- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The primary focus of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis is to “serve the people of the area first,” which means there is a lot of acreage devoted to conducting variety trials of sorghum, wheat, and corn, according to Superintendent Abdel Mesbah.

While the trials include determining the varieties with the best yields for the year’s conditions, the center is also looking toward the future of farming in the area, which crop physiologist Sangu Angadi predicts will show many farmers shifting from irrigated to dryland farming.

To stay ahead of farming practices in drought conditions, the center is in the process of hiring new staff and experimenting with dryland crops.

Mesbah said in less than a month the ag science center will have a new staff member whose sole focus will be to research dryland production and limited irrigation cropping systems on the High Plains.

“We don’t have a lot of water,” Mesbah said. “We need to use the little bit of water that we have in an efficient way to produce a crop.”

And Angadi is experimenting with drought-tolerant, high-demand crops like canola and guar, as well as emerging nutritional powerhouses such as quinoa, amaranth, and sesame.

Angadi said canola, a dryland crop that is processed for oil and livestock forage, has hit a peak of interest from local farmers thanks to the opening of a new canola processing plant in Lubbock, and a recent trial at the center in which canola out-yielded wheat.

“A few farmers will be trying dryland canola this year,” Angadi said. “So that is a big eye-opener for us. Dryland canola fits in our rotation in such a way that it’s not just the canola that gives you profitability, it will increase the yield of wheat crops.”

Angadi said guar, a $3 billion market, is heavily used in the natural gas exploration hydraulic fracturing “fracking” process.

The guar endosperm is processed into guar gum, which increases water viscosity and results in a significant increase of oil and natural gas flow.

“Most of it is imported,” Angadi said. “So we want to grow at least a good part of it in the High Plains where it really fits.”

“If a decent number of farmers start growing it here they can open a plant right in Clovis where the farmers can deliver it — and that makes it a lot easier for the farmer,” Angadi continued. “And that will happen. It almost happened four or five years back when prices went up, and this time there is a lot of interest and it will happen, I feel.”

Angadi is also growing small plots of quinoa and amaranth, which are nutritionally dense dryland crops.

Due to heavy interest in quinoa from developed countries, many native growers are ending up deprived of their traditional food source, Angadi explained.

“They are making some money, and that is a good thing, but they should not send all of their food to America and then starve themselves,” Angadi said. “We want to see whether we can grow part of the supply here.”

Angadi said amaranth was grown in the area by Native Americans as a nutritional source for thousands of years before settlers banned the practice. But the weed is making a comeback due to its protein profile, which Angadi said is “perfect among any plants that we eat or grow.”

“Many NGOs are using amaranth to reduce malnutrition in Africa because it is easy to grow, and it has the potential to reduce malnutrition,” Angadi said. “You can use the seed and leaf, basically you can use the whole plant.”

Although the plant related to pigweed is not in rotation with farmers due to its herbicide resistance, Mesbah said perceptions could change if the plant became a profitable crop by itself.

“All of our crops were at one point weeds that we just hadn’t touched,” Mesbah said.

Researchers will be discussing alternative crops, weed management, and insect pest management, as well as taking people on tours of the farm, at the annual field day set for 8 a.m. on Aug. 7 at the ag science center.

“The purpose of this event is to bring farmers, dairy producers, industry people, extension educators and the NMSU researchers together to visit and interact with each other, share ideas and opinions about different cultural practices,” Mesbah wrote in a release. “Seeing is believing is another purpose of the field day, during which everybody will have the opportunity to visit the ongoing research plots and see first-hand what works and what doesn’t.”

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(c)2015 the Clovis News Journal (Clovis, N.M.)

Visit the Clovis News Journal (Clovis, N.M.) at www.cnjonline.com

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