Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - Farmers and gardeners can learn about drip irrigation, native grasses and crop varieties suited to the semiarid Four Corners during a July 30 field day at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington.
"San Juan County ranks second statewide in irrigated cropland, so water issues are the backdrop of everything we do," said Mick O'Neill, center superintendent. "This is an opportunity to see our research firsthand and learn the best ways to grow crops, turfgrass and xeric plants in this area."
Presentations and tours will highlight drip irrigation, including a corn research plot equipped with subsurface drip and nitrogen injection systems, O'Neill said.
"We're measuring water and nitrogen needs for corn to determine the best application rates for growers," O'Neill said. "The nitrogen injection system is solar powered, so growers can use it in rural areas that lack power lines."
Participants will also tour a poplar plot irrigated with a surface drip system. "We've had problems with gophers chewing at subsurface drip lines, so surface systems can provide an alternative that resolves the gopher problem while still efficiently irrigating crops," O'Neill said.
The poplar research is a joint project with the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI), which plans to supply trees to Western Excelsior Corporation, a Colorado-based wood-processing company. Researchers have tested nearly two-dozen hybrid poplar varieties to see which ones will grow in the region's semiarid, alkaline soils, O'Neill said.
Weed control specialist Rick Arnold will offer tours of corn, dry bean and sunflower plots where he is testing herbicide mixtures to help local growers better control weeds. Arnold will also show native and nonnative grasses that he's studying for reclamation of disturbed land at gas and oil well sites.
"We're testing about 35 grasses at sites from Farmington to Chama," O'Neill said. "We want the best-growing grasses that are palatable for livestock and wildlife."
Forage specialist Leonard Lauriault, state agronomist Denise McWilliams and onion breeder Chris Cramer will give updates on alfalfa, corn and onion variety trials, respectively. "We're the regional testing site to see which crop varieties fit into the local environment," O'Neill said. "We've tested more than 1,000 crop and horticulture varieties since this center began operating in 1966."
Turfgrass specialist Bernd Leinauer will discuss irrigation requirements for about 30 different cool and warm season grasses that have been tested at the center.
Horticulturist Curtis Smith will host a tour of the center's xeric demonstration garden, which contains about 90 native species. The garden is divided into four sections with identical species. The center is irrigating three of the sections at different levels while providing no water in the fourth section to evaluate water requirements for each species and compile irrigation recommendations, O'Neill said.
State climatologist Ted Sammis will show the center's weather station and explain how it fits into the statewide weather network.
Deborah A. Muenchrath, an agronomist from Iowa State University, will discuss a new joint project with NMSU to study the growth characteristics and genetic makeup of 150 Indian corn varieties. "We want to see if any of these varieties have drought tolerant genes that could be spliced or bred into commercial corn," O'Neill said.
The field day is free. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Tours are from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a barbecue lunch. State Rep. Ray Begaye, Farmington Mayor William Standley and Jerry Schickedanz, dean of NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, will speak at 12:45 p.m.
For more information, call the San Juan County Cooperative Extension Service office at (505) 334-9496 or the science center at (505) 327-7757. If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, please call the center in advance.
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