Big changes are apparently in store for the West Texas A&M research facility that conducts important research on dryland agricultural practices to be shared with farmers.

What was known as the Dryland Agriculture Institute had its name changed recently to the West Texas A&M Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems Institute. Meanwhile, a new person has been hired to run the institute in Canyon, Texas. Craig Bednarz started May 1 in a joint appointment by West Texas A&M, Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo and the Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

Bednarz will serve as an associate professor of plant, soil and environmental sciences at West Texas A&M. He will lead and expand the research, instruction and service programs of the institute, addressing issues facing semi-arid agriculture systems in the Texas Panhandle and surrounding area, said Lance Kieth, head of West Texas A&M’s Department of Agricultural Sciences.

Bednarz says the main reason for the name change was the emphasis on a systems approach, and the focus will be on dryland/semi-irrigated crops, forages and grazing systems.

“No-till and cover-crops will be central to our research program. I have met several growers and have several more on my list to visit that all practice no-till and cover crops in this area,” he says. “I also have research space at the USDA-ARS facility in Bushland where I will establish cover crops this fall.

“We will not be sustainable until we stop pumping from the Ogallala,” he adds. “Cover crops, no-till and extended fallow will be central to successful dryland cropping systems here.”

The Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems Institute was led by Bob Stewart until his retirement in 2017. Its mission is to assist researchers, educators, extension workers and administrators to develop practical and workable strategies for improving the sustainability of dryland agriculture systems worldwide.

Bednarz is a nationally prominent researcher in crop physiology for row crop production systems, primarily cotton. He is one of two hires who will work jointly under the Chancellor’s Research Initiative.

Bednarz will lead a formal research program in water-resource management, water use in drought tolerance crops, limited-irrigation cropping systems, remote sensing technologies, and intensive cattle grazing systems for Panhandle agriculture and allied industries.

A focus on water scarcity and needs is a key component of “WT125: From the Panhandle to the World,” which is the title of West Texas A&M’s plan to become a regional research university.

“When I was younger and growing up in this area, we used to irrigate cotton from a ditch,” Bednarz says. “Back then, the well capacity was a lot higher. That’s all changed now. Water availability in the Ogallala Aquifer has been drying up, and that certainly is impacting the quality of life in this area.”

Bednarz wants to do whatever he can to ensure future generations can still utilize those water resources

“That’s in line with my scientific interests and, on a personal note, I have a tie to this region and to agriculture in this region, and I want to see it continue to grow and thrive,” he says.