Greenville Research Farm
Research and History
Grasses, legumes, cereal grains, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants are bred and evaluated at the Greenville Research Farm in North Logan. The site was established for research in irrigated agriculture more than 100 years ago. Building on a history of developments in plant breeding, scientists continue to provide growers with new high quality, disease-resistant wheat and barley varieties. Researchers also use the site to study landscape plants, including turfgrasses, in efforts to help Utahns and others living in high desert climates to make wise use of limited water resources.
Breeding and evaluation of sustainable winter barley cultivars for feed and malting
Project Lead: David HoleAs water demands increase, and available irrigation water supplies stay constant or decline in Utah, barley production systems will need to adapt to earlier maturity and to make use of winter precipitation and early spring moisture.Winter barley is poised to allow such a shift, as it can mature earlier and allow growers to focus equipment, labor, and water resources on other crops, such as hay, later in the summer season. Because both environmental stresses and diseases and insects differ markedly between geographical areas, it is important to develop cultivars that perform particularly well in a given production area. In addition, as management practices change to become more sustainable, plant breeding must continually shift emphases to develop adapted material for current and future production systems. Food safety and food nutrition requirements also change with increased knowledge, and plant breeding is responsible for providing cultivars to meet the needs of increasingly more sophisticated consumers and allied industries. Plant breeders are tasked with development of these improved cultivars to meet the agronomic needs of local producers; cereal chemistry and rheology needs of the industries that processes these grains; and safety and nutrition needs of the consumers who purchase and feed their families with them. In addition to the direct research, the value of including undergraduate and graduate students as part of building and maintaining capacity in plant breeding and genetics should not be undervalued. Conventional and genomic breeding of improved cultivars will result in new cultivars released for acceptance by stakeholders including farmers and the feed and malting industries.
Development and testing wheat cultivars and germplasm for changing environments
Project Lead: David Hole
Plant breeding is a long-term research project. Because both biotic and abiotic stresses differ markedly between geographical areas, genotype by environment interactions can be exploited to develop cultivars that perform particularly well in a given production area. In addition, as management practices change to become more sustainable, plant breeding must continually shift emphases to develop adapted material for current and future production systems. Food safety and food nutrition requirements also change with increased knowledge, and plant breeding is responsible for providing cultivars to meet the needs of increasingly more sophisticated consumers and allied industries. Plant breeders are tasked with development of these improved cultivars to meet the agronomic needs of local producers; cereal chemistry and rheology needs of the industries that processes these grains; and safety and nutrition needs of the consumers who purchase and feed their families with them. In addition to the direct research, the value of including undergraduate and graduate students as part of building and maintaining capacity in plant breeding and genetics should not be undervalued. Long range sustainability of U.S. agriculture will be enhanced by providing breeders with both the germplasm and the reliable selection tools to allow incorporation of resistance genes for common bunt and dwarf bunt in adapted cultivars. This project will also incorporate training field-based breeders by integrating undergraduate and graduate students funded by this project into ongoing productive plant breeding programs in Utah. As race changes occur in the disease organisms, identification of new resistance genes in critical. Previous screening of winter wheat accessions in the National Plant Germplasm System has identified a number of extremely resistant lines that contain previously unidentified and un-utilized resistance. We do not know, however, if these lines incorporate new combinations of previously identified genes, or if they contain novel, previously unidentified, genes. It will be vital to characterize novel genes for resistance that are available in the National Small Grains Collection (part of the National Plant Germplasm Collection). It is important to continue screening the National Small Grains Collection for winter wheat accessions to identify novel sources of resistance to both common bunt and dwarf bunt.
Optimizing inputs for forages and field crops in Utah
Project Lead: Earl Creech
In order to remain economically viable, Utah’s agricultural producers are faced with the need to optimize crop inputs to maximize profits. Crop response to management can vary due to climate, geography, soils, pest problems, field history, and other factors; therefore, research to generate management recommendations on crop inputs for Utah farmers and ranchers is most relevant if conducted within the state. Moreover, the dynamic nature of input costs, commodity prices, technology, equipment, production practices, and crop genetics warrants ongoing research to maximize production efficiency and returns. Field experiments will be conducted in fields of Utah growers to generate the information necessary for Utah agricultural producers to make management decisions regarding crop inputs on their operations. Specifically, research experiments will be conducted to 1) characterize the effect of cover crops and compost carryover on wheat yield and quality, and 2) evaluate strategies for integrating legumes into existing grass pastures in Utah. As a result of this project, we expect farmers, crop advisors, and other participants will increase their knowledge and awareness of new corn and alfalfa management tecniques that can improve profitability. We also anticipate that a change in action of some participants will occur as they adopt the techniques and methods they have learned.
