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Having a Field Day; UW ag research station reveals its work during annual open house

University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Farm Manager Camby Reynolds describes crops in the research farm’s fields during a tour Thursday. University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Farm Manager Camby Reynolds describes crops in the research farm’s fields during a tour Thursday. Tribune photo by Tom Lawrence

Sugar beets, barley, sunflowers and beans. You’d expect those crops to be grown at the University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station farm a mile north of Powell.

But grapes, spinach, corn, tomatoes and lettuce?

Those are also under cultivation — and scrutiny — at the UW facility. Researchers focus on irrigated crops that Wyoming producers rely on, but they also find time to do experiments on other plants.

The research farm has 200 acres where studies on crops are performed. Researchers examine crop varieties, water management, protein levels and myriad other issues.

The facility hosted its annual Field Day on Thursday and scores of people attended it. They took tours of the fields, hearing about the 14 crops being raised.

Farm Manager Camby Reynolds led one of the tours, pointing out the crops and the tests that were being performed.

“This is an excellent opportunity for growers to see how this variety performs in this region,” Reynolds said when the tour stopped at the cooperative dry bean nursery.

Researchers are also studying corn raised for silage, barley — one field has 36 varieties planted in it — sanfoin, sunflower varieties and barley.

They are examining irrigation patterns on sunflowers, with some crops getting a regular amount of water brought to them, another area getting 75 percent and a third area receiving 50 percent of normal irrigations. Another section of the crop will get no water, relying on whatever rain falls.

Another field is being studied for phosphorus management of sugar beets, while the impact of conservation tillage on a beans, beet and barley rotation is also under scrutiny.

George Farms has teamed with the research farm to look at corn population: How much should be planted per acre for the best results?

Another study, done for the Miller/Coors brewing company, looks at production characteristics for malting barley. The study will help decide what barley varieties should be grown in the Big Horn Basin.

The work on grapes, spinach, corn, tomatoes and lettuce is done on a smaller scale. High tunnels are being used to study lettuce production and tomatoes.

Grapes were first planted in the spring of 2013; 70 percent died off in the first year.

But the researchers are still attempting to see if they can produce a grape that will thrive in the short growing season and harsh winters of northwest Wyoming.

They hope to produce grapes for wine, juice and the table, Reynolds said.

Protein levels in barley, sunflower planting dates, fertilizer rates — it’s a classroom on a grand scale, with the professors wearing jeans and checked shirts, driving pickups and checking crops, not papers.

There are six full-time staffers, with a seventh joining the team on July 31.

The majority of the land — about two-thirds, Reynolds said — is used for research efforts, often done in tandem with ag companies or local producers. Land not assigned to a research project is used to grow crops, which are harvested and sold to help fund the facility, one of four in the state.

The Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (WAES) has four research and extension centers: the one on the edge of Powell, another on the main UW campus in Laramie and others by Sheridan and Lingle.

Bret Hess, associate dean of research in UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the WAES, toured the facility and chatted with staffers and farmers who came to the event.

Beau Fulton was at his sixth Field Day. Fulton said he comes to “see what we can do better.”

He raises alfalfa seed, dry beans and barley on 300 acres in the Powell area. Finding a way to reduce weed problems is a major reason he attends the annual event, Fulton said. “Anything that helps raise a better crop is a good thing,” he said.

Kelly Spiering has been farming for 38 years and raises grass, bean alfalfa and oat seed on 600 acres in rural Powell. He has attended 35 Field Days.

“What do I get out of it? Relationships,” Spiering said. “And I always learn something. Every year.”

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