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Specialty Crops

Alcova – First on the market in 1960, this year marks 50 years of sweet corn at Alcova.
Harry and Kay Eichorn began the endeavor, known simply as Alcova Sweet Corn, when they lived and worked on what was then Miles Land and Livestock north of town.
“We began with 24 rows, maybe 30 feet long, of sweet corn,” recalls Kay from her present-day home in Alcova. “We grew it for ourselves, and to feed the ranch hands. When we first started we also hauled corn to various markets and groceries in town, and at that time we hand-picked everything.”
Kay says at that time the government camp was still in Alcova, filled with families who worked with the power plant, so their children would come out and help pick sweet corn each season. “I ram-rodded probably up to 15 kids in those days. Some of them stayed at our place, while others were shuttled back and forth to Alcova,” she says, adding she also had some extra adult help.
Harry and Kay had four kids of their own, and Kay says three grandchildren also grew up in the sweet corn patch. “Last year two great-granddaughters were out there picking corn, and thinking it was wonderful,” she says of the next generation, ages six and four years old.
In the early years the Eichorns staggered the planting dates of the sweet corn. “Being a crop that turns fast, you have to move it. When we hauled to the market, that worked fine to stagger it,” says Kay. “With the influx of people, the volume of business has increased, with a good market, so now they plant it all at once.”
When traffic to Alcova Reservoir began to pick up in the 1970s, Kay says that’s when they didn’t have to haul sweet corn to town anymore, as everyone from town came out for their own.
“Once in a while we would still take some in to the farmers market, it just depended on the crop and how prolific it was,” says Kay.
Customers can either pick their own sweet corn, or purchase ears by the dozen, already picked.
“I remember back when we still had the patch, and I had a 94-year-old man come out, and he wanted to pick his own,” says Kay. “With the irrigation running down, the rows get kind of wild, but we went out and he thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing as he picked sweet corn. A lot of our senior citizens enjoy doing that.”
“On the weekends we’d go ahead and get as much pre-picked as we could, before we had the automatic picker,” says Kay. “With the kids, it was always a challenge to see how high they could get it stacked on the pickup, and how many truckloads we could get ahead of the game. By Sunday evening, when all the people from the lake were headed to town, it wasn’t a fun time to keep up with the demand.”
To keep the pre-picked ears cool, the Eichorns would set sprinklers atop the pickup loads of sweet corn.
Today Alcova Sweet Corn utilizes an automatic picker, which moves down one row at a time and picks everything off the stalks, so it has to be sorted before it’s counted into dozens.
Kay says she and Harry grew several crosses and strains of sweet corn throughout the years, though she says it was hard to stick with one good variety, as the seed dealers would often substitute new, and what they thought were better, varieties.
“It’s always an experimental thing,” she says. “I can remember one year where it almost took a machete to get the ears of corn off the stalks. That variety was so hard to pick. We like to be able to go down the rows and snap them off and have them in the wheelbarrow.”
Whatever variety they plant on a given year, it has to have a short growing season, usually around 58- to 62-day corn. Planting dates all depend on what kind of spring presents itself.
The sweet corn is grown in rotation with alfalfa, something the Eichorns did since they started. “We tried to do three years of sweet corn, then put it back in alfalfa,” says Kay.
Of the leftover sweet corn at the end of the season, Kay says she “absolutely” froze the extra. “I always had enough friends who would come in and pick and help me out. Those were fond memories, too, putting up the corn.”
When the Eichorns first began growing corn, Kay says they had the most problems with antelope getting into the patch. “At that time the Game and Fish said the antelope wouldn’t eat it, but the kids had grown a patch for a 4-H project, and the antelope hit the patch and ate the silks off. The silks are what feed the kernels, so their corn was gone. We had a to-do with the Game and Fish about antelope, and now they’ve got them pretty well under control.”
Now the biggest challenge can be blackbirds. “They’re the ones that give us the biggest headaches nowadays,” she notes.
Following Harry’s retirement in 1984, the Eichorns’ son Jerry Eichorn took over the sweet corn management through 2005, when the ranch was sold to John Martin and became Gray Reef Ranch. Today ranch employees Stacy and Mark Schmidt oversee the sweet corn operation. Jerry still advises the Schmidts on growing and harvesting the crop.
Both Kay and Stacy agree that, with the cool, wet June Wyoming experienced this season, the sweet corn will be ready much later than usual. They expect harvest to come around Labor Day weekend.
