SAREC highlights 2009 research at open houseWritten by Christy Hemken
UW’s Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Director Steve Miller began the day with an update on funding within the College of Agriculture. “We thought we were flying along pretty good until the Governor decided the income revenue didn’t look as rosy as we thought,” he said.
As a result, the state took a 10 percent cut across all programs, including the university, which amounted to $18.3 million.
Although it was a worry, Miller said the research and extension centers were sheltered and didn’t feel the 10 percent cut that college departments faced. SAREC is one of four research and extension centers in the state, the others located in Laramie, Sheridan and Powell.
As a result of the budget cuts, all faculty and staff positions now have to filter through a central position management pool, which approves everything. Miller said there were concerns with key retirements this year, but five priority positions have received approval for fulfillment.
A project new this year on the research fields is a large center pivot with 19 participating researchers and $500,000 in funding over four years. UW Renewable Resources Department Soil Fertility Specialist Jay Norton was on hand at the field day to explain several aspects of the research.
The goal of the project is to investigate the economic and ecological sustainability of three cropping strategies on a 36-acre half-pivot system – organic, conventional and reduced-input – in cash-crop and beef-calf production on crop-range-livestock farms. The framework plots laid out this year also form a baseline framework for additional research within each approach.
The conventional plot will grow dry beans, corn, sugar beets and corn in its cash-crop side, while producing alfalfa/oats, two years of alfalfa and corn silage/triticale on the beef-calf side. The reduced-input plot will grow the same crops as the conventional with the addition of cover crops and other strategies to reduce inputs. The organic plot will produce oats/alfalfa, alfalfa, corn and beans (soy or dry) on the cash crop side and the same crops on the beef-calf side as conventional and reduced-input.
Norton said there was an advisory committee made up of farmers who operate under the three approaches who sat down and discussed the situation and the cropping plan now growing under the pivot is what came out.
The conventional beef-calf production focus will integrate rangeland and focus on producing conventional feeder calves. The reduced-input beef-calf system will use manure and compost, conservation tillage, precision agriculture and integrated pest management combined with synthetic fertilizer and pesticides to optimize profit; conventional or “natural” feeder calves will be produced. The organic calves will receive organic-approved inputs and procedures integrating rangeland with a focus on producing organic-certified feeder calves.
On the cash-crop side, the conventional crops will receive synthetic fertilizer and pesticides at conventionally recommended rates. The reduced-input cash crops will use conservation tillage, precision agriculture and integrated pest management combined with synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. The organic cash crops will use organic inputs, using lentil as a green manure crop and altering row spacing for weed control, cultivation and other management strategies. None of the cash crop rotations will have a livestock component, including manure.
Samples of the different crops will be taken from the middle of the fields to avoid plants affected by drift.
Over time, scientists will collect data from the crops relating to sugar beets, pathogens, insect populations, soil properties and molecular biology, among other things, and livestock researchers will analyze a herd of 18 cows and calves managed in conjunction with the land.
“Right now we expect everything to be the same with soil properties, because this has been in corn for several years, but as the project goes on we expect the different treatments to have different effects on soil quality, and that’s where the reduced input may start to pay off as practices build soil organic matter later in the study,” said Norton.
Water use, efficiency, soil moisture dynamics and soil infiltration will also be measured by soil moisture and temperature monitors set at three depths.
“The economics studies will be the important data that comes out of this,” said Norton, adding that two sustainable business practices professors will look at marketing issues both upstream with getting the right alternative approaches and downstream for value-added or natural programs.
“The idea is for this to be six model farms that operate in the long-term to compare alternative strategies within each bigger model,” said Norton, adding one such study is already in the works for next year, involved organic soil fertility amendments and the effects on soils, growth and crop yield, as well as marketability of the products.
Of the ongoing research at the station, Miller said, “This is truly your station. Make sure you stop in and find out what we’re doing, and hopefully we’re answering your questions. We’re here to help keep ag strong in Wyoming.”
The field day included three smaller tours focusing on irrigated crops, dryland crops and livestock.