SIDNEY, Mont. – Dark clouds and cooler, windy conditions with the sweet smell of rain in the air, brought a smile to producers at Sidney USDA-ARS and Montana State University Eastern Ag Research Center dryland field days June 20.
Moisture is always welcome in this arid part of the world, even with the timely rains the area has seen this spring and early summer.
“This is the 12th annual ARS field day for our research farm across the highway from here, and the fifth time we’ve been able to combine with MSU EARC and do the dryland field day in conjunction with them,” said Bart Stevens, USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory research leader. “Our roadway is just a little too muddy right now, but we wish you could see our plots. Beth Redlin and our scientists did a lot of work preparing for today.”
Scientists from the USDA-ARS NPARLpresented research inside the large Quonset.
When rain clouds did not yield a single drop, producers and others rode wagons to view some of EARC’s dryland plots.
At the last stop, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was brought to the field day from North Dakota State University, in a joint collaboration between NDSU Williston Research Extension Center and MSU EARC.
“We are flying the UAV over winter wheat and spring wheat plots to collect data needed to evaluate new varieties,” said Chengci Chen, MSU EARC cropping systems agronomist and superintendent of the center. “If a variety performs the same under irrigated and dryland conditions, that is a perfect variety. But more likely, one variety might be more drought tolerant and be a better fit on dryland or vice versa.”
Chen is working on the project with Phil Bruckner, MSU winter wheat breeder and Gautam Pradhan, NDSU WREC research agronomist.
John Gaskin, ARS molecular botanist, led a weed search for weeds at the EARC farm and several were found, including: Canada thistle, yellow mustard, blue mustard, green foxtail, downy brome, narrowleaf hawksbeard, lambsquarters, bineweed, and kochia.
Palmer Amaranth was a weed that made everyone nervous.
“Palmer Amaranth has been found in North Dakota, and it is headed our way. It is a fairly nasty weed, and it is a good idea to take along an ID card to distinguish it from Redroot pigweed,” Gaskin said. Pigweed has short hairs and no spiny bracts, while Palmer amaranth has no hair, and does have spiny bracts. “Palmar Amaranth has been moving, coming in on equipment, vehicles or on the rail.”
Gaskin said scientists had found several herbicide resistant weeds in Montana.
“For some weeds, we’re working on biological controls,” he said.
Upendra Sainju, ARS research soil scientist, has been working on an experiment to find out what agricultural or environmental activities increase nitrous oxide emissions. Work over the years had yielded an exact amount of N that could be applied and still have good yields.
“Nitrous oxide emissions can be reduced and crop yield can be sustained at a certain amount of N per acre in dryland spring wheat and spring wheat/pea rotations,” Sainju said.
Jeff Chilson, Roosevelt County Extension agent in Culbertson, talked about acid soils. He showed a tool that could be purchased inexpensively and would give the pH reading of the soil sample.
“If left unchecked, increasing acidity can lead to reduced crop yield, nutrient deficiencies and aluminum toxicity,” Chilson said.
Natalie West, ARS research ecologist, gave an update on her perennial rangeland weed garden, where she is trying to control whitetop by using treatments, such as insects and taking away water. It is a weed that is problematic for ranchers, and is difficult to control. West grew it out last year and 90 percent of whitetop survived the winter.
“We don’t know which life stages of the whitetop are most vulnerable to biocontrol by insects, reducing water and other controls, so that is part of our second year treatment,” West said. Chemical control could take three years to totally work.
“That weed was a problem for my family on our farm in northern Wyoming when I was growing up,” Stevens said.
Frankie Crutcher, MSU EARC plant pathologist, talked about a different fungal agent in the Fusarium head blight (scab) complex.
“Fusarium avenaceum is the fungus that is the primary cause of pea root rots,” Crutcher said. “Canada has a lot of Fusarium avenaceum and North Dakota found a lot of it on wheat stubble.”
In order to understand how this might affect pea/wheat rotations, Crutcher simulated scabby seed blown from a combine in dryland, no-till conditions on barley stubble at two locations in Huntley and Sidney.
Crutcher will test the effect on pea emergence and yield. In addition, she will measure seed treatment efficacy.
Jon Hendrickson, USDA-ARS Mandan, N.D., research rangeland management specialist, talked about improving dryland CRP plant establishment.
The five-year treatment is being conducted in Montana, Utah and Colorado, and was started last year.
Producers asked how to know if they have a good stand of grass.
“There is a pretty simple technique using a frame to find out how good your native prairie stand is. You put the frame down and see how many cells have the plants you want in it. If it is under 25 percent, you will want to reseed,” Hendrickson said.
Different pollinator seed mixes are being tested in four treatments at each place.
Out in the Sidney dryland fields, Bill Franck, EARC research scientist, talked about strategies to enhance pea nitrogen fixation and improve protein content. It is a big study involving several entities.
At the end of the field day, 2 points were awarded for pesticide points.
Chen also announced the irrigation field day for EARC is July 16. Variety trials and sugarbeet research will be part of the field day presentations.
“We will have our main field day on July 16, which will include presentations on the high omega oil canola for fish food, new pulse crops and industrial hemp. We have a hemp plot to show you and I am sure many of you want to plant hemp,” Chen said.