“Our biggest challenge this year was the cool, wet spring, and we’ll have the late harvest, but we’re happy to still have corn, and it’s doing well,” says Stacy.
“But, I hear next week is supposed to be cooled down, and we need warm nights to put the sweetness in the corn and make it develop,” notes Kay, who still keeps a watchful eye on each year’s crop.
When Alcova Sweet Corn is ready to harvest, the word is spread through radio spots and a few newsprint advertisements. “The Eichorns built it up so big, and it’s so popular, that people look for us at the road to know when it’s ready,” says Stacy.
“It’s a lot of fun, and we love it and it’s an honor to keep the tradition going,” says Stacy of running the sweet corn patch. “It’s so hectic, and we work long days during harvest time, but it’s special to be a part of this, and the Eichorns are so good to work with.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Powell – Increased input costs, alternative crops and profit potential are a few aspects of Wyoming’s crop industry that are fueling the ongoing crop and variety trials at the UW Powell Research and Extension Center (PREC) in Powell.
    “We’re looking for something with lower inputs, primarily in fuel, fertilizer and seed costs,” says PREC Research Associate Randy Violet, who, along with other researchers, is analyzing these alternative crops in the Big Horn and Wind River basins.
    “We’re constantly looking for profit potential and giving producers more return per acre,” he says, adding that water conservation also plays into the research. “In our location we’re very blessed with water availability even in drought, but as researchers we need to be ahead of the curve and start thinking about conservation.”
    Through PREC’s variety trials Violet says, “We try to see if we can find varieties to fit into our area’s production scheme in management issues such as cultivation, herbicide work and fertilizer application. Then when a producer approaches us with an interest in growing, for example, lentils, we can help them get started.”
    Currently the Center maintains soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and sunflowers, among other crops.
    “We’ve recently began working with confection sunflowers, which are primarily an export market,” says Violet, explaining the Europeans buy them and eat them like peanuts. “The objective of confection sunflowers is size – we need a large seed size. Confections came to the forefront of this work because there’s an added value to them.”
    He says confection sunflowers are worth 20 cents more per pounds than the oilseed sunflowers. “Last year oils were worth 24 to 28 cents per pound, and growers were selling confections for $40 per hundredweight. That’s exciting because our yields in this area are extremely good.”
    A grower in the Heart Mountain area has cooperated with the Center for four years. Violet says they were impressed with variety trials from last year.
    “The contracts are set up with a premium for large seeds and half that price for anything that falls through the screen,” says Violet. “We were looking at 60 percent staying on top of screen at the Center, but our cooperator got 85 percent of his seeds to stay.”
    Last season the Center worked a lot with planting density and fertility. “We’ve got a pretty good handle now on how to get 80 percent of the seeds to stay above the screen,” says Violet.
    “One of the huge advantages in the Big Horn Basin with sunflowers is we have no insect damage and no diseases, and we have not had any bird problems,” says Violet.
    Of the results of the sunflower work, Violet says, “We have very good yields with very little inputs. There are contracts available, and you can look at a gross per acre of at least $1,000.”
    Another plus to sunflowers is the equipment they require. “You don’t have to buy more implements or equipment, just a set of pans for $2,000 and you’re ready to go if you’re already a barley grower. Capital expenditure is very minimal.”
    Another crop PREC is researching is flax. “Flax is an oilseed crop we began working with two years ago, based on using is as a substitute for soybean meal in animal feed,” says Violet. “Since then flax has developed potential as a specialty crop for health food stores. If you Google flax the first 10 or 15 hits will be health food stores trying to sell it to you for $4 to $8 per pound.”
    “Flax has tremendous potential for animal feed,” says Violet. “It will replace soybean meal in your ration, and it’s easy to grow.”
    Prairie coneflower has received some research attention as a species for reclamation. Violet says there are producers growing the native broadleaf for seed in the Heart Mountain area, which is worth about $20 per pound, he cautions of the fickle reclamation market.
    Soybean research has taken place on both seven- and 22-inch rows. “The seven-inch rows out-yielded the 22-inch rows by quite a bit,” says Violet. “If you’re interested in soybeans, you’re probably better off running them through your grain drill.”
