Plowed land with no crops with trees in the background

FFAR Grant Determines Effectiveness of Fallowing on Water Conservation



  • Sustainable Water Management

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Dec. 8, 2022) –Drought risks continue to challenge farmers in the US Southwest where surface water supplies are persistently at their lowest level in at least the past 1,200 years based on tree ring analysis, exacerbating rapid decline in groundwater reserves. Leaving cultivated land unused—fallowing—represents a potentially crucial water-saving strategy. However, the costs and benefits of fallowing remain uncertain. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is providing a $970,931 Seeding Solutions grant to New Mexico State University (NMSU) to leverage participatory modeling as a strategy to engage farmers and water managers in evaluating where and when fallowing can provide an effective water-saving practice. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District, NMSU, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute and the Thornburg Foundation provided matching funding for a total $1,941,862 investment.

Capitalizing on the technical expertise of farmers and water district managers is essential to driving applied research and credibly informing field operations. While this interdisciplinary research will support water resource management in southern New Mexico, the collaboration process they develop will provide a vital example of how to advance more effective stakeholder-engaged management plans in agricultural watersheds worldwide. Kathleen Boomer, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Director
Sustainable Water Management

Growers have used fallowing for millennia to manage crops and soils; however, it can also damage agricultural systems if implemented without careful analysis. Successful fallowing strategies rely on understanding how crop systems respond to field management and natural variability in soil water content. Leveraging the experience and knowledge of growers and water managers and hydrologists could improve our understanding of these links and create a more aligned vision for managing agricultural fields in arid climates.

NMSU researchers, led by Dr. Alexander Fernald, are working with local stakeholders to develop a Hydrologic-Agricultural-Economic model that evaluates alternative fallowing strategies. The researchers will integrate the hydrologic modeling with remote sensing data, field measurements and socioeconomic information. This integrated data will inform where fallowing can optimally provide targeted benefits and provide a basis for estimating the cumulative benefits of all fallowed fields within the project area. The researchers will focus on the Mesilla-Rincon Valley in southern New Mexico, where the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is implementing a pilot program to reduce groundwater pumping through fallowing.

Results from this research will inform how much and where fallowing can mitigate water deficit concerns in arid regions. The research team plans to make this project scalable and replicable to other regions by developing best practices for stakeholder-engaged collaboration and participatory modeling.

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR

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