How CABNR is working to diversify agriculture in Nevada

Sage Hilbel collecting algae paste after centrifugingGov. Brian Sandoval's recently released economic development plan for Nevada identified "water in an arid climate" as one of seven industries that can be advanced through partnerships with higher education.

Research at the University of Nevada, Reno is looking at how to diversify agriculture in Nevada beyond its traditional bounds of alfalfa and cattle, with an emphasis on exploring which plants to grow in arid climates, how best to grow them, and new, innovative ways some plants can be used.

Biofuel production is expected to double over the next decade, creating a nationwide need to increase the production of biomass and biofuel feedstocks. Nevada is not expected to be a major producer of such feedstocks, but increasing production of such feedstocks in the state could help provide for local markets, such as the mining industry.

Research into biofuels and biomass production and processing is under way at CABNR and the College of Engineering, where scientists are evaluating forage and hydrocarbon-rich feedstocks that can be grown with minimal water compared to the traditional Nevada crops of alfalfa, potatoes and wheat. Camelina, a short-season oilseed crop, requires far less water than other oilseeds, and is quite adaptable to the Great Basin climate.

The University is also evaluating other native species with low water needs, such as gumweed, rabbitbrush and sagebrush, for their potential to produce "biocrude" and woody biomass, including their processing and conversion to fuels and "green" plastics. Local production of liquid biodiesel and aviation fuels would significantly enhance Nevada's economic diversity, reduce air pollution and increase our energy security.

The University is helping the agriculture industry develop sustainable, effective agricultural practices and products in our arid climate serving to:

  • Diversify Nevada's economy and support agriculture-dependent rural communities,
  • Improve environmental stewardship by developing renewable energy resources for transportation and mining, and
  • Create a stronger local food supply, making Nevada more self-sufficient and less reliant on outside sources.