CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Officials with West Texas A&M University announced Tuesday that two professors at the university won a grant from the US Department of Agriculture for a project which could decrease the amount of water required to grow cotton in the region.

According to a news release from the university, the USDA’s Ogallala Aquifer program awarded Nathan Howell, the university’s Bell Helicopter Professor of Engineering, and Craig Bednarz, the university’s Stan and Gerry Sigman Professor of Water Resources, a $140,000 grant to investigate manufacturing and using biochar to improve soil health and reduce waste.

“We’re trying to solve two problems at once: The need to find meaningful uses for any large amounts of waste, and the need to make dryland agriculture more viable,” Howell said in the release. “We use (biochar) for water-treatment applications. For instance, you can use biochar to remove dyes that seep into the water supply from clothing manufacturing plants.”

Bednarz said that the research is aimed at seeing if fortifying soil with biochar helps improve water retention, seeing if it works in the field. Officials said over two years, the biochar will be applied to one or two inches of topsoil in a crucible, to see if germination rates improve for cotton seeds along with other benefits.

“When I was younger, growers would take this trash and put it back on the land to reintroduce more organic material to the soil,” Bednarz said in the release. “But that wound up reintroducing weed seed back into the soil, so by and large, it’s just considered a waste product… We’ll take a mountain of gin trash and convert it to biochar to put on the growers’ fields. Biochar is a way to sequester carbon on farms. With concerns about greenhouse gases, this is one way to capture carbon in a more stable form.”

Officials said if germination is increased, yields could increase in this process. At the same time, if water usage is reduced, costs could then decrease as well. Officials said the trials will be conducted at the USDA and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center’s Agricultural Research Service facility near Bushland and at a research farm near Lubbock.

Another study focused on soil health, water storage and regenerative agriculture methods was recently conducted at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension Center’s Lubbock farm, and presented at the 2022 Texas Groundwater Summit. Texas A&M AgriLife Research Associate Professor Katie Lewis discussed the study and findings on the effects of methods such as covering soil, diversifying plants, and keeping living roots growing in fields throughout the year.

For more information, visit West Texas A&M University’s website.