Experimenting with new crop varieties adds to the many risks farmers already face, according to experts at Utah State University. USU research farms throughout the state are working with farmers to eliminate risks by creating a more efficient food system.
Researchers at USU Extension invite farmers, businesses, government agencies and bankers to Blue Creek Farm for field days. Located just 15 miles west of Tremonton, the research farm is surrounded by rolling hills of wheat and other crops.
“My specialty is safflower,” said Mike Pace, an extension professor in Box Elder County. “We do a lot with safflower and looking at variety trials, nutrient and fertilizer trials, working with dormant seeding.”
Pace said his research along with others are important to local farmers because they develop crops resistant to pests, weather and disease.
“It’s vital,” Pace said. “I say it’s vital because when you look at what’s being done, we’re able to do things that hopefully are going to make sense to growers before they do it. We can do that here, make sure it works here before we recommend it. Some of these trials are three, five, 10 years long before we have enough confidence to be able to recommend those to the growers.”
The research is so important to local farmers, a group of them near Blue Creek donated money in 1966 to buy 40 acres of land for the original research farm. Since then 50 acres have been added.
“About the time I started working here, they got what they call smut in the wheat,” said Ray Cartee, a USU researcher, who started managing the farm in 1972. “It’s a disease that replaces the kernels in the head with black kernels. It stinks like dead fish and it’s a black smoke when they harvest it. It’s completely not marketable. The only thing that they can sell it as is livestock feed and they really don’t like that. It was to the stage where a guy’s crop was 50-60 percent smut.”
Researchers were able to develop a wheat variety called Bridger that was resistant to smut, according to Cartee. It only lasted a few years before the microorganisms adapted to the new variety, resulting in diseased wheat. After trial and error, another wheat variety called Manning was developed and still works to this day.
“That saved the wheat industry in northern Utah and other parts of southern Idaho,” Cartee said.
Cartee said farmers face new challenges every year, but working together farmers and researchers can stay one step ahead in a fast-paced and ever-changing agriculture system.