R&E Center showcases alternative crops at annual field day

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The University of Wyoming’s Powell Research and Extension Center is not just another farm — in fact, it is so much more.

Proof of that was on display last Thursday afternoon when the center hosted its annual field day. The annual event drew farmers, businesses and educators from all over the area to the R&E Center, with about 120 people in attendance, including UW President Laurie Nichols.

“The field day is just a wonderful opportunity for the University of Wyoming and especially the faculty and the staff that are up here at Powell R&E station to show their work,” Nichols said. “It’s showing their plots and their research and what they’re working on. And then of course it’s an opportunity for producers to come see that and share the questions, the problems or the issues they’re having in their fields, so that we can have this healthy exchange of what we’re working on and what they need.”

“Of course, the whole idea is this is very applied,” Nichols added, “so as we hear about needs out there, we can start integrating that into the work that these faculty and staff will do next year.”

One of the highlights of last Thursday’s field day was the tours of the center’s fields. They not only feature crops traditional to northwest Wyoming like barley, beans and sugar beets, but also crops not seen in the Big Horn Basin, like chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans).

“One of the tasks that this research center is tasked with is to find alternative crops for the area,” said Camby Reynolds, the farm manager for the Powell R&E Center. “That’s where some of these crops that aren’t traditionally grown [around here come into play]. You’re not going to see a lot of chickpeas in this area; it’s just starting to come in.”

Reynolds said the chickpeas were brought to the center by Treasure Valley Seed in Powell.

“We were approached and asked to grow four different varieties of chickpeas,” Reynolds said. “We’re trying those out for them, looking at the different agronomics, what producers can expect as far as yields, how long it’s going to take them to mature, what type of herbicides [they’ll need] — just different ways to do things to grow those chickpeas.”

Another pair of crops being grown at the center are emmer and spelt. They’re two varieties of wheat that were grown more often in the past — emmer in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and spelt from the Bronze Age until medieval times — and are now being grown again as part of the university’s First Grains project.

Thomas Foulke, a senior research scientist with the university’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in Laramie, asked the center to grow the emmer and spelt, “an idea that we take this all the way through,” Reynolds said.

“Our part here as a research center is to grow that spelt and emmer, see how it produces, what kinds of yields you can expect [and] what kinds of challenges we’re going to face,” Reynolds said. “Then we’re actually going to harvest that and pass it on to a processor, who’s going to then clean that seed and grind it, and then they’ll actually take that through to find a market for it.”

Nichols likes the experimental aspect of the center.

“That should be part of what we do is introduce some new crops or new ideas — new irrigation being another one — and that we can experiment until we find something that works, something that’s viable, and then hand it off to the producers,” Nichols said. “We don’t want them to assume the risk of planting something that isn’t going to work. That’s really a huge part of the mission of this Powell station is that we’re going to experiment for them and only give them successes, so they don’t have to do that [risk].”

To top everything off, the Powell R&E Center ties in well with UW’s being a land-grant university.

“The mission of a land-grant university is really threefold,” Nichols said. “That is to provide access to a higher education for the citizens of the state, to conduct research that addresses real problems and real issues that the state is encountering — and then extension, of course, is the outreach mission, to take the work we do out to the people, to hear what people need and bring it back to the university so that exchange of ideas [happens].”

“This really is very much showcasing that mission,” she said, “because it’s the research piece of it.”

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