compost and/or manure is the incorporate with tillage after surface application, there is an increased likelihood of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and/or degrading soil resources. Hence, a novel subsurface compost applicator will be used to evaluate the effect of compost application rate and placement on soil nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions and agronomic production. Field trials and collected information will be shared with students, growers, researchers, county agents, natural resource managers, and regional public officials.