Employing Forage Legumes to Improve the Sustainability of Ruminant Production
Project Lead: Jennifer MacAdam
The long-term goal of this project is to improve the profitability of Utah livestock producers, reduce the negative environmental impact of ruminant production and increase the food security of residents of Utah and the northern Mountain West. Beef and dairy production account for a large proportion of Utah's agricultural output. Feed costs are the most expensive input for livestock operations, and the efficiency of feed use can have a significant effect on both the profitability of a livestock operation and its environmental impact. Western livestock producers can increase the productivity of privately owned land by increasing the use of legumes, particularly those that can be grazed without fear of bloat. They can also increase the profitability of livestock production by marketing natural or organic meat directly to the high concentration of urban residents and restaurants.
How does inter-population variability affect the outcome of plant-insect interactions: the case of alfalfa and the Melissa blue buttefly
Project Lead: Zachariah Gompert
"Crop pests negatively impact agricultural productivity and threaten global food security. Herbivorous insects often specialize on an narrow range of host plants. Novel pests can emerge when insects expand their host range to include crop species. Thus, understanding how and why insects colonize and adapt to novel crop hosts is useful for ensuring long-term food security. The proposed research investigates the colonization of alfalfa by the Melissa blue butterfly as a model to understand this process. Our primary goal is to determine how variation in insect and crop (plant) species affects the likelihood of host expansion. In other words, we want to know whether interactions between insect and plant species are consistent or depend on the specific populations, varieties or individuals involved. At present, the paucity of data on variation is a substantial gap in our understanding of plant-insect interactions, and limits our ability to predict the outcomes of these associations.
Success of the project will be assessed quarterly. Key milestones include completing initial surveys of genetic and trait variation in alfalfa and Melissa blue butterfly populations, conducting caterpillar rearing experiments, analyzing the genetic data (linking genetic data to trait data), and disseminating the knowledge gained through open-access peer-reviewed publications. By reaching these milestones, the project will (1) show how variation among crop and insect populations or varieties affects the probability that an insect will shift onto a new crop species, and (2) transfer this knowledge to our target audience."
A Framework to Develop New Approaches for Managing Invasive Plants in Natural and Agricultural Systems of UTAH
Project Lead: Steve Young
"One of the biggest and most complex problems facing society today is the issue of invasive plants. While the general public may not view invasive plants as a threat or even a problem, their importance is well documented scientifically and their impacts on society (health risks), economies (production systems), and the environment (loss of diversity) are staggering. Invasive plants can establish in diverse environments, and, with the increase in human mobility, they are no longer restricted to isolated pockets in remote locations. Cheatgrass in rangelands, purple loosestrife in wetlands, and tamarisk in riparian areas are examples of invasive plants that are common to Utah and can be found in monocultures and patches covering a few to many thousands of acres. Other invasive plants, such as kochia, field bindweed, and prickly lettuce, have developed a tolerance to single tactic approaches in agro-ecosystems. Invasive plants can reduce water flow, alter fire regimes, and limit yields while costing thousands of dollars in control and lost productivity.
While the effects of invasive plants can be devastating, the approach taken for management is often without considering the underlying mechanisms; this prevents successful control of these species at larger scales. Invasive plants continue to consume more area, which threaten the sustainability of plant, animal, insect, soil nutrient, and - ultimately - human systems. The goal of my project is to understand the underlying mechanisms of how and why invasive plants exist, where they exist, and the conditions in which they exist using an invasion factor framework. As new knowledge is generated, its application to natural- and agro-ecosystems will allow for the development of more sustainable strategies for managing and maintaining important natural resources. Through plant competition studies, my project will be addressing the factors of ecosystem resistance, invader fitness, and climate dynamics that are fundamental in limiting invasion success, thus helping to 1) improve the quality of life for Utahns and 2) sustain the state’s natural and agro-ecosystems.
Research on global climate change has predicted that extreme weather events will increase in the continental U.S. within the next 100 years. While much research has focused on plants important to agricultural production and rangeland restoration, invasive plants have received little attention. In order to better understand the mechanisms that will allow invasive plants to successfully establish in novel or climate-altered ecosystems of the future, it is critical to study the phenotypic traits of invasive plants as they evolve under extreme climatic events and develop drought-resistant populations. It has been postulated that invasive plants exhibit greater climatic tolerance ranges in invaded habitats than in their native habitats. For extreme events such as drought, a combination of both phenotypic and genetic adaptation could be equally important for invasive plants to survive and proliferate. By isolating drought-resistant