UNL ‘lab’ seeks water answers

Water management is vital to farming the arid regions of western Nebraska. University of Nebraska researchers hope that the addition of a 1,280-acre West Central Water Resources Field Lab near Brule will help them find answers to the questions farmers and ranchers need to know.

At a glance

• UNL farm will investigate crops under limited irrigation.

• Research is geared to conserving water in western Nebraska.

• The farm has two pivot quarters and two dryland quarters.


“We really hope we can help producers in the selection of cropping systems, and put those together into the best economic system with the best water management and fertility,” says Robert Klein, western Nebraska crops specialist at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.

“The laboratory gives us an opportunity to continue to research methods to use water more efficiently while being most profitable,” says Don Adams, director of the North Platte center and associate dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.

The university purchased the land near Brule in December 2006 from Ron Grapes, a landowner from Kearney.

The field laboratory will look at both livestock and cropping systems under limited water management.

Land more typical of western Nebraska has been a fervent wish of researchers there for years.

Klein says the experiment station at North Platte is good for small plot work, but annual rainfall decreases an inch for every 25 miles you go west across Nebraska. Brule’s 16.5 inches of annual rainfall is more typical of irrigated western Nebraska than North Platte’s 19.5 inches.

Also, the station is increasingly surrounded by a sprawling North Platte, and there is danger of losing land.

The field laboratory is divided into two full-section parcels, one south of Brule, the other north. The parcels will be used for both livestock and cropping systems under different types of limited water management.

The south farm contains two pivots that were planted to corn in 2009, according to Klein. The stalks on one pivot are being used in a grazing study that started last year. The other pivot will be used for nutrient management issues, including variable-rate work on the field’s different soil types.

A third pivot is half corn and half cool-season grass for forage and grazing research. The fourth quarter in this section is dryland grass.

The north farm consists of two pivot quarters and two dryland quarters. The crops on the two pivots are planted in circles so that different pivot sections can deliver different amounts of water.

Klein says some of the irrigated crop area is being used for population studies and comparison of varying water rates. Yield performance of different hybrids under limited water situations also is being evaluated.

In cooperation with Monsanto, drought-tolerant hybrids were evaluated along with Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax hybrids. The farm also had wheat variety trials and skip-row corn.

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MONITORING WEATHER FACTORS: Bob Klein, UNL crops specialist, is shown near a weather station at the Brule field lab.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.