The fields at Colorado State Universitys Southwestern Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket look like a patchwork quilt, spread across the fertile soil of the Four Corners. From beans and wheat, to sunflowers and fruit trees, each new plot tells the story of agriculture in Montezuma and Dolores counties.
On Thursday, nearly 60 farmers and ranchers from around the area gathered at the research center to participate in the centers biennial field day. Participants visited the center to hear a little more about the research underway at the farm and how recent results impact regional agriculture.
We have the field day to show people what we do, said center Manager Abdel Berrada. We want people to know that we are a resource here that they can use and the research we do will benefit them as they grow crops in Southwest Colorado.
The research center opened in 1962 to study management of dryland soils and crops. At the time, the emphasis was on the production of pinto beans, winter wheat and soil and water conservation. Today, the farm features 158 acres and is home to the highest-altitude fruit tree research and demonstration project in the world.
Guest speakers at the field day touched on every major crop the center researches, discussing growing patterns, field management and, most importantly, water.
Being able to understand soil moisture is critical to the success of your crops, said Larry Kawanabe, an irrigation water management specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Kawanabe, along with Denis Reich, a water specialist with the Colorado State Extension Office, spent the first part of the morning discussing water management with producers, including tools for measuring soil moisture.
Soil moisture is critical because it informs how much water a producer needs to put on crops. If the soil is saturated, less irrigation is needed than if the soil is parched. Kawanabe showed off a number of probes used for soil moisture tests, and discussed methods by which producers can estimate soil moisture by feel and appearance.
You will get to a point where you can take up a handful of soil and know what your crops need, Kawanabe said. You will learn what is best.
Matt Hammond, a district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, addressed producers, introducing a number of methods used by game officials to prevent, or minimize, crop damage.
The farms here are in the habitat range, Hammond said. Without the private property in this area, we wouldnt have deer and elk. We want to be partners with you so we can prevent damage and manage the animals.
Hammond discussed techniques such as a propane cannon and a fuse rope with M-80 explosives spaced along the length, both of which are designed to frighten animals out of fields, as well as new types of biofencing designed to prevent elk and deer from entering fields.
Hammond also showed off cracker shells, used in 12-gauge shotguns, which make a sound similar to a dud firework. The shells are not highly effective, Hammond said, but do allow producers to take out their frustrations on the animals.
At the bean plot, Mark Brick, a Colorado State University professor of plant breeding and genetics, discussed a number of experiments at the center, including trying for an upright bean instead of a vine-based bean, as well as doubling up on rows to increase productivity.
Participants at the field day came for a variety of reasons and found the information available benefits large and small producers.
We have a small organic garden, nothing on the scale of everyone else here, said Danny Jackson, of Cortez. But all the information here applies to us, also. We are learning a lot.
Jim Naylor, from Tucson, Ariz., owns farm acreage in the area and said he comes to the field day because the work that is done at the center is critical to area producers.
I come to see if I can pick up some information, Naylor said. They are doing some really neat work here.
CSU Montezuma County Extension Office Agent Tom Hooten said the centers field day allows area producers to learn from the mistakes and success of the center and then duplicate the results in their own fields.
It is extremely fortunate we still have a research station in Southwest Colorado, Hooten said. The crop improvements that happen here benefit the lives of the producers in their region and, in turn, help improve their cash flow. This is a remarkable resource for all our producers.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at email@example.com.