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The role of the Universities of Wyoming and Nebraska in the development of alternative crops for the US High Plains.

James Krall1, David Baltensperger2, David Koch3, Drew Lyon2, Jerry Nachtman1, Glen Frickel2, Jack T. Cecil1, Jim Margheim2, Eric Nielsen2 and Jeffery Flake3

1University of Wyoming, Research and Extension Center, 4516 US Highway 26/85 #2, Torrington, WY 82240. www.uwyo.edu/agexpstn/Station_Info/Torrington.htm
2
University of Nebraska, Panhandle Research and Extension Center - 4502 Avenue I - Scottsbluff, NE 69361. www.panhandle.unl.edu
3
Plant Sciences Dept., College of Agriculture - Department 3354,University of Wyoming,1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071. www.uwyo.edu/plants

Abstract

An assessment of the number and status of alternative crops that are under research and development by the Universities of Wyoming and Nebraska for southeastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle was undertaken. Thirty-six crops are identified for the region, which is characterized as having limited precipitation (370 to 420 mm/yr), and a short growing season (124 days). Most (21) are broadleaf crops. A similar number (22) are cool season prospects. Importantly, fifteen are alternative crops that producers should know how to grow, that have an established market, but that may not fit current economics. The remaining 21 crops require more research to further develop production packages and/or markets. The two universities are currently collaborating through their respective regional research and extension centers to help make this happen.

Media summary

Universities in Nebraska and Wyoming are collaborating through their regional centers in the development of 36 alternative crops for the Nebraska Panhandle and southeastern Wyoming.

Key Words

alternative crops, production package, market, economics.

Introduction

The Institutions

Only 61 km separate the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Center at Torrington, WY from the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff, NE. This close proximity, and a shared mission to support the agriculture of the region through research and development, has led to numerous collaborations on the development of alternative crops for the region. Scientists at both locations have worked together, and closely with researchers from their parent institutions, and public and private research institutions from around the United States and the world, to develop viable cropping options for the region.

Climate of the Nebraska Panhandle and Southeastern Wyoming region of the Central High Plains US (41-43N; 103-105W)

Water is a major constraint. Long-term annual precipitation averages range from approximately 370 to 420 mm across the region, but much of the region has suffered from even less precipitation over the previous three years. Much of the crop land is fallowed every other year. Continuous cropping is limited to no-till production practices or irrigated production. Temperature is characterized by high diurnal variation, which can fluctuate as much as 28C. Variation is frequently this large on a weekly basis. There is a short growing season, approximately May 25-Sept 25 (124 days) and hail during the summer months is a hazard. The soils are shallow with limited water holding capacity. There is an overall east to west elevation gradient going from 1220 to 1830 meters. Slopes reduce soil water infiltration and stream flow irrigation and ground water reserves are limited.

Current Significant Crops

Predominant irrigated crops are alfalfa (Medicago sativa), sugarbeet (Beta vulgaris), corn (Zea mays), and dry bean (Phaeolus vulgaris). The predominant rain-fed crop is hard red winter wheat (Triticum aestivum). Next, at much lower production levels are proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), corn, and sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

Climate Change

Projections of climate change in the region include increased temperatures, mainly minimum temperatures, and increased precipitation in many areas. These changes have the possibility of affecting, either positively or negatively, many sectors, including agriculture, natural systems, and water. Diversification may be a key to coping with the potential climatic change (Wicks and Smika 1990, Baltensperger 1995, Ojima and Lackett 2002).

Objective

To report on the approaches and progress toward alternative crop development so agricultural producers can diversify now and in the future.

Methods

We have chosen to discuss alternative crops in terms of current markets and production knowledge as well as grouping crops by season. In terms of market and production knowledge there are three categories: Type I: Crops which producers know how to grow and have an established market, but may not fit current economics. Type II: Crops that are short of a production package or lack a market structure. Type III: Crops that are lacking both a market and a production package, but have potential for both.

Crops grouped by season are split into four categories. These categories are cool season grasses (CSG), cool season broadleaf crops (CSB), warm season grasses (WSG), and warm season broadleaf (WSB) alternatives.

