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At a ranch in Eureka, researchers are breeding a unique species of sheep well-adapted to the harsh Great Basin environment and that produces some of the finest wool in the nation. At the same time at a field in Fallon, researchers are using lasers and belowground radar to study how well sorghum grows with different levels of flood irrigation. And at a lab in Logandale, researchers just finished a study on how cactus pear can be grown as a commercial crop to fuel vehicles and feed both animals and people. These are just three of many projects happening at University of Nevada, Reno Experiment Station facilities across Nevada.
The Experiment Station is the research unit of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. It maintains a network of field stations throughout the state, providing researchers different environments where they can experiment on a larger scale while supporting the needs of the nearby communities.
“It’s really an exciting time for the Experiment Station, as our research is expanding throughout the state and our faculty are heavily engaged in projects that will serve to help our stakeholders in all areas of Nevada,” Chris Pritsos, director of the Experiment Station, said. “We’re really expanding our research capacity throughout the state. Our faculty have gone out and successfully competed for grants to support their work, and we are making significant impacts, whether it be in the area of water, agriculture production, environmental science or the cattle industry.”
The Fallon Research Center houses the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Great Basin Plant Materials Center. This 160-acre farm is one of three stations involved with the sorghum and irrigation project, with researchers testing how flood irrigation impacts sorghum at the different irrigation levels.
The station is also home to several other sorghum projects, including a new project investigating herbicide-resistant sorghum hybrids, many of which were commercialized this spring. The team will assess the varieties for how well they tolerate the herbicides when being watered using flood irrigation.
Another project is looking at how various sorghum varieties grow in different Nevada soils. Fallon has some sodium-rich soils with high salinity and alkalinity, characteristics that affect how much water is available for the plant. Staff and students are using the same remote-sensing technology to look at how sorghum’s roots interact with the soil and how these interactions impact whole-plant growth and development.
The work is aimed to help farmers make better decisions about what to plant, about which crops grow best on their specific soils, so they can have a more sustainable operation.
Additional research is being conducted on chickpeas, dry beans, soybeans, teff for forage and grain production, and forage soybeans, which are crops that have garnered interest from local producers.
Juan Solomon, associate professor of Agriculture, Veterinary & Rangeland Sciences, and Barrios-Masias are beginning work with a local company to test the best growing conditions for several varieties of hemp for both fiber and seed production. Hemp production is rapidly expanding throughout the U.S. and may provide farmers with another alternative low-water crop. Initial results indicate Nevada has a climate well-suited for growing some hemp varieties.
Solomon is also studying the use of silage sorghum to provide feed for dairy operations in Nevada. Silage is what’s left after the harvested crop, such as corn, alfalfa or soybeans, is fermented and stored. Dairy operations rely on silage to feed their cattle throughout the year, and if Nevada operations cannot get silage with enough protein and energy locally, then they buy from out of state.
For producers growing alfalfa, the crop is harvested three to four times throughout the year, with the third or fourth cut being a valuable option for mixed silage. However, sorghum silage by itself has low levels of protein. Certain sorghum crops are ready to harvest when alfalfa is ready for its third cut, so when the two are mixed together, the alfalfa increases the protein in the resulting silage.
“The goal is to find alternative feed crops that use less water and fertilizer than more traditional silage crops, such as corn,” Solomon explained. “By incorporating the third-cut alfalfa into the sorghum, we boost the protein value of the silage to meet the demands of the dairy industry.”
Sorghum can be grown together with soybeans and cowpeas as well, and when the plants are ready to harvest for silage, the soybeans and cowpeas enhance the protein value.