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NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Alcalde Hosts Field Day

ALCALDE -- A cornucopia of research on organic fruit, medicinal herbs, forage and vegetable crops will be on display for the general public Aug. 26 when New Mexico State University's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde holds its first field day in two years.


"For farmers, this is a chance to learn about the different types of research and educational activities taking place that can be of benefit to them," said center superintendent Steve Guldan. "For everybody else, it's just a great opportunity to understand more about what agriculture entails and what it contributes to this part of the state."

Specialists from NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service will offer hayride or walking tours of the center.

Program highlights include new fruit trials beginning this fall that will test organic growing methods on a 5-acre site for an array of cold-hardy, late-blooming stone fruits such as peaches, cherries, apricots and plums, as well as small fruits like raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes and kiwifruit. The project, headed by Alcalde-based fruit specialist Ron Walser, will make NMSU one of only six land-grant universities nationwide to conduct certified organic research at a science center.

Walser will also give visitors an overview of the centerĂ¢s 1.5-acre experimental apple orchard, where researchers are testing early maturing apple varieties that are new to northern New Mexico. They are also comparing productivity of two different apple-growing methods under local conditions.

This is the first year that the orchard, planted in spring 1996, is producing a substantial crop. In fact, Walser began a new experiment this year in the orchard examining organic methods to control codling moths, whose offspring infest orchards, leaving behind wormy apples.

Another tour highlight is the centerĂ¢s medicinal herb plot showing potential high-value plants such as Echinacea purpurea, yerba mansa, valerian, catnip, nettle, calendula, lemon balm and more than 30 other herbs.

Visitors will learn about two forage trials, Guldan said. One research project is testing local adaptability of three legumes not commonly grown in the north--kura clover, birdsfoot trefoil and cicer milkvetch--which add nitrogen to soil and can help alfalfa growers improve pastures. The other is an alfalfa variety trial studying how well the varieties will grow if livestock graze on the plot from fall to spring.

"There's a lot of small ranches here in the north where animals graze and nibble much of the year, so we want to see how these varieties fare under those kinds of local management conditions where the alfalfa is constantly pounded on," Guldan said.

Visitors will also view plots that show how to use row covers and black plastic mulch to speed up maturation of vegetables such as sweet corn, squash, and pumpkins. The mulch technique also traps moisture in the plot, allowing growers to conserve water, Guldan said.

Other highlights include a chile plot with more than 20 different varieties, plus talks on bull testing, small livestock production, asparagus production, and research on acequias and ground water.

The field day and lunch at the center is free for the general public. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch from 12 to 12:30 p.m., and workshops and tours from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.