Results

When added up, there are 36 crops that are at some stage of development as potential alternative crops for the region (Table 1). Fifteen of these are grasses. There are 21 cool season prospects under investigation. According to category there are 12 CSB, nine CSG, eight WSB, and seven WSG crops. Type I crops, the crops that producers know how to grow, have an established market, but may not fit current economics, number 15. We identified 14 as type II crops, which are short of a production package or lack a market structure. These are crops that are only recommended for on farm testing by producers. Finally, seven fall into the type III category as crops that are lacking both a market and a production package but have potential for both. With these we advise producers to follow the research and development activities with an eye on production in five to ten years.

Table 1. Inventory of alternative crops in the Nebraska Panhandle and Southeastern Wyoming under research and development by the Universities of Nebraska (NE) and Wyoming (WY). Primary and secondary institution(s) are in capital and lower case letters, respectively.

Local name

Scientific name

Current markets and production knowledge

Seasonal grouping

Institution involved in development

amaranth

Amaranthus spp.

Type I

WSB

NE

barley

Hordeum vulgare

Type I

CSG

NE ,WY

brassica, forage

Brassica spp.

Type I

CSB

WY, ne

brassica, SBN- resistant trap crop

Brassica spp.

Type I

CSB

WY

bentgrass seed

Agrostis stolonifera

Type II

CSG

NE, wy

bluegrass seed, Kentucky

Poa pratensis

Type I

CSG

NE, wy

canary grass seed

Phalaris canariensis

Type III

CSG

NE, wy

canola

Brassica campestris & napus

Type III

CSB

NE, WY

chicory, forage

Cichorium intybus

Type II

WSB

WY

chicory, sweetener

Cichorium intybus

Type I

WSB

NE

chickpea

Cicer arietinum

Type I

WSB

NE, WY

corn, rain-fed

Zea mays

Type I

WSG

NE , WY

crambe

Crambe abyssinica

Type III

CSB

NE

fescue seed, tall

Festuca arundinacea

Type II

CSG

NE

flax

Linum usitatissimum

Type III

CSB

NE

lentil

Lens culinaris

Type III

CSB

WY, ne

lupin

Lupinus spp.

Type III

CSB

WY

medic

Medicago rigidula

Type II

CSB

WY

milkweed

Asclepias syriaca

Type II

WSB

NE

millet, foxtail

Setaria italica

Type I

WSG

NE, wy

millet, pearl

Pennisetum americanum

Type III

WSG

NE

millet, proso

Panicum miliaceum

Type I

WSG

NE, wy

mustard, brown

Brassica juncea

Type II

CSB

NE, wy

oat

Avena sativa

Type II

CSG

NE, WY

pea, Austrian winter

Pisum arvenu

Type I

CSB

WY

pea, forage

Pisum arvense

Type I

CSB

WY, NE

pea, grain

Pisum arvense

Type II

CSB

WY, NE

safflower

Carthamus tinctorius

Type II

WSB

NE

sorghum

Sorghum biclor

Type II

WSG

NE

sorghum/sudangrass

S. biclor X sudanense

Type I

WSG

NE, WY

sudangrass

Sorghum sudanense

Type II

WSG

NE, wy

sunflower

Helianthus annuus

Type I

WSB

NE, wy

thistle, Niger

Guizotia abyssinica

Type II

WSB

NE

triticale

X Triticosecale

Type I

CSG

NE

wheat, hard white

Triticum aestivum

Type II

CSG

NE, WY

wheat, spring

Triticum aestivum

Type II

CSG

NE, WY

Further considerations that could lead to additional narrowing of the potential choices are the potential effect of herbicide carryover from a previous crop and social issues. Agricultural producers within the region traditionally have concentrated on either crop production or ranching. Recently, there are indications that traditional crop producers, in response to low commodity prices and high cattle prices, are undertaking steps to integrate livestock into their operations. This could accelerate the adoption of some alternative crops.

Conclusion

Twenty-one of the 36 alternative crops (58%) require additional research and development to put them into the Type I category. Given the proper market conditions, they can truly become alternative crops for the region’s producers. In light of predictions about climate change, it is important that we continue to investigate and develop these cropping options, and look for new ones. We believe that support from both the public and private sector for research and development is the best way to make this happen.

References

Baltensperger BH (1985). Nebraska.310, (Westview Press, Inc., Boulder, CO).

Ojima DS and JM Lackett (2002). In ‘Preparing for a Changing Climate, the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change – Central Great Plains’. i-iv, (NREL Ft. Collins, CO).

Wicks GA and DE Smika (1990). Central Great Plains In ‘Systems of weed control in wheat in America’. (Ed. W.W. Donald) pp127-157.

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