Texas Farmers Restoring Native Grasslands Due to Lack of Groundwater

by Megan Molseed

Texas farmers have depended on aquifers for generations to help their crops thrive. Even during some of the state’s frequent dry seasons, droughts, and extreme summer heat. Farms across the Texas panhandle boasted luscious green fields full of corn, cotton, and wheat. For decades, area farms used wellsprings to draw water from the nearby Ogallala aquifer to sustain these crops.

All of this is changing, however, as Texas farmers are discovering the seemingly bottomless water source is beginning to dry up. And, without the water, the fields become dry. When the fields are dry, the much-needed soil can blow away; taking crop opportunities with it. It was a situation similar to this one that created the infamous dustbowl in the 1930s.

Texas farmers were faced with a dilemma; what could they do aside from the impossible task of creating water where there isn’t any?

Farmers Are Finding Answers To Combating Drought Conditions

The answer, notes some area farmers, lies in the history of the land. Many farmers have turned to cultivating crops that are native to the area; ones that tend to be less “thirsty,” and whose roots take hold well enough to grow to luscious greens with even the slightest bit of rain.

“There’s a reason Mother Nature selected those plants to be in those areas,” notes Nick Bamert per the New York Post.

Bamert and his family are sort of experts in the “field” – yes pun intended – of native seeds and grasses. Bamert’s father developed a seed company that specializes in native grasses over seventy years ago.

“The natives … will persist because they’ve seen the coldest winters and the hottest dry summers,” Bamert added.

Other farmers have taken to using the native crops to feed cattle. Forgoing the other crops when the dry seasons are upon them.

“We wasted the hell out of the water,” explained one Texas farmer, Tim Black. Black is now transitioning his farm to cattle.

The second-generation farmer notes that he hopes this move will bring his own children back to the family farm.

“You want your kids to come back, but damn, there’s better ways to make a living than what we’re doing,” the farmer said. “It’s just too hard here with no water.”

“Everybody knows … the water’s going away,” said Jude Smith, a biologist with the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge.

The National Wildlife Refuge was developed during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression to try and combat exactly what is currently happening in the area; preserving native prairies and spring-fed lakes in the area.

Areas within the “Dust Bowl Zone” which include parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, are being prioritized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for grassland conservation.

A Complicated Transition

With this effort comes funding for farms seeking to make the transition to the native grasses. However, the process is not an easy one, and it will certainly take some time.

Additionally, the transition will take effort as the native plants begin to take hold.

“Farmers may need to use some remaining groundwater to reestablish the native grasses,” notes Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University. “In an ideal world, there would be some forethought and incentives available.”

Less than 328,000 acres in the “Dust Bowl” area have enrolled in the USDA’s Grasslands Conservation Reserve Programs since the program’s development in 2016.