    He cautions growers about soybean markets. “We’ve been faced with a lot of inflated commodity crop prices in the last few years, and we just came off a record-setting year for soybeans, but it’s got to come back down to reality and we’ve got to start making comparisons because this year won’t be as good.”
    He says over three years of research conventional soybeans have out-yielded Roundup Ready varieties. “I would venture to guess if we were to plant soybeans this year the paradigm would start moving to the advantage of Roundup Ready, because the genetic base has grown and seed companies and geneticists have made the shift from conventional to Roundup Ready.”
    He says the crop that soybeans are most often compared to in the Big Horn Basin is dry beans. “They’re both legumes, and there’s probably no advantage in soybeans over dry beans,” he notes. “We’ve had some producers grow 30 or 40 acres of soybeans, and the deer harvested their crop.”
    He says one use for Roundup Ready soybeans is on a new piece of ground when the new manager doesn’t know anything about the weed seed bank. “The Roundup component would be your advantage to clean up the field before going back in with your regular crop.”
    In the lentil world, there are now Liberty Link and Clearfield varieties available. “When you start to get the large chemical companies playing in the genetics game of crops, you know there’s money somewhere,” says Violet. “One of the issues we have is weed control in lentils, and that’s now been addressed.”
    He says lentils probably do not have an advantage over dry beans, as there are some disease issues and they are a challenge to harvest. “If we swath them and put them in a windrow, if any wind blows they roll up like a tumbleweed and you chase them around a lot.”
    According to Violet, chickpeas are a neat crop to work with. However, palatability can be a problem. “If you have a rabbit in the vicinity, they will find it,” he says. However, the plants re-grew at the research station after the rabbits hit them and he says there’s a decent opportunity for a return on chickpeas.
    Dry peas have a lot of potential in the area, says Violet. “There’s a true value to them as a seed crop, and on seven-inch rows we dramatically increased our yields. That’s how we’d recommend you plant them.”
    The fertilizer program on dry peas is the same as dry beans, and Violet says not to forget to inoculate. “The average price has been around $7 per pound in the last five years, and at 3,000 pounds per acre that’s a pretty decent return. If you don’t like your bean contract, check into dry peas,” he says, noting there’s no wildlife problem on the dry peas in comparison to chickpeas.
    The center runs research on all varieties of sainfoin, two of which were developed at UW. “The biggest thing for sainfoin is no bloat,” says Violet. “If you’re interested in grazing a legume and not having the expense of pouring nitrogen on it and making it safe, sainfoin’s a good option for you. The other advantage is weevils won’t get into it.”
    Randy Violet presented information on crops research at the Powell Research and Extension Center at the early February Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton. For more information on alternative crops, contact Violet at 307-754-2223 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Park County sunflower producer Lyle Euelo says that sunflowers can be a very competitive crop with his area’s traditional crops of beans, malt barley and sugarbeets, and that he’s had good success with the confectionary crop.
“The difference in inputs between sugarbeets and sunflowers is that sunflowers take less than half – the seed doesn’t cost even close to beets, and you don’t have the tech fee,” he notes. “Your input costs are similar, and maybe a little higher, than barley.”
Sunflower growers in Euelo’s area have worked closely with Randy Violett of Powell’s UW Research and Extension Center. Violett has conducted variety trials and research to determine the technical details of producing the crop in Wyoming, including plant density, varieties and fertilization.
“Plant density will affect seed size,” says Violett. “The less dense the population, the more room there is for the seed head to grow, and the larger your seed will get.”
Violett says current recommendations call for 17,000 plants per acre. Euelo says he’s been planting between 17,000 and 18,000 plants per acre.
“Any lower, and you have a lot of big heads and more field loss because it’s difficult to harvest them,” he says. “You don’t want to go over 19,000 per acre, because your seed size and production will drop.”
Violett says growers should be aware of issues that could reduce the plant stand, like jackrabbits, antelope and deer.
“When the plants are just emerging they’re ripe for the picking, and they’ll never grow a seed head if they’re eaten off. A cooperator killed over 75 jackrabbits one evening on his place, and he estimated that in one year they cost him $25,000,” says Violett.
Although sunflower plates are available for planting, Violett says most growers use sweet corn plates.
