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Unique ag sectors:Sheridan Field Day examines hay, weed control and even wine grapes

Written by Rebecca Colnar

Sheridan – Hot temperatures didn’t stop 120 farmers, ranchers and other agriculturalists from attending the Sheridan Research and Extension Center (SREC) Field Day July 7.  Attendees had the opportunity to see research done with common crops, such as hay, to the more unique offerings of wine grapes and goji berries.

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols, who is no stranger to agriculture having grown up on a ranch, said, “The University of Wyoming College of Agriculture keeps increasing in enrollment and its research projects. It’s so much to have field days that highlight the work being done to help agriculture in Wyoming. They take practical problems faced on our farms and ranches and find solutions.”

Tour

A variety of conveyances – including a tractor-pulled shuttle, the Sheridan Trolley and Pistol and Pete ponies – took attendees from one site to another.

The first stop included research conducted by Blaine Horn and Dan Smith, both of UW, who talked about hay, fertilizer and irrigation.  Since perennial cool-season grasses comprise nearly 25 percent of hay field acreage in northern Wyoming, smooth and meadow bromegrass studies are being conducted to discover what works best for these grasses under irrigation.

Researchers examined yield under reduced irrigation, regrowth of those grasses and forage quality.

“The orchard grass, tall fescue and bromes were ready to harvest in mid-June, with the timothy and wheat grasses harvested the end of June,” explained Horn. “We experimented with putting down 150 pounds of nitrogen and 50 of phosphorus.”

Another research project with fertilizer had three one-acre rectangles with 100 units, 200, and 300 units of nitrogen, respectively. The final result showed that using 200 units of nitrogen saw the most return on investment, with $41 per ton spent on fertilizer with the hay price at $219.79 per acre.

Planting strategies

Several other large test plots were planted as far back as 2013 so researchers could see whether a mix of grasses or monoculture was most productive.

“We wanted to do this for the producer to see what grasses would need to be fertilized and irrigated and which worked best without,” explained Anwar Islam, UW’s Extension forage specialist.

Studies utilized 15 treatments with alfalfa, sainfoin, Birdsfoot trefoil and meadow bromegrass supplied with 0, 50 and 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre as urea. Crops had mixtures of two, three and all four species. 

“After five years, we’ve seen the same trend. Although alfalfa is still the queen of forages, with higher protein, we have found monoculture crops have a serious problem with weeds while mixtures are the best, tending to not have many weeds at all,” Islam noted.

“A mix of grasses with 25 percent alfalfa, 25 percent Birdsfoot trefoil and 50 percent meadow brome worked great and had good digestibility,” noted Dennis Ashilenje, another researcher working on the hay project. “The mix matches the mono crop getting 100 pounds of nitrogen.”

“We’ve also found the soil of these mixtures tends to have the most microbial activity,” said Islam. “Our conclusion is, we don’t need fertilizer if we have a mixture. Our soil is better, and the weeds are fewer. We can increase nitrogen by two times and microbial population two times by using a mixture.”

He continued, “If we don’t need to use fertilizer, it saves us money. We found that the cost of growing our Birdsfoot trefoil mix is four to five dollars per pound, whereas alfalfa is $20 per pound.”

SREC also looked at alternative forages being tested including triticale, a variety of forage soybeans that were seeded in June, and purple top turnips and radishes that are grown for green forage and as soil builders.

Other experiments

A long, narrow, native grass plot serves several purposes. One is to serve as a desirable grass garden for identification purposes. The other serves to identify what will grow and what won’t in the region.

For instance, buckwheat had a 95 percent survival rate, but other plants like biscuitroot only saw 10 plants grow out of 400 that were planted.

Biotechnology research is being conducted at the facility, including experiments with alfalfa and grapes. One project is experimenting to see if transgenic alfalfa will repel weevils.

Cecelia Limera works on grapes in a bio-tech lab in Italy and is now doing research on grapes in Sheridan.

“We are working on developing an embryo from any tissues which we can use for genetic transformation,” noted Limera.

Although people might not expect to see a vineyard and orchard as part of the crop research station in Sheridan, these plants are found up on the hill from the college. The orchard is the direct result of the Wyoming Apple Project with University of Wyoming Extension. There are 38 apple trees planted with apple genetics reaching back 100 years from Wyoming apple trees.

Marta Rosenberg talked about the vineyards, saying, “We have 400 vines with 30 different varieties.”

She continued, “Most people don’t think we can grow wine grapes in our climate, and some grapes are doing better than others, like the Frontenacs and the Biancas.”

“We take a lot of temperature data,” Rosenberg explained. “The one positive about out vineyard is we’re on a hill so the cold air will head down below. We will harvest the grapes in September.”

Rebecca Colnar is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..