Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES Ð The crops and the data keep coming year-round at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Clovis.
Peanuts, winter wheat and genetically altered corn make for row upon row of research and demonstration plots relevant to agriculture in the High Plains.
Research at the center 13 miles north of Clovis focuses on crops that fit well with the area's soil and weather conditions, said Darrell Baker, acting superintendent.
This year, though, the weather hasn't exactly been cooperative. "We have been dry all summer. In fact, all year we have been very dry with less than half of our normal rainfall," Baker said. "If it hadn't been for that big snow that we received last Christmas, we would have been in really bad shape."
Dry weather meant winter wheat yields in the area were down about 50 percent, including wheat harvested in June from Baker's test plots. About 95 percent of wheat grown in the area is hard, red winter wheat used for bread making.
Baker studied different wheat varieties under dryland conditions, and limited and full irrigation as part of a long- term research project. "We look to see which varieties yield best over a period of years, and we average three-year, five-year and 10-year test results to see how the varieties perform."
He also takes part in the Southern Regional Performance Nursery Test, which considers experimental or newly released wheat varieties from agricultural experiment stations in the Southwest.
With the wheat harvested, Baker turned his attention to corn and peanut test plots.
"We produce quite a bit of corn in this area, probably about 15,000 acres," he said. "In recent years, we have increased our silage corn because of the influx of dairies, and we also produce a lot of grain corn."
Corn research this year included testing some transgenic varieties. "Transgenic corn is basically any corn that has been altered by genetic manipulation to include some insect or herbicide resistance," he explained.
Baker said he was excited about how well some of the herbicide-resistant varieties performed. These varieties allow farmers to spray for better control of weeds like kochia, sandbur and Johnsongrass, without damaging the young corn plants.
Peanut research at the science center has traditionally centered on controlling diseases like blackhull, which affects the peanut shell's color, and web blotch, which reduces yield.
Peanut growers in Curry, Lea and Roosevelt counties produce about 90 percent of the nation's Valencia peanuts, known for their sweet taste and usually sold in the shell.
"We have to keep the shell bright and pretty to be attractive for consumers," Baker said.
This year, he added peanut variety trials at plots located five miles south of the science center as part of a new peanut breeding project.
"We're testing 200 varieties of Valencia-type peanuts from all over the world," he said. "We are looking for varieties that will be suitable for crossing with the two varieties that we plant now Ð Valencia A and Valencia C Ð to enhance their yields, quality, taste, shelf-life and looks."
As the October peanut harvest approaches, Baker and Floyd McAlister, agricultural agent with NMSU' Cooperative Extension Service in Roosevelt County, are planning a Sept. 3 peanut research field day. The event includes a tour of the breeding research plots as well as peanut disease research plots at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. For more information, contact Baker at (505) 985-2292 or McAlister at (505) 356-4417.
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