“Our advice is to get silicone and fill every other hole to adjust the planter density,” he says. “Finger planters tend to work really well, and one of the biggest issues is worn seed tubes, where sunflowers can get caught.”
“Order small or medium seed, as they seem to emerge better than bigger seeds, in my experience,” says Euelo. “Sunflowers do not do well in cold soil. One time, about five years ago, at the end of May we got some cold weather that came in while the plants were germinating, and the sunflowers started to grow down into the soil, because they grow to wherever the warmer temperature is. Then they had a gooseneck when they did start coming up.”
Euelo says to plant one to two inches deep, with two inches being the absolute deepest.
“You really don’t want to go that deep. One-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarters inches are what we find works best. The seeds are nice and big, but they don’t have much push,” he says, adding that growers in the warm soils of Kansas and Colorado can plant them deeper than those in Wyoming.
Regarding herbicides, Violett says he’s tested many over several growing seasons. One thing he’s found out is that sunflowers are very sensitive to residue, and growers need to be mindful of what was applied to a field the previous year.
Euelo says he has a field that had a lot of nightshade, and he had treated it with Stinger.
“If you use Stinger, it’s best not to follow up with sunflowers,” he says. “Some will pull out of it and keep going and produce a nice head, but some don’t. The Stinger stays in the ground a long time, because in the same field I’ve rotated barley and come back to sunflowers and still had chemical reaction in some places, even though it’s been plowed twice.”
Violett says the dry bean strategy of pre-irrigating, planting into the moisture and then spraying the weed flush from that irrigation with glyphosate also works well with sunflowers.
Euelo says he fertilizes his sunflowers very similar to the way he’d fertilize malt barley, with at least 150 units of nitrogen to get a good yield.
“Test soils both shallow and deep,” he says. “Sunflowers have a good taproot, and a very aggressive surface root system, so they’ll mine some nutrients for you.”
Violett agrees, saying, “Sunflowers are scavengers, and they will go after nitrogen up to six feet deep. That’s one thing that’s really appealing about sunflowers – especially in a sugarbeet rotation – is that they can get down deep and get after the nitrogen.”
Euelo does add that sunflowers are very sensitive to salts, and can’t be treated like corn with fertilizer close to or on top of the seed.
“There’s no need to sidedress. I’ve done some of that, and research has found you might as well put all your fertilizer down up front, because they’ll do just as well,” he notes.
Cultivation can also be incorporated into weed management. Violett recommends cultivating at least twice, but says that some years that’s tough because of rapid growth.
“When they start to grow, you don’t have much time,” says Euelo. “They’ll be really slow starting out, but when it warms up and they take off, you better be on the ball.”
Euelo recommends not giving sunflowers too much water up front.
“Irrigate them after the second cultivation, unless they start to wilt or are in light, sandy soil,” he says. “Let them develop a taproot. Make sure your soil profile is full, and between bud stage and bloom is when you want to make sure they have plenty of water.”
For later irrigations, Euelo says he’s found it works best to move the water through quickly, avoiding the saturation given to barley or sugarbeets.
“What can happen is you might get sunflowers with a great big head, and if the ground’s all wet and a 60-mile-per-hour wind comes along they can fall over,” he says, noting that he doesn’t see that as much with the newer hybrids, which tend to be stronger.
Both Violett and Euelo recommend removing plants around gated pipe.
“Spray out the plants near irrigation ditches and gated pipes, because it’s not fun to change water when the heads are in the way,” says Euelo.
Now that there are over 1,000 acres of sunflowers in the area, Violett says growers are beginning to run into the need for pest control, including lygus bugs, which he says can be devastating, and the painted lady butterfly larvae.
Row crop heads are used to harvest the crop at 11 percent moisture, usually the end of October into November. In 2010 most contracts paid 26 cents per pound, while this year contracts will pay 30 cents, says Euelo.
“We have a lot of dry bean growers in the area, and if they know how to grow dry beans, they can grow sunflowers,” says Violett. “The management is very similar.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – The agriculture industry across the state of Wyoming has questioned the viability of industrial hemp following legalization of marijuana in Colorado, and the Wyoming Weed Management Rendezvous welcomed Colorado Department of Agriculture’s (CDA) Duane Sinning from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to their January meeting to discuss the many things he has learned over the past two years.

