UNL Panhandle Research Answers Ag Sector Questions

UNL Panhandle Research Answers Ag Sector Questions

May 23, 2008


Researchers at UNL's Panhandle Research and Extension Center put up cutworm corals as part of their study.
You won't see these in a typical sugar beet field. John Thomas (left) and Rick Patrick, research technicians at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, set up "cutworm corrals" around young beet plants in a research plot. Cutworms will be placed inside the enclosure, then different treatment methods will be studied to see what controls the pests the best.
Research plot of canola at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.
Looking like gold, a field of winter canola is in bloom in the research plots at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center. The canola was planted last fall and will be harvested this summer.

As the weather heats up, so does field work in the research plots at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center near Scottsbluff — just like on farms throughout the area.

The soil is prepared, seeds are planted, and the crop is raised to harvest. Along the way the crop might be irrigated, fertilized, cultivated, and treated for weeds, insects, or disease.

But research plots are different than farms in many ways. This is easy to see just by driving past the Panhandle Center, at 42nd Street and Highway 71. A field of canola, with bright yellow blooms, is an unusual sight in western Nebraska. Next to it, a sugar beet field is full of metal enclosures about a foot tall — "cutworm corrals," used in pest control research.

One difference is field size: Research plots typically are larger than gardens but smaller than most farm fields. Another difference is in the details of how each crop is managed, which depends on the type of research. In variety trials, crops are raised in real world conditions and each plot is treated the same. If the goal is checking plant response to drought or limited irrigation, plots are irrigated at varying rates, ranging from almost none to a full drink. If the goal is checking crop response (or resistance) to bugs or disease, the crop might actually be inoculated with a pathogen or naturally infested with a pest.

The 16-acre research site on the corner of 42nd Street and Highway 71 is divided into 20 units, each slightly more or less than an acre in size. A linear-move irrigation system spans the entire width of the plots. Each span has an independent nozzle system, allowing great versatility in how individual plots are managed.

Numerous other plots are located elsewhere on the grounds of the Research and Extension Center, and also at the Scotts Bluff Ag Lab 4 miles to the north. These other plots are usually larger and do not have some of the capacity to provide precise variations in management. UNL also carries out crop research at the High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney, where the agriculture is mostly rain-fed (also known as dryland), as opposed to irrigated.

Research projects are conceived, planned and supervised by UNL faculty based in the Panhandle, sometimes in collaboration with colleagues in Lincoln or elsewhere. Research needs are frequently identified by growers' associations, commodity groups, food processors, chemical companies, or other agri-businesses. Funding often comes from these sources as well. Another frequent funding source is the federal government.

Technical support staff carry out much of the field work - tilling, planting, spraying, fertilizing, irrigating, weeding, collecting data and other chores that might be tedious, but must be done according to plan to yield valid data. Some of the technical staff are year-round employees, but some are seasonal workers, including students.

In many cases, vital research could not take place without generous cooperation from landowners, who agree to host agronomic trials or test new farming methods.

The whole point of conducting research at the Panhandle Center is to answer questions, solve problems, or meet needs identified by the ag sector as important. The progress and results of this research will be shared with area growers during several upcoming field days, and eventually find its way into research reports, posters, and Extension publications.



2008 Field Research

Here's a sampling of just some of the research going on this year at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center. This list is not comprehensive, but does indicate the breadth of research. Some of this research is done entirely at the Panhandle Center, but some involves sites at the High Plains Ag Lab, cooperators' farms, or other Nebraska sites.

 Enhancing Irrigation Management Tools and Developing a Decision Support System for Managing Limited Irrigation Supplies for the High Plains. This four-year project will enhance an existing water-management tool, the Water Optimizer. Currently, the Water Optimizer is effective for corn, soybean and several other crops. This project will enhance the its utility as a risk management tool for additional crops (canola, camelina and dry beans) and as a limited irrigation decision support tool for whole-farm planning (currently it works for specific fields). This will help producers facing irrigation water allocations decide which crops they might grow and how much to irrigate each crop based on income potential. This work also has companion projects associated with it, including canola and camelina variety trials at Scottsbluff and Sidney.

 A pair of studies compares two methods of applying nitrogen fertilizer to sugar beets and dry beans - strip tillage placement vs. broadcast application. These studies measure crop stand, yield, and other effects. Boosting nitrogen efficiency could help offset significantly increasing nitrogen prices. These studies also measure nitrogen rate response.

 Improved Nitrogen Management for High Quality White Wheat. This study is intended to determine optimum nitrogen rates and timing to achieve specific yield and protein content goals for irrigated white wheat based on soil nitrate-N and organic matter levels, as well as to determine nitrogen timing effects on test weight, harvest index, moisture, and baking quality. This information is expected to provide a basis for updating and improving UNL's nitrogen recommendations for irrigated hard winter wheat.

Limited Irrigated No-till Cropping Systems for Stretching Irrigation Supplies. The objective is to determine crop yield potential in a no-till winter wheat-corn-dry beans-spring canola rotation receiving yearly water allocations of 4, 8, or 12 inches of irrigation (5, 10, and 15 for corn). Information will be used to develop production functions and economic evaluation to help producers determine how to best allocated limited irrigation supplies for no-till cropping systems that fit the Panhandle.

Winter Wheat Variety Trials. The purpose is to determine varietal response of hard red and white winter wheats under dryland and irrigated conditions. Information helps producers select the best adapted varieties for their location.

 Sunflower Variety Trials. The purpose is to determine varietal response of both oil seed and confection sunflowers in western Nebraska. Information helps producers select the best adapted varieties for their location.

 Limited Irrigation Cropping Systems for Conserving Water Resources in the Pumpkin Creek Watershed. The purposes are to demonstrate limited-irrigation, no-tillage cropping systems that make the best use of limited ground water supplies, as well as educate area farmers, natural resource groups, local and state government agencies and related agricultural businesses about the implications of different management scenarios on production, cultural practices, economics, and natural resource impacts; and develop economic scenario case studies of what different limited irrigation and cropping system options might provide as income to individuals and area agribusiness.

Demonstrate and adapt remote sensing technology to produce consumptive water use maps for the Nebraska Panhandle. The purpose is to accurately quantify net consumptive water use (CWU) for different crops and range-land vegetation by processing Landsat images from the 1997, 2002 and 2005 growing seasons for the North and South Platte NRDs and to develop METRIC computing expertise in Nebraska. This project is expected to develop CWU maps for 1997 to determine the water use base that over-appropriated areas must comply with to meet the intent of LB962.

Regulating growth of wheat and cover crops. The purpose is to learn whether using plant hormones can promote late fall growth of winter wheat and annual rye to improve establishments of ground cover, and also to reduce winter wheat lodging.

Regulating growth of dry bean. The purpose is to learn whether using a plant hormone can raise lower bean pods to allow direct harvest.

 Skip-row pattern for drought-affected corn. The purpose is to learn whether skip-row planting will improve yield of stressed corn and if there is difference between hybrids.

 Insecticide evaluation against potato psyllid. The purpose is to learn whether new products control potato psyllid population by foliar applications to eliminate adult forms.

 Studies measuring yield response of sugarbeets and dry beans to deficit irrigation.

 A comparison of different tillage systems and crop rotations.

David Ostdiek
Extension Communications Specialist
Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.