Cooperative Extension hosts tour of alternative crop field trials

Public and farmers invited to view trials in Fallon: hops, guar, teff and more

9/10/2013 - By: Claudene Wharton
Jay Davison Jay Davison, Cooperative Extension alternative crops and forage specialist, will host an Alternative Crop Field Day Sept. 13 in Fallon, Nev. Photo by Jean Dixon.

Jay Davison has been helping Nevada farmers experiment with alternative crops, such as grapes and teff for more than 15 years. This Friday, Davison, an alternative crops and forage specialist at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, will host a free tour of his research and that of other Nevada farmers and researches in Fallon, Nev. 

The tour will include a stop at the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station's Newlands Research Center, part of the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, where Davison is conducting research on spring canola, guar, amaranth, teff and summer annual forages. Davison conducts research trials based on anticipated need and demand for a product, as well as the crop's expected suitability to Nevada's climate and soils. (See examples below.)

The USDA-NRCS Great Basin Plant Materials Center is also at the Newlands Research Center. At the Plant Materials Center, Eric Eldredge, the Center's manager, will give a tour and lead discussion on trials involving hard white winter wheat, beardless triticale, Sandberg bluegrass, Searles prairie clover, bottlebrush squirreltail and five native range grasses. Eldredge will also show and discuss specialized equipment used in plant materials work. 

In addition, the tour will include stops at Lattin Farms, where there will be a tour and discussion of research comparing hoop-house-grown tomatoes and field-grown tomatoes, in terms of production and disease incidence. At Workman Farms, there will be a tour and discussion of the research involving hop varieties that is underway. 

The "Alternative Crop Field Day" will begin at 9 a.m., Sept. 13, at the Churchill County Cooperative Extension Office, 111 Sheckler Road, in Fallon, Nev. The tour is free and open to the public, but RSVPs to Davison at 775-423-5121 or davisonj@unce.unr.edu are appreciated. Persons in need of special accommodations or assistance should notify Davison prior to the event. The approximate schedule includes:
9 - 9:30 a.m.                        Welcome, introductions and field day logistics (coffee & donuts provided)
9:30 - 10 a.m.                      Great Basin Plant Materials Center (at Newlands Research Center)
10 - 11 a.m.                         Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station's Newlands Research Center
11 - 11:30 a.m.                    Lattin Farms
11:45 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.       Workman Farms  

Examples of possible alternative crops for Nevada: 

Teff

Teff is an alternative grain that has grown in popularity due to its nutritional qualities and the fact that it is gluten-free. Eleven years ago, Davison gathered 36 farmers to listen to a presentation from a teff producer who wanted Nevada farmers to grow about 500 acres of teff for grain, but the producer didn't have a single taker. However, Davison kept at it, got a friend to plant a couple of trial acres, and within a couple of years, there were about 100 acres planted in the state. Now there are about 1,200 acres and Davison estimates that about 50 percent of teff sold as grain or flour in the United States is now grown in Nevada, with Nevada and Idaho duking it out for the top producer. 

Summer annual forages

With a new, large powdered-milk plant opening in Churchill County, the number of local dairy cows is expected to increase dramatically. There is going to be a need for high-quality feed for the dairy cows that uses less water than alfalfa. So, Davison has planted 13 varieties of summer annual forage grasses, as well as two forage soybean varieties to study their production, profit margins and water and soil requirements. The experiments are a partnership of Cooperative Extension; the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; and private industry. 

"The dairy industry is going to explode here, so we need more information on what our farmers can grow to provide high-quality feed for that industry, especially in low-water years," he said. 

Guar

The seed of the guar plant is used in the food and oil industries. Guar is extremely drought- and heat-tolerant, meeting Nevada's climatic conditions. Currently India produces about 80 percent of the world's guar, with the United States being its top buyer. Davison is working on the guar trials with David Shintani, a professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, who is interested in the production of industrial materials from plants.


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