There’s a whole lot of something not in Big Horn Basin sugar beet fields this year – weeds elbowing beets.
“It was exciting driving up here from Laramie. It’s been years since I’ve seen fields this clean,” said Stephen D. Miller at the Powell Research and Extension Center’s (PREC) field day July 17. Miller is associate dean and director of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture’s Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station, which manages PREC.
The Roundup Ready technology was one of several field trials presented during the day. “We had an excellent field day and turnout,” said Abdel Mesbah, director of PREC. “I saw many growers in the crowd than in any previous years. Most of our research is based on increasing profit margin by cutting down production costs. I hope the tour was informative and everyone found something to take home for future use.”
Miller, whose specialty was weed science while a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, and Mesbah began research into Roundup Ready sugar beets in 1996. Just when the technology was ready for commercial use, sugar companies balked.
Last year, Wyoming Sugar in Worland accepted the first Roundup Ready sugar beets in the basin. “This technology has taken off and looks extremely good,” Miller told those attending the field day. “Previously, as labor got scarcer, the beets got uglier this time of year. It’s exciting to see beets look this well. I think Roundup Ready technology is one of the things that will save the beet industry in the U.S.”
There are 17 Roundup Ready sugar beet trials being conducted at PREC. Mesbah offered a caution: “Yes, this technology is really good, but sugar beet growers should know that Roundup is not a magic bullet, and, like most herbicides, it does have strengths and weaknesses. Repeated use of Roundup as well as rate reduction below the recommended rate might speedup the development of Roundup weed resistance; therefore, it will be wise for sugar beet growers to rotate to non-Roundup Ready crops such as barley and dry beans and to use chemicals with different modes of action to maintain the effectiveness of this technology.”
The Roundup Ready beet system wasn’t the only research shown along the tour. Scientists at the station presented information on durum wheat, sainfoin, grasses, sunflower, barley and Roundup Ready corn.
“What’s the purpose of an experiment station?” Tom Whitson, professor emeritus in the UW Department of Plant Sciences, asked the crowd. “It’s for us to make all the mistakes out here so you don’t have to experiment on your own farm and cost yourself dollars. There is a lot of good information here.”
Current projects at PREC are available at http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/uwexpstn/Powell.asp and clicking on Current Projects 2008. Mesbah said anyone interested in visiting with the researchers, or wishing individual or group tours can contact the center at (307) 754-2223.
Durum wheat trials have shown one hurdle to overcome is irregular protein levels, said Mike Killen, PREC farm manager. “A lot of durum wheat buyers don’t like to buy irregular durum because of black spots on the kernels,” he said. “Irregular protein discolors the end pasta product. Another hurdle is the distance to the market. The closest mill is in Great Falls, Mont.”
Biodiesel canola and brown mustard are also being studied. Test plots have produced an average of 1,600 pounds/acre, which could produce 70 gallons of biodiesel, said Mesbah. “Is it economically feasible?” he asked. “I don’t know, but I hope this question will be answered in the near future. We are planning on purchasing a small crusher and producing biodiesel from what we grow to see if it’s economically viable for growers to produce on-farm biodiesel for their own use.”
Randy Violett, research associate, said results for confection sunflowers are exciting. The crop may be an option to work into crop rotation in the basin. Confection sunflowers are exported to Europe where they are consumed individually and must be a certain size. Those that meet the size standard are bringing $40 a hundredweight. The PREC field produced 3,500 pounds an acre with about half meeting the size standard. “That got us excited,” he said. “At 50 percent, you are looking at a $1,200 an acre crop pretty quick.”
Production problems include consistent dry down, shatter and predation. Violett told the crowd one company is setting up contracts for the crop and paying the shipping bill. The sunflowers must be dried to at least 10 percent. “That’s more of a problem in North Dakota and east than for us,” he said. “Last year, with our Sept. 7 freeze, Mother Nature did it for us.”
Also presented was information about barley variety trials, barley fertility by irrigation trials by Busch Agricultural Resources, and a corn answer plot by representatives of Winfield Solutions, affiliated with Land O’ Lakes Inc.