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Research center focus

Written by Christy Hemken

UW Extension Entomologist Alex Latchininsky spoke to the Big Horn Basin Forage and Irrigated Pasture Expo about a variety of insects that can affect both forage alfalfa and alfalfa seed production in Wyoming. 

Basin – At the Jan. 19 Big Horn County Irrigated Pasture and Forage Workshop many experts were brought together to discuss with farmers and ranchers their options in forage varieties, pasture economics and appropriate pesticides for alfalfa.
    Included in the lineup was Bridger Plant Materials Center Director Roger Hybner, who was present to give an update on the center and what new crops and varieties they’re working with.
    The Center, founded in 1959, is owned by the conservation districts of Montana and Wyoming. “Dryland crops, especially with native species, are something we’re striving to research and look toward,” said Hybner, telling the producers, “If you see something out there that is native and is growing gangbusters compared to everything else around it, please let us know so we can collect the seed off it. That is our job – to go out and make those collections and put them in evaluations against released varieties. If it shows improvement we can release it as a new variety or germplasm.”
    “The producers are our eyes and ears,” he said. The Center’s territory includes Montana, a part of Idaho’s panhandle and all but southwestern Wyoming, which is covered by the Colorado plant materials center, although Bridger does overlap in that area as well.
    One of those overlaps consists of reclamation work on the Jonah Field south of Pinedale. “Wyoming is generally known for its energy development, and is even more so now and that is where we step in with our reclamation,” said Hybner.
    “The industry is trying to keep their activity going year-round, but a year ago they kept two well sites open through the winter season and had over 2,000 vehicle visits in a month, and you know what that does to wildlife,” he said. “When you’ve got that much activity and that much of a disturbance, on soil that’s not the best in the world, it’s hard on reclamation.”
    “We’ve got plots established that have only gotten five inches of rain in the last two years, and what grows best out there?” he asked. “Weeds and Russian thistle. They’re pretty tough conditions.”
    Hybner described one thing the industry has come up with - oak pallets laid down with the drilling rig set on top for two months. “You’ll see where the lines are on the soil where the pallet was, but the thing that’s nice about it is the sagebrush decadent growth is moved out of the way and the plant’s still alive and growing, and it’s the same with the grasses. No reclamation’s needed.”
    He said that’s really the ticket, because in the harsh conditions any kind of reclaiming has had to be replanted at least twice.
    On another note, Hybner discussed the use of switchgrass for biofuels. “We’re on the extreme western edge of where switchgrass can grow, so at the Center we’re thinking more of cool season grasses to fill that niche, like tall wheatgrass.”
    He said if you fertilize and irrigate tall wheatgrass it should yield five to seven tons per acre in two cuttings. “But you’ve got to keep it vegetative by not letting it head out, because as soon as it puts that head through the protein goes straight down and it turns to cardboard.”
    “One of the biggest mistakes the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) made with the first Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup was they allowed way too many monocultures, including crested wheatgrass,” stated Hybner. “The new CRP signups have to include something besides crested wheatgrass and a legume to get more diversity.”
    The Center is also researching weed control on wildflower establishments, which are a popular choice in highway revegetation projects. “One of the biggest problems with planting the wildflowers is they’re a broadleaf and you’ve got to find out a way to control the broadleaf noxious weeds. In some plots it works very well, and in some cases it’s too well because you’ve got damage on the species you want to survive.”
    “We need to find some new species to take over for the Russian olive and the Siberian elm in windbreaks,” he said of more research into tree varieties. This research includes watering alternatives to running a hose and leaving water on the surface of the soil where half of it evaporates. “This is going to be a five to 10 year study to see if it helps establishment.”
    The research has also been into crossing Russian olive with another tree to preserve its salinity tolerance but tame its spread. “They’ve tried crossing Russian olive with buffalo berry and they called it silver berry, but it didn’t show nearly the salinity tolerance the Russian olive did. I think we need to do is figure out how to make this plant sterile.”
    Hybner said he would like to see is more extended grazing seasons, especially utilizing basin wild rye. “It’s a perfect example because you don’t want to harvest it during the growing season. The growing point actually comes out of the ground,” he said. Instead, it’s best to graze it from mid-December through March. “It makes an excellent feed and maintains its protein.”
     The research at the Bridger Plant Materials Center can be summed up in a statement from one of their neighbors – “If you find out what doesn’t work, then I don’t have to mess with it.”
    “And that is our job,” states Hybner. “If you want a research plot on your farm get a hold of me because that is where the seed hits the ground, on the comparative evaluation lands.”
    For more information on the Bridger Plant Materials Center, visit http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/mtpmc/. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..