Profile: Ralph Kellison, Lockney, TX
Profile: Rick Kellison, Lockney, Texas
|Rick Kellison: Beef, forage & seed. Lockney, Texas. |
Photo by Kathy Kellison
DROUGHT-TOLERANT FORAGE KEEPS PASTURE ALIVE IN TEXAS HEAT
In the intense heat of a Texas summer, Rick Kellison’s cow/calf herd enjoys a daily diet of old world bluestem, a drought-tolerant, warm-season forage that performs well in hot conditions and on marginal soils. Kellison, who ranches in Lockney, about an hour north of Lubbock, did his research before selecting his main summer forage. He followed Texas Tech University’s lead and chose WW-B. Dahl old world bluestem, a variety that meets his herd’s needs and provides a valuable seed crop.
“It’s the best forage producer, given our water situation, that we could plant,” Kellison said. “More and more producers interested in growing improved grasses are looking at WW-B. Dahl.”
Kellison divided his 300 acres into grazing cells separated with polywire. Depending on the paddock, he uses flood irrigation, pivot and drip. Under the driest conditions, the bluestem stands up well and provides high levels of nutrition. Moreover, with the increased interest from other farmers and ranchers, Kellison harvests old world bluestem seeds each fall, selling them for $7.50 up to $15 a pound (in pure live seed) to a mix of retail and wholesale markets.
Kellison is committed to water conservation beyond his ranch borders. Early in 2005, he became project director for the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, a unique state project that is demonstrating irrigation delivery systems on 26 farms and ranches. The project evolved from a long-term research project, partly funded by SARE, at Texas Tech University that explores water-conserving alternatives to continuous cotton.
The Texas water conservation project, funded with a $6.2 million state grant, will further test Texas Tech’s water-conserving cotton-cattle-forage rotation, which reduced water use by 23 percent and yielded higher profits in university research trials. By introducing commodities such as beef cattle and old world bluestem, a drought-resistant forage that is so popular its seed has become valuable, researchers saved water normally used to irrigation water-dependent cotton.
“It’s impossible for us to be sustainable with irrigated agriculture in the High Plains, with us pumping out of the aquifer,” Kellison said. “The object is to pump less water and make more money.”
The variety of demonstration sites will mean a huge data-collection effort, but those involved in the project are excited at the opportunity.
“By measuring everything that’s measurable on the farm – total water use, tillage systems, fertility programs – and having academics look at each site under a magnifying glass, we can see how producers can maximize their productivity,” Kellison said. “Maximizing yield doesn’t always maximize profits. Through demonstration, we can transfer information to show a producer that he can use less water and inputs and still make more money.”
On his own farm, Kellison is pleased with his management-intensive grazing and old world bluestem.
“My opinion is that we all have some acreage not acclimated for row crop production. If we can take our marginal land and put it into a drought-resistant crop that’s good for the land and ecology, and will generate income, that’s a win-win situation,” he said. “Of all the improved grasses, the bluestem fits us so well because it doesn’t take as much water.”