Input Substitution in Irrigated Agriculture in the High Plains of Texas, 1970-80 Page: 63
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Input Substitution in Irrigated
Agriculture in the High Plains of
Michael L. Nieswiadomy
The adaptability of irrigated agriculture in the High Plains region of Texas in the
1970-80 period is analyzed by estimating Allen partial elasticities of substitution for
five key inputs (water, labor, center pivot, furrow, and wheel roll systems) used to
produce two crops (cotton and grain sorghum). The results indicate that farmers have
adapted to changes in a manner generally consistent with prior expectations
concerning complementarity and substitutability among inputs. The output-constant
price elasticity of water demand was statistically significant but relatively small
Key words: elasticity of substitution, irrigation technology, pump cost, Texas.
Irrigated agriculture in the western United
States has experienced tremendous changes in
the past three or more decades. It appears that
many more dynamic adjustments will occur in
the future. Rising (real) prices for key inputs
(water, labor, and capital) and falling crop prices
represent only some of the potential problems
that must be confronted. How will farmers
adapt to these new constraints? The recent ad-
vances in irrigation technology provide rea-
sons to be somewhat sanguine. But, more im-
portant, it is essential to understand the
flexibility of farmers in adapting to dynamic
changes in irrigated agriculture. Unfortu-
nately, knowledge in this area is sparse. As
Frederick and Hanson have observed, "Less
may be known about the impact of irrigation
on the overall performance of U.S. agriculture
than is known about the impact of any of the
other principal inputs" (p. 3). One way to an-
ticipate farmers' future adaptability is to ana-
lyze how they have adjusted to changes in the
recent past. Several studies have analyzed the
adjustment in water usage due to rising pump-
ing costs and the benefits from groundwater
management (Feinerman and Knapp; Gisser
Michael L. Nieswiadomy is an assistant professor, Department of
Economics, University of North Texas.
The author thanks Ron Lacewell and John Moroney for helpful
and Sanchez; Nieswiadomy; Shipley and Goss).
Recently, Caswell and Zilberman used histor-
ical data to determine the likelihood of adopt-
ing furrow, sprinkler, or drip irrigation in Cal-
ifornia. However, no rigorous analysis of the
changes in the usage of all irrigation inputs has
To this end, this paper analyzes the adapt-
ability of irrigated agriculture in the High Plains
of Texas in the 1970-80 period by using a dual
cost function to estimate Allen partial elastic-
ities of substitution for five key inputs (water,
labor, center pivot, furrow, and wheel roll sys-
tems) that are used to produce two crops (cot-
ton and grain sorghum). The 1970-80 period
is significant because 1970 was the first year
in which the center pivot, a significant ad-
vancement in irrigation technology, came into
use.' The results indicate that farmers have
adapted to changes in a manner consistent with
most a priori agricultural engineering expec-
tations concerning relative complementarity
and substitutability among inputs. Although
these results are based on cost-minimizing ad-
justments to past input price changes, the re-
1 The study period ends in 1980 because of the lack of data on
irrigation equipment usage. TAES's High Plains Irrigation Survey
was unfortunately discontinued after 1977. Three additional years
of data were gathered via personal communication with extension
agents. See appendix for further details.
Western Journal ofAgricultural Economics, 13(1): 63-70
Copyright 1988 Western Agricultural Economics Association
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Nieswiadomy, Michael L. Input Substitution in Irrigated Agriculture in the High Plains of Texas, 1970-80, article, July 1988; [Milwaukee, Wisconsin]. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc71788/m1/1/: accessed May 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.