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Activity warms up in Panhandle Center research plots


Like the weather, the activity is warming up in the research plots at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center near Scottsbluff.

The soil has been prepared, seeds planted, the spring crops are emerging--and trying to survive the storms. In the coming weeks, the varied crops must be fertilized, irrigated, and treated for weeds, insects, or disease. Winter crops, like wheat or canola, which were planted last fall, are getting closer to harvest.

At the Panhandle Center, UNL faculty and staff conduct research on several hundred acres' worth of plots ranging in size from 1 acre up to about 20 acres. The small-plot research site on the corner of 42nd Street and Highway 71 is divided into 20 units, each slightly more or less than an acre in size. Each plot can be managed with great precision.

Numerous other, larger, plots are located on the Panhandle Center grounds, and also at the Mitchell Ag Lab 4 miles to the north. In addition, UNL conducts dryland crop research on about 800 acres of plots at the High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney.

Projects are planned and overseen by faculty based in the Panhandle, sometimes in collaboration with colleagues in Lincoln or elsewhere. Research needs are often identified by UNL's partners in the ag industry, such as growers' associations, commodity groups, food processors, chemical companies, or others. Funding often comes from these sources or the federal government. In many cases, vital research could not take place without generous cooperation from landowners, who agree to host agronomic trials or test new farming methods.

Much of the field work is done by technical support staff, including the usual farming chores but also collecting data. Some of the technicians are year-round employees, others are seasonal workers, including students.

The research is designed to answer questions, solve problems, or meet needs identified by the regional ag sector. Data and lessons are shared with area growers during several upcoming field days. Much of what is learned also will find its way into research reports, posters, and Extension publications.

Here's a sampling of some of the research going on this year at the Center. It is not comprehensive, but does indicate the breadth of the research.

--Improved Nitrogen management for high quality irrigated winter wheat. This study is designed to determine optimum nitrogen rates and timing to achieve specific yield and protein content goals for irrigated winter wheat. This information will provide a basis for updating and improving UNL's N recommendations for irrigated hard winter wheat.

--Limited irrigated no-till cropping systems for stretching irrigation supplies. The objective is to determine crop yield potential in a no-till winter wheat-corn-dry beans-spring canola rotation receiving yearly water allocations of 4, 8, or 12 inches of irrigation (5, 10, and 15 for corn). Information will be used to help producers determine how to best allocate limited irrigation supplies for no-till cropping systems that fit the Panhandle.

--Winter wheat variety trials. The purpose is to determine varietal response of hard red and white winter wheats under dryland and irrigated conditions. Information helps producers select the best adapted varieties for their location.

--Sunflower variety trials. The purpose is to determine varietal response of both oil seed and confection sunflowers in western Nebraska. Information helps producers select the best adapted varieties for their location.

--Regulating growth of wheat and cover crops. The purpose is to learn whether using plant hormones can promote late fall growth of winter wheat and annual rye to improve establishments of ground cover, and also to reduce winter wheat lodging.

--Insecticide evaluation against potato psyllid. The purpose is to learn whether new products control potato psyllid population.

--Soybean variety trial. Soybeans are not common in western Nebraska due to low yields, but UNL is looking at new varieties and new production practices for economical production.

--Corn insect control trials. New and current insect control products are being tested for their efficacy against western bean cutworms and spider mites in corn. Some of these products will soon be newly registered for this crop in 2012.

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