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Corn stress, weather station projects viewed in Powell

Written by Saige

Powell – The Powell Research and Extension Center (PREC) Field Day on July 14 provided more than 120 participants an opportunity to explore numerous projects being conducted on the facility’s 220 acres.
Research at PREC spans from fertilizer application rates and incorporation methods to drought tolerance and performance studies. Notably, research by UW Assistant Professor in Plant Sciences and Irrigation Specialist at PREC Axel Garcia y Garcia regarding water stress on corn has captured the attention of the USDA.
“This study was initially started here in Powell,” said Garcia y Garcia. “It has become so important that it is being conducted at the USDA’s Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center (ALARC) in Maricopa, Ariz.”
This project, funded by AgroFresh, Inc. and Dow Chemical Co., has two primarily objectives including monitoring corn responses to water stress as well as an assessment of methods used to determine stress onset.
Garcia y Garcia’s research utilizes an automated weather station and infrared thermometers deployed in the field to monitor the temperature of the canopy of the corn. The canopy temperature is used to determine crop stress, based on the crop water stress index.
“The index is used all around the world as the best way to determine when a crop is stressed,” said Garcia y Garcia. “Right now, we are seeing temperatures as high as 30 to 32 degrees Celsius (86 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and obviously, the corn is not really very stressed yet.”
Garcia y Garcia simultaneously measures soil moisture using a series of probes.
“The water markers are very simple, cheap sensors to measure soil moisture conditions,” explained Garcia y Garcia. “We measure soil moisture at six, 12, 24 and 36 inches.”
Every hour the information is sent to a data collection site in the field and is gathered on computers to supplement PREC research.
Garcia y Garcia’s project, titled “Corn Response to Water Stress” is a three-year project in its first year.
The PREC facility also features several new facilities to accompany their ongoing research projects, one of which is the foundation seed cleaning facility.
Mike Moore, manager of the State Seed Certification Service, and Mike Killen, farm manager at PREC, have worked for over three years to facilitate the move of the Foundation Seed Cleaning Facility from its former location in Sheridan to PREC.
“Foundation seed is the purest of the pure and most true to type for variety, for crop, and for weed seed content,” explained Moore. “This project was located over in Sheridan for many years, and there was a big emphasis to get the building over here.”
Previously, all crops for seed were grown and harvested in the Powell area, shipped to Sheridan for cleaning, then shipped back to Powell.
“The building is the only thing that is new,” said Moore. “All the equipment came from Sheridan.”
The facility serves an additional purpose as a sample cleaning area for researchers at PREC, where a separate room is being populated with necessary equipment.
Additional cooperative efforts with the Bridger Plant and Materials Center increases the availability of clean seed for native grasses and shrubs.
“The objective is to have better seed for folks in our area and in the Mountain West,” said Moore. “The Foundation Seed Cleaning Facility will provide a service for the area not only for growers, but the users of the end product.”
Director of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bret Hess emphasized, “I think it is an excellent addition to the center, and I’m looking forward to everything that can be done in the Foundation Seed Cleaning Facility.”
A second notable addition to the PREC site is one of four Automated Weather Stations (AWSs) that are part of the Wyoming Agricultural Weather Network (WAWN).
Environmental factors, such as temperature, wind speed and rainfall are a constant concern to agriculturalists and one of the largest challenges that producers face.
WAWN was initiated in 2010 and involves data collection from AWSs located in Heart Mountain, Powell, Sheridan and Worland, with the goal to provide weather information for both agricultural and environmental application.
“We have four weather stations that are connected to computers which send information to our office,” said Garcia y Garcia. “The idea of a weather station came up because we needed environmental information, not only for research, but to provide some developmental tools for farmers.”
Garcia y Garcia explained that weather information is necessary and helpful for the daily activities of farmers, such as irrigation and chemical application.
“We decided we needed to go online with the information to be most useful,” said Garcia y Garcia, referring to a website where all data collected is provided for public use.
Online access to the information gathered by WAWN allows this resource to be easily available for producers’ needs. The information is extensive and includes readings for barometric pressure, evapotranspiration, rainfall, relative humidity, solar radiation, temperature and wind speed, as well as soil moisture and temperature at a variety of depths.
Data is also available in table form for seven-day data and graphed in 30-day increments to provide information for longer-term decision-making.
UW provided funding for the AWSs in Powell and at the Sheridan Research and Extension Center, while Worland’s AWC is funded by Washakie County Conservation District. The Wyoming Sugar Company, LLC, as well as the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, support the AWSs as well.
“Our long range plan was to develop a system to better utilize water, not only on the crops that you are growing but on your lawns and shrubs around your houses, so that was kind of the concept we built our station on,” said former President and CEO of Wyoming Sugar Company Cal Jones.
The AWS, as well as the Foundation Seed Cleaning Facility, are expected to be very helpful in the research at PREC.
To supplement the 2011 field days at research centers in the state, a bulletin was produced featuring short synopses of each research project covered in the tour. The bulletin will be available online this winter.    
For more information about research at PREC, call 307-754-2223. To access the WAWN, visit wawn.net. Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..