New lab improves research capabilities

Site offers both livestock and cropping systems research under limited types of water management

Water is one of Nebraska's most valuable natural resources.

The West Central Water Resources Field Laboratory near Brule will help University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers, faculty, staff and students conduct research and demonstrations and teach water conserving methods in cropping and livestock systems of western Nebraska.

"The laboratory gives us an opportunity to continue to look for methods and to use water most efficiently while being most profitable," said Don Adams, director of UNL's West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte and associate dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. "One of the things a little different with this field laboratory is that we've got both livestock and cropping systems under limited types of water management."

Since purchasing the 1,280 acre farm for the laboratory in 2007, UNL has begun several research projects.

Simon van Donk, UNL irrigation/water resources specialist, and Aaron Stalker, UNL range beef specialist, both at the WCREC, are working on corn stalk grazing research that addresses how corn residue grazing and baling impact sustainability and profitability of crop and livestock producers.

Another trial, which begins next spring, will focus on irrigated pasture management for cattle. Jerry Volesky, UNL range specialist and Rick Funston, UNL beef cattle reproductive physiologist, both at the WCREC, are working on this.

Researchers also have initiated work with a couple of seed companies in which trials will look at drought tolerant corn varieties.

This will be the third year for wheat variety trials and second year for skip row trials on the farm. Bob Klein, UNL western Nebraska crops specialist at the WCREC, works on both these projects.

Researchers also are getting ready to do site-specific nutrient management research.

The farm went through extensive infrastructure work to get ready for the various projects, Adams said.

"With water being one of the state's most valuable natural resources, the lab will help farmers and policy makers learn and see irrigation practices and cropping systems on a farm scale that maintains or increases crop production while conserving water," Adams said.

The land is in an area of the state where there is lower precipitation. It allows for research and demonstration on land with soils that are similar to those covering a large area of southwest and south central Nebraska and near the Upper and Middle Republican Natural Resource Districts where farmers already face limits on water use.

Graduate student projects also are underway and NCTA students are involved on the farm.

This article, written by Sandy Alswager Karstens, originally appeared in the UNL Agricultural Research Division's publication "Science for Life"