Travelers entering the city limits of Stillwater, Oklahoma, by way of Highway 51, notice pristine white fences containing many of Oklahoma State University’s farms and agriculture endeavors.
The fence happens to be on the National Register for Historic Places and plays a key role in wheat research for the state of Oklahoma and surrounding areas. The Magruder Plots were initiated in 1892 and are an experimental winter wheat field at OSU. The trials were started by A. C. Magruder, the first professor of agriculture at Oklahoma A&M, which is now OSU.
Brian Arnall, precision nutrient management Extension specialist for OSU, plays a key role in the supervision of the Magruder Plots.
“These are the oldest long-term continuous plots west of the Mississippi River and in the top 10 oldest in the world.”
Arnall says originally the Magruder plots were located on campus. In the 1950s the campus was growing exponentially and researchers were able to get the funding to move the plots to their current location. This year will be 126th harvest of the plots.
The soil is an identical soil type down to the depth of 3 meters as the plots on campus. It was moved one layer at a time and the ground was stabilized in two years.
“We’re basically farmers on a small scale,” Arnall said. “We plant, harvest and manage the pests.”
Arnall works meticulously to manicure each plot and learn more about how pests, weather conditions and nutrient intake affect the yields. Arnall says his team changes the varieties planted every five to six years based on what is commercially produced in the state.
“My goal is always to be sustainable, environmentally and economically,” Arnall said. “Fertility wise, my focus is on nutrient management as much as possible. I try to get the most out of the least inputs possible and make sure those extra inputs can go offsite. We can reduce fertilizer inputs very easily but our quality starts going down very rapidly.”
He says there is a fine balance between environmentally conscious and production that is unsustainable because the quality is not there.
Every four years, beef feedlot manure is applied to specific plots. It is put on using a 5-gallon bucket in 10 by 10 foot squares so it is accurate to a tenth of a pound. This provides enough nitrogen for four years of production every four years of rotation.
Right next to the beef manure plot is an unfertilized check which has never had any fertilizer applied to it. Amazingly enough, this unfertilized plot still produced 16 to 17 bushels of wheat per acre per year.
“I have personally been in a combine and cut 35-bushel wheat off the plot. The same year the state average was 35 bushel.”
However this unfertilized check is in a continuous no-till wheat system and the weeds and ground are out of control.
“You combine continuous wheat, no-till and no fertilizer and you cannot combat a problem like weeds,” He said. “Recently we got the OK to use a crop rotation of no-till sorghum, canola, wheat with the same exact fertility. We are going to be able to watch the soil fertility change from the check status over the next 20, 50 or 100 years under no-till crop rotation while we get rid of these weeds and just see how that impacts the crop over decades.”
“When it comes to growing wheat, I pride myself with learning,” Arnall said. “The plots are kind of our pride and joy here at OSU.”
Lacey Newlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.