“Colorado Department of Agriculture handles pesticide use on all cannabis, and I can explain how our program works,” Sinning said.

CDA’s role

Per the legislation allowing Cannabis to be grown in Colorado, Sinning emphasized that CDA has jurisdiction over pesticide use on Cannabis but only has jurisdiction over cultivation in industrial hemp. The agency handles registration, compliance reports, inspection and sampling for industrial hemp.

“We establish rules for commercial production and research and development,” he continued. “We also set fees because the program is mandated to be self-funded.”

Rules require registrants to submit an application 30 days prior to planting. The application must also include GPS coordinates and a map showing the location of planting. Ten days after planting, applicants must also allow for inspection and sampling, including the associated fees.

Registration costs $500, plus five dollars per acre outdoors or 33 cents per 1,000 square foot indoors. Inspections cost $35 per hour, plus 25 cents a mile and $150 per sample taken.

In addition, Sinning said, “Those who elect to grow hemp have precluded themselves from growing marijuana on the land area they register to grow hemp.”

Introductory program

Sinning noted that in the first year, 2014, 252 applications to grow industrial hemp were submitted to CDA. Of those, 119 were for commercial production, and 133 were for research and development.

“They covered 1,811 acres, but the majority of those acres were never planted,” he said. “We estimated that 200 acres were harvested.”

The difference in acres on applications and actual planted acreage are a result from a lack of seed availability and lack of agronomic practices, but one of the biggest reasons was a desire by people who never intended to plant but wanted a certificate that said they could grow hemp for the first time after years of federal prohibition, Sinning explained.

For 2015, there were more than 165 applications, he said, with almost 3,800 acres outdoor production and 675,000 square feet of indoor space. All in all, around 2,200 acres of actual hemp was grown in 2015.

In addition, applicants for research and development went from 133 to 18 from 2014 to 2015, a reflection of how CDA defined registrations and the move to commercial registrations in the process.

Testing

“We test a significant portion of the acres,” Sinning said, noting that approximately 55 percent of acres were tested last year. “We also make an effort to verify that someone who tells us they didn’t plant is truthful. We check on those areas as well as areas we select for sampling.”

In addition, he noted that sampling for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content had only an eight percent failure rate.

“When they failed the test, that means the plants had a THC content of higher than 0.3 percent,” Sinning explained. “In two years, only two have gone over one percent.”

