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Ag research, Powell Research and Extension Center field day highlights new crops

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Powell – Just north of Powell, the University of Wyoming (UW) Powell Research and Extension Center (PREC) combines producer and industry input to determine priorities that drive research on the station. 

Staff at PREC include Researcher Vivek Sharma, Research Associate Andi Pierson, Farm Manager Camby Reynolds, Assistant Farm Managers Brad May and Keith Schaefer and Office Associate Samantha Fulton. 

On Aug. 1, Jim Heitholt, formerly head of the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Plant Sciences Department, took over as director of PREC.

On July 19, over 120 attendees gathered at PREC to check out the center’s latest research, visit with researchers, mingle with UW leadership and more. 

Fulton said, “This year, we were fortunate to have Pistol and Pete, UW’s Halflingers, at PREC, and President Laurie Nichols provided opening remarks and visited with attendees.” 

“PREC is really important for producers in the Big Horn Basin,” Fulton continued. “The basin is unique within Wyoming, and the research here helps provide farmers more information on crops, irrigation and more.”

Research focused

“2017 was a busy year, with lots of exciting research happening at PREC and in the BigHorn Basin,” Reynolds commented. “We continue our efforts with trials in crops, such as malt and feed barley, dry beans, corn and sugarbeets in an effort to identify the best varieties for the region.”

Reynolds further notes the center conducts irrigation studies under the expertise of Sharma to provide producers with more information about the water needs of crops in the basin. 

“To assist in this effort, Vivek installed a Bowen ratio-energy balance (BREB) system. BREB measures multiple variables, among them incoming and outgoing short and longwave radiation, vapor pressure, soil heat flux, soil moisture every 12 inches to a depth of five feet and evapotranspiration,” he explained. “This is an exciting addition to the research equipment at PREC.” 

Reynolds added, “Our overall goal is to help growers and crop advisors manage irrigation water more efficiently.”

Variety trials

Among the many projects taking place on the center, PREC conducts annual variety trials for barley, dry beans, wheat and more

“PREC conducts barley variety performance trials as part of an ongoing research effort,” explained Carrie Eberle, a researcher at UW. “In cooperation with private seed companies and regional small grain breeding programs, the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station evaluates a wide range of germplasm each year.”

In 2017, the center looked at the performance of new malting barley varieties against locally grown check varieties in collaboration with Briess Malt and Ingredients, based in Chilton, Wisc.

“With the growing number of small and craft breweries across Wyoming and the U.S. demand is increasing for new and unique malting ingredients, including malt barley,” Eberle said, noting an elite malt barley trial and western regional spring barley nursey performance evaluation were conducted, as well. “The Wyoming Seed Certification Service also funds and coordinates the dry bean variety performance evaluation at PREC.”

The unique nature of the Big Horn Basin’s climate provides for unique consideration in selecting which varieties farmers may select.

New crops

In addition to variety trials, PREC planted safflower, flax and chickpeas in the 2018 growing season, as well as spelt and emmer as part of the First Grains project.

“We are growing these crops as part of a project that looks at alternative crops to see how they’ll do in Wyoming,” Fulton said, noting private companies provide support and insight into planting and growing to support the center’s research. “Private organizations provide insight on potential herbicides and more.”

Eberle comments, “Our core goal is to see how these crops do in the Big Horn Basin. These crops are new to the area, and with recent depressed commodity prices, some farmers are looking for alternatives. These crops may help them to diversify their planting rotations.”

Another additional crop being explored at the center is goji berry, which is a high-value fruit crop with potential for growth in Wyoming.

Researchers are working to assess the performance of the cold-hardy plant to determine how long the goji berry takes to flower, fruit and grow, while also determining the yield potential of the plant.

Researchers Jeremiah Vardiman, Sadanand Dhekney and Michael Baldwin said, “To date, this study indicates that goji berry plants are suitable for fruit production in some areas. The survival rate was 98 percent, and the total yield was 0.56 pounds per plant over two harvest periods.”

The Production Agriculture Research Priorities, which were developed by Wyoming Ag Experiment Station in cooperation with producers, asked researchers to determine the economic potential for alternative crops in specific Wyoming localities to support producers. 

Baldwin, Dhekney and Vardiman explain, “Some Wyoming producers, including local food producers, are looking for alternative crops and markets to keep their operations economically viable, especially during years of poor crop prices.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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