By Cassidy Pate, Correspondent
The Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Blackland Research & Extension Center held its second Field Day in approximately 30 years on Thursday. Geared towards farmers, ranchers and conservationists, those in attendance were led on a tour of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grassland, Soil, and Water Research Laboratory.
Following the welcome assembly, attendees were led on a field research and GSRWL tour. Throughout the tours, various Blackland, Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) and Agri and Consumer Service (ACRS) employees spoke on what they have done in the past, what they are doing now and how their current experiments will benefit the future of agricultural practices.
Bill Fox, associate professor at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Blackland Research & Extension Center, spoke on behalf of grassland prairies, as well as the different uses of prairies, such as being a water source. His dominant portrayal was the idea that although we cannot go back to the old way of agriculture, we can preserve, improve and increase biodiversity.
“The research that we’re doing here is going to develop and hopefully inform the potential that landowners can then take and examine to see whether it fits their needs, to see whether it fits their desires and perhaps implement,” Fox said.
Research ecologist H. Wayne Polley then spoke on his experience with remote sensing using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to fly over vegetation with a multispectral censor, which measures in five wave bands, attached to it for the purpose of monitoring, management and prediction.
Remote sensing is beneficial because it non-invasively changes the perspective of what one’s land looks like and allows for expansion on a special scale, or seeing things the naked eye cannot see, Polley said.
Jim Kiniry, research economist with NRCS, has been experimenting with eastern gamagrass and its allowance for a high quality native forage grass production. The audience seemed interested in this lecture because this particular type of grass can grow in flooded soils and is safe for wildlife, for deer, turkey and quail can eat its seeds.
Research soil economist Hal Collins first briefed attendees on why Field Day is important, which is that it provides the public with an inside look on what their work has the potential to do for agriculture’s future, as well as why locally grown decreases the transportation cost of agriculture.
As such, Collins then gave an update on his yearlong safflower production trials, which have produced 700 pound per acre thus far and added that it has potential to create a cottage industry, or a homegrown process.
Doug Smith, research soil scientist, and Chad Hajda, agricultural science research technician, discussed precision fertilizing and planting and the technologies they are using to assist their trials. With auto steering tractors and strip-till farming, Smith and Hajda have been able to depict the exact location where the down force is applied, where each seeds is dropped and where it lands.
“We’re trying to plant at different speeds [5 mph, 7 mph, 10 mph]; some of the benefits of using these technologies is that you may be able to drive quicker through here, through your fields,” Smith said.
These improvements have made fertilizing and planting a more efficient, accurate, provided farmers with decision making tools and have the ability to save seed cost and gain yield all at the same time.
The final field tour was conducted in front of the wheat, oat and barley variety trial land wherein Lyle Zoeller, Bell County Extension Agent for agriculture, spoke on the different types of wheat, oat and barley featured on the Blackland prairie. Zoeller focused in on the importance of discovering the better types of each category in order to increase production.
Attendees were then driven back to Blackland’s facilities where John Sackett, resource soil scientist, gave a soil health and rainfall infiltration demonstration. In doing so, Sackett illustrated the power of water coverage and keeping said water in the soil.
The group was led inside to hear Buddy Fulkenberry, engineering technician, Chris Holle, cartographic technician and Rick Haney, research soil scientist, describe the technological innovations that are improving the soil industry in the Soil Health Laboratory. Fulkenberry and his fellow lab technicians are given soil samples from various farmers and are able to disclose the possible success or failure of farming with it.
These men are constantly constructing and improving the technology in order to keep up with both the technology and agricultural industries.
Last but not least, Patty Benoit, reporter for the Temple Daily Telegram, wrapped up the day with a lecture entitled “The $5,000 Historical Gamble: Ag Research Reaps Gold from Green.” Within her presentation, Benoit discussed the history behind the Blackland Research & Extension Center and the lengths Temple, TX had to go to acquire it.
“It doesn’t really matter what agriculture means to you…the fact that an experimental station has provided scientifically sound advice throughout Central Texas is demonstrated time and time again,” Benoit said. “…there’s always something that you can learn out here, and I love coming out here.”