If THC content exceeds 0.3 percent THC but is not over one percent, producers can get a waiver for violating the law if they destroy the crop on-site in a manner that is verifiable. The plant cannot enter the stream of commerce, and it must not be used for human consumption.

Samples of 90,000 square feet of indoor growing space showed a 96 percent pass rate.

“We have found that THC content outdoors is higher than that of plants grown indoors,” he said. “A big part of indoor production is starting young plants before taking them outside. Indoor production is also used for breeding new varieties and production of  cannabidiol (CBD) strains. ”

Changing program

Since the program started in 2014, Sinning commented that some changes have been seen.

“In 2014, many people didn’t know what they were doing,” he said, noting that experience growing cannabis illegally in basements didn’t translate well to large-scale production. “Very often growers were undercapitalized, as well.”

At the same time, outdoor production increased in 2015 by ten fold over 2014, and indoor production exploded.

“2015 has seen improved agronomic practices applied to the crop and investors and venture capitalist exploring the market opportunities,” he added.

“Greenhouse companies are seeing a boom,” Sinning commented.

He said that industrial hemp has a variety of uses, ranging from coffees and teas to insulation, body oils and ointments. Other textiles are also produced from hemp.

Learning experiences

Sinning noted that Colorado’s program is in its infancy, and it will continue to evolve as it moves forward.

“We will be starting variety trials to look at THC levels is different areas,” he said.

He added that every state has a very different Cannabis landscape based on laws, rules and regulations, as well as the environment.

“What we may be doing in Colorado may never work in Wyoming or anywhere else and vice versa,” Sinning said.

Pesticide regulations

The other major challenge that CDA has seen, he explained, is in pesticide regulations.

“Pesticides are regulated under federal and state laws using labeling,” Sinning explained. “It isn’t different from any other crop.”

However, Cannabis is particularly challenging because very few pesticides are labeled for use in Cannabis.

“There are some standards for tolerance or exempt for those crops intended for food,” he said. “Those standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency according to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. It defines how much residue can be left on or in the crop without posing a health threat.”

While a few pesticides have recently been labeled for use in hemp, nothing is labeled specifically for marijuana, Sinning continued, also noting that to date, no risk assessments have been conducted on pesticide use on Cannabis.

“EPA also requires a pyrolysis study to be conducted during risk assessments,” he said, explaining that the studies observe the impacts of burning.

Sinning also noted that the volume and variety of edibles containing Cannabis in Colorado create more concern. With edibles, the Cannabis is concentrated, meaning that any pesticide residues would also be concentrated.

“Pesticides can be used for products intended for human consumption only if expressly labeled for that use,” Sinning explained. “It has to have that label language, though.”

Future of cannabis

Looking to the future, Sinning noted that the program has thus far dramatically exceeded expectations, but he sees some potential for the crop.

“We’ve heard that hemp uses one-third to one-half the water that corn does,” he said, also noting that the local aspect of hemp production is appealing for many.

“I think there is room for discussion about the future of hemp,” Sinning said, “but this is a hard program to administer because of a lack of guidance from the federal government.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As part of the USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant, the state of Wyoming awards grants each year to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Wyoming by increasing the production and consumption of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, honey, horticulture and floriculture.

“We receive funds from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and we develop a state plan. Part of that state plan is providing sub-grants to various institutions, non-profits and producers who will carry out the projects that will enhance specialty crops,” explains Ted Craig, agriculture grants manager at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA).

Program application

The grant program began in 2008, and nearly 75 awards have been given to projects throughout the state. About 10 additional grants are expected to be awarded this year.

“We typically receive between 20 and 30 applications, so chances of being successful are pretty good for those who have a good project and write a good grant,” notes Craig. “Depending on the year, there is a 30 to 50 percent chance of receiving a grant, which, in the grant world, is very favorable.”

