With more than 129 million acres of agricultural land, Texas is home to the greatest number of farms and ranches in the nation. In the Lone Star State, agriculture production accounts for more than 60% of all freshwater consumed. However, as Texas loses farmland faster than any other state, we’re also facing growing issues related to water scarcity. As the effects of climate change continue to mount—from more severe periods of drought to more frequent flooding—Texas is feeling the impacts where they hurt most: the quantity and quality of our water supplies. To ensure a resilient future, we’re collaborating with agricultural producers and landowners to address these challenges before it’s too late.
Lone Star Agriculture
There are nearly 250,000 farms and ranches in Texas.
In 2020, animal sales contributed over $14 billion to Texas' economy
In 2020, crop sales contributed over $6 billion to Texas' economy
Farmers and ranchers are vital to our way of life and heritage in Texas. The state relies on the multibillion-dollar agriculture industry not only for economic success, but also for the conservation of our iconic landscapes and watersheds by preventing development—but the two are not mutually exclusive. Agriculture and conservation don’t have to be pitted against one another. In Texas, we can protect water for people and nature alike by working with landowners, decision-makers and partners across the Lone Star State.
For decades, TNC has worked closely with this dedicated group of Texans to implement and promote agricultural practices that support healthy lands and waters through science-driven strategies. Many heritage ranchers already drive scalable solutions to environmental challenges through improved management and production practices, protecting the lands and waters they depend upon and love. To further address increasing demands for food and water, we’re developing statewide partnerships that build on the knowledge of local experts and model how sustainable agricultural practices can successfully meet Texas’ most pressing needs.
Together, we can conserve water and other key natural resources in Texas by making agriculture more efficient, productive and economically sustainable in key parts of the state.
Making A Difference
Redistributing water, improving irrigation efficiency and soil management, reducing water loss in delivery systems and shifting to less water-intensive crops are just a few of the practical and cost-effective solutions that can stretch a unit of water further while maintaining—or increasing—production and profits.
Diving Deeper into Our Partnerships
Environmental Water Transactions: San Saba River
When Texas’ water rights system was initially created, it granted the use of water without recognizing environmental water needs. Over time, this left little to no water to support our watersheds and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. Environmental water markets and water transactions create incentives for conservation and help redistribute conserved water to ensure enough for all of us.
Innovative work like this is touching down in places like Menard County, where the San Saba River meanders before meeting the Colorado River. Here, TNC works with local ranchers in several ways. As water right holders, the landowners have established an agreement with TNC so that in periods when river flow is below average, they refrain from diverting water from the San Saba to keep things flowing.
TNC staff also collect data on their land to better understand the connection between the river and underlying aquifers. With this information, water managers and policymakers will be able to make more effective decisions, protecting the river in times when water is needed most. Finally, we’re collaborating with these ranchers to develop rotational grazing plans and implement agricultural technologies to improve soil health and contribute to more clean and abundant water.
Sustainable Agriculture Practices: Lavon Lake Watershed
The Lavon Lake watershed stretches over 492,000 acres across four North Texas counties. With five major tributaries flowing into the lake, it serves as a vital natural resource for the area, providing everything from municipal water supplies and flood control to habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities. Over 1.6 million North Texans rely on Lavon Lake as their primary source of drinking water. Although most of the watershed is made up of farms and ranches, the southwestern portion of the watershed is one of the most rapidly developing areas in the nation. Agriculture remains a vital part of the local economy, but the economic landscape in the watershed is changing as land uses continue to shift.
TNC is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and others to provide additional cost-share funding and support for the implementation of conservation practices on farms and ranches in the Lavon Lake Watershed. Ultimately, by applying these practices, we aim to improve water quality and quantity for the region.