New Mexico, USA
January 30, 2012
In many parts of the country, there has traditionally been a period between fall harvest and spring planting when farmers - at least those without livestock - got a bit of a break. Maybe they repaired their tools and machinery, or worked on construction projects. Maybe they got caught up on bookkeeping - or even their sleep. In recent times, many put in extra hours at their "day jobs." But they didn't necessarily spend much time in the field.
Things are different in parts of the country where the winters aren't too harsh and green plants are seen all year long.
There is certainly no winter down time at New Mexico State University's 200-acre Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center south of Las Cruces, where research is conducted on about a dozen crops and where this year's winter onions went in the ground before last year's cotton and pecan crops were harvested.
In addition to pecans, cotton and onions, a January visitor to the science center can find lettuce and spinach growing in hoop houses near the farm's headquarters, and oats sprouting up as a cover crop in several fields. In addition to space for crops, the facility offers greenhouse space and microplots for research on weeds, nematodes and other crop threats.
Leyendecker is one of a dozen NMSU agricultural science centers located around the state where research is conducted on crops, livestock, rangeland, trees and agricultural pests. The LPSRC is also home to the state's official seed quality certification agency and the "Noxious Weed Free Certification Program" that helps prevent the spread of weeds in hay and mulch.
Leyendecker's location-specific mission is to serve "the needs of irrigated agriculture in south-central and southwest New Mexico," but its impact is statewide, according to Tracey Carrillo, assistant director of campus farm operations.
"One of the primary missions of Leyendecker is to serve as a focal point for the state of New Mexico in developing research projects that will enhance the productivity for farmers throughout the state," he said. "A lot of what we do out here has a ripple effect on the state's economy."
NMSU's science centers play a large role in the university's goal of becoming the economic engine for the state.
Faculty researchers at LPSRC represent a number of departments in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, including Plant and Environmental Sciences; Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science; Extension Plant Sciences; and Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business. Many of the projects incorporate graduate and undergraduates students in the research.
Much of the research involves genetic analysis and breeding projects related to various field crops and vegetables. Other investigations focus on controlling insects, weeds, nematodes and diseases that threaten crops and horticultural plants.
Leyendecker farm manager Mark Pacheco has responsibility for day-to-day operations at the LPSRC, as well as for the Fabian Garcia Science Center near the Las Cruces campus. He says the seven full-time staff members and two part-time students on his Leyendecker field crew have kept very busy so far this year on harvesting, weed control, field preparation and planting.
Field preparation is taking place on a daily basis this time of year. On much of the farm, research and final harvesting have been completed on crops such as chile, alfalfa, Sudan grass, cotton and cow peas, and the fields are being worked up for next year's planting.
Healthy field maintenance is a top priority at the farm. In addition to typical crop rotation, which limits the number of years a crop is planted in a particular field, the use of nitrogen-fixing or "green manure" crops is employed. Some of the Sudan grass and alfalfa on the farm is not directly involved in research, but rather in soil preparation, with the added advantage that the cuttings generate some income to support farm operations. Sudan grass and alfalfa also function to mitigate the weed population in the fields.
One field near the north end of the farm was in transition recently from Sudan grass to research on intermediate-day and long-day onions.
"We get two cuts of Sudan out if it to benefit the farm," said Pacheco. "What we do after we've taken that second cut out, before that first frost, is we come in and disk it up and just start killing it down. The reason we rotate the Sudan is so we can add some organic matter to the soil, but at the same time the Sudan balances out all the fertilizer treatments that have been put on this field."
After letting the Sudan grass dry out, Pacheco says they disk it under, following up with a series of soil treatments with various field implements, including chisel plows, disks, and a multi-function "land float" that further breaks up clods, helps to level the field and packs the earth with a solid roller. Additional disking and laser leveling then create a flat and even surface.
Based on soil analysis, they apply appropriate fertilizer and then use a lister, aided by an application of water, to begin shaping the beds. Finally they use a bed shaper with a roto-mulcher to remove clods and fluff up the soil as they create the flat planting surface of the rows and the irrigation channels between them.
With such meticulous preparation, planting the actual onions almost seems like an afterthought.
Beyond the outdoor work taking place at Leyendecker this winter, there is also building maintenance and remodeling at the facility. Carrillo says that one room in a lab building is being converted into a biodiesel production facility where used cooking oil will be converted into diesel fuel. The room will also house tanks for an inland shrimp production project.
To keep agricultural producers and commodity groups informed of research developments at Leyendecker, the facility hosts annual onion, chile and pecan field days.
A broader centennial field day at Leyendecker is in the works for 2012, according to Carrillo, who heads up a university-wide planning committee that began meeting late last year. The Aug. 25 event will tie in with New Mexico's centennial activities and will also celebrate the sesquicentennial of the 1862 Morrill Act that led to the creation of the nation's land-grant universities.
The all-day celebration will attract producers, students and the general public as it highlights NMSU's place in the state's history and showcases NMSU research being done at the facility, on campus and around New Mexico.