Those who are interested in applying can find this year’s application and a grant manual at the WDA website. Craig suggests going through the manual first to make sure that a proposed project meets all of the eligibility criteria.

“There are specific outcomes and indicators defined by USDA, as to what they want to see in a grant application,” he says.

Review

Once applications are received, a WDA review committee evaluates the proposed projects. The committee is made up of a wide range of experts from agricultural, business and grant management backgrounds.

“Each project should have a hook or a reason why our reviewers might want to fund them. It’s a competitive grant program, so applicants also have to have a project that will enhance specialty crops. It’s not for somebody wanting a grant to start or expand a business,” Craig comments.

He also recommends speaking with an experienced grant writer, such as a researcher from a university, college or non-profit, who knows how to present information in a persuasive and cohesive way.

“An applicant should not just say they are going to do their project and the outcome is to make more money and feed their family. That’s not what it’s all about. There have to be multiple impacts that somehow benefit other producers or consumers,” he comments.

Accepted proposals

Once accepted, a project has up to three years to be completed. Recipients are required to submit simple quarterly reports, detailed annual reports and a final report describing the project’s outcomes and benefits.

The Wyoming Community Network is one non-profit that has submitted several successful grant applications. They used the money to provide small grants up to $3,500 to schools, non-profits and producers for building high tunnels throughout Wyoming.

“That program, along with a high tunnel workshop, was responsible for over 100 high tunnels being built in the state. Those high tunnels are being used as outdoor classrooms in schools and at after school programs for 4-H and Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as for Master Gardeners and community gardens,” Craig explains.

Other projects

Many other projects are also happening, including research that is evaluating goji berries as potential high-value crops for Wyoming, increasing pollinator habitat and developing a resource guide for specialty crop producers.

One project is investigating good handling practices for raw honey, which crystalizes easily and can burn if it is heated too quickly.

“They are looking at a low and slow honey liquefaction in the packaging of raw honey, with the focus on preserving quality, nutrition and flavor,” Craig says.

The viability of high-altitude hazelnuts is being studied with funds from a specialty crops grant, and a group in Albany County is using funds to create a specialty crop garden to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to help food-insecure families.

Wyoming apples

At the Sinks Canyon Lodge near Lander, a group is saving apple trees that were planted nearly 100 years ago on the old University of Wyoming (UW) research station. They are taking cuttings from remaining trees and grafting them to new rootstock.

“The project is trying to make sure we don’t lose the old varieties that survived there after research at the station was discontinued. They also plan on adding some other apple tree varieties, grafted from heirloom varieties found in orchards around the state,” he explains.

In a separate project, UW’s Steve Miller is collecting information and scion woodcuttings to preserve apple genetics from around Wyoming.

“If we grow an apple tree from seed, it’s unique in its characteristics from every other apple tree. There are only a few types of apples available in the grocery store of the 2,500 varieties growing in the U.S. Many of these can be found in old orchards and on pioneer homesteads,” remarks Craig.

Additional benefits

Colorado State University developed a nitrogen bio-fertilizer using cyanobacteria, and a group in Wyoming is using grant money to investigate the success of that bio-fertilizer production system. Scientists hope that it can be used in organic production where fish emulsion or blood meal are used for nitrogen.

“There are also some Farm-to-School mini grants from funds we awarded last year to the Department of Education. They turn around and give mini grants to schools to purchase vertical tower growing kits or build small school gardens,” he adds.

Research on fenugreek, which can increase lactation in livestock and humans, hops variety trials in the Big Horn Basin and the Junior Master Gardeners program are additional projects benefiting from specialty crop funds.

“It’s been a very successful program in terms of promoting specialty crops in Wyoming. We’re seeing more specialty crop producers. Many of them are small, concentrating on crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and salad greens sold directly to the consumer, but we have other specialty crops like dry beans, sweet corn, chickpeas, confectionary sunflowers and potatoes that are grown on a larger scale,” he comments.

The deadline for this year’s applications is May 2.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..