UW studies how producers can best use land, crops devastated by hail
Mother Nature planted seeds that turbulent evening of July 27 for the Oct. 18 producer hail field day at the University of Wyoming research center near Lingle.
Strong winds flung dime-sized hail ringing against the metal shop Kelly Greenwald and her sons took shelter in near Lingle that July evening.
Fifteen minutes of assault left a 2-inch blanket of hail, and they worked to alleviate flooding from swollen irrigation ditches overflowing from rain. The Greenwald’s crops, just across the road north of the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), were a total loss, as were those at the center.
“We knew the amount of damage immediately,” said Greenwald, who works at SAREC.
The storm devastated crops along the north-to-southeast track starting north of Lingle, sideswiping Yoder and then veering toward LaGrange, but not to the extent just southwest of the small Goshen County town.
Phones started ringing at SAREC as producers began asking how best to manage corn in the fields, and livestock specialist Steve Paisley fielded queries about what forage crop to plant to make up the feed loss for livestock.
“We really didn’t have wonderful answers to give them,” said Carrie Eberle, a systems agronomist at SAREC, who organized the Oct. 18 field day.
So Eberle, Paisley and SAREC director John Tanaka talked with the center’s farm crew about the types of research needed, how the farm could accommodate the studies, and asked local producers what they would like to see.
Four corn management and six fall crop options are being studied to determine the most economically viable and sustainable hail response. Farmers took to the fields during the field day to see the ongoing studies.
“We can say don’t plant sorghum Sudangrass after Aug. 18,” said Paisley, standing with producers in the fallow crop plots. “We really didn’t get any production at all, just too late in the season for the summer annual to take off.”
The wheat, rye and triticale look great, he said. Paisley is curious if the traditional rye is more winter hardy, produces forage longer into winter and greens up earlier in spring.
The standing corn was not worth cutting for silage. Assistant farm manager Larry Miller snapped an ear from a storm-dwarfed cornstalk during the tour. About three inches of yellow kernels showed.
“The cost was far and above more than the value of any feed from the corn, Paisley said.
As a test, crews chopped about 2 tons per acre compared to an average 8 to 9 tons. Corn silage cost about $48 a ton at the time of the field day.
“If we put the corn up, it would be $98 per ton,” said Paisley. “That’s the cost of trying to capture what we have out there.”
Eberle said producer questions helped motivate the studies, but SAREC also has livestock, and their corn, the winter feed source, was gone. They also needed to know how best to manage crop ground bared by hail.
“We’re trying to cover all those areas and get a complete picture of how the different treatments work together,” she said. “What might a grower’s options be who doesn’t have livestock compared to a grower with cattle or who wanted to cut for hay?”
Preliminary data might be available in time for next summer’s SAREC field day. Final data probably won’t be available to producers until winter 2018.
Eberle understands that timeline might frustrate producers.
Getting immediate answers just isn’t possible, she said, but the value producers will get out of the studies will be worth waiting for.
She added, “It’s better for us to investigate doing something that’s not going to work and let you know than have producers try something that’s not going to work and you have to wait a year before realizing it’s a mistake.”