Demand for corn has generated interest in the production of the crop in additional areas of this country and elsewhere in the world. In Lovelock, Nev., a face familiar to many farmers throughout western Ohio and some of eastern Indiana is helping guide farmers to produce the feed grain for dairy cattle consumption in Nevada. Steve Foster, Pershing County Extension Educator for the University of Nevada, guided field research this past summer to help determine the economic viability of growing corn in the desert. The area is located on Interstate 80, less than two hours north of Reno.
Foster, formerly the ag extension agent in Darke County, Ohio, just completed his fourth summer working with farmers who had previously concentrated on irrigated alfalfa, which was usually rotated with wheat when stands thinned. The growth of dairies in a nearby county and the construction of a milk processing facility has presented crop farmers with an attractive market for corn. With prices topping $8 and the cost of freighting grain from Iowa, a number of producers acquired the necessary equipment to plant and harvest corn.
Over 300 acres was tracked, with Foster recording data for 11 corn hybrids. With the lack of grain drying and handling facilities, farmers are interested in determining the best relative maturities for the region so that corn can be harvested at 15 percent moisture and hauled directly to dairies located about an hour away. Foster recorded growth rates, moisture content, yields, production costs and other factors to compare with alfalfa, the main local crop.
According to Foster, sunny days and cool nights in the area and on-demand irrigation provide good corn conditions. In the Corn Belt, we mostly rely on natural precipitation, which leaves us more vulnerable to extreme weather including this year’s drought. The Rye Patch Reservoir in Pershing County supplied adequate irrigation for local crops in 2012, despite drought conditions. Annual irrigation allotment and crops depend on the winter snowpack and spring run-off upstream. Steve is in a good position to track water availability since he works closely with the reservoir manager. In addition, his mountainside home is a couple of miles above the water body in open range country. For us Midwesterners, that means you need to fence free grazing cattle out of your yard.
Ohio State University Extension Field Agronomist Harold Watters recently joined Foster in a meeting where corn production basics were discussed and Lovelock area production results were shared with interested farmers.
Foster reported that irrigation water used for the test crop was close to the water allotment for the season. Fortunately, the dense canopy of corn leaves helped conserve soil moisture, enabling the farmers to produce an excellent crop with their allotted 2.8 acre per feet of water. The best hybrid yielded 240 bushels per acre with the overall plot average of 216 bushels per acre.
Irrigation eased the application of nitrogen (N), with about 164 units of N applied when the crop needed it the most. Foster indicated to the farmers additional savings on production may be in tissue testing for nitrogen needs, since the corn crop follows numerous years of irrigated alfalfa production.
Pests included aphids, corn earworm, mites and birds, but there were also beneficial insects like ladybugs, which kept the aphid populations in check, much like generally happens in the Midwest.
Watters was on hand to discuss general corn production principles, with a focus on weed control. Weeds in the Nevada plots included purslane, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, morning glory, leftover alfalfa, and little or no cheatgrass, which required minimal herbicide. One application (of herbicide) saved them a lot of money, with only 40 ounces of glysophate and one pint of 2-4D used. Watters’ well received presentation reviewed weed control principles essential to avoid the development of resistant species.
One farmer in attendance at the corn production meeting was quoted in the local paper saying, “I think it needs to be noted that Steve is one the best extension agents we’ve ever had,” he said after Foster’s corn talk. “We need people like him- he’s outgoing, energized and good for this community.”
Readers with questions or comments for Roger Bender may write to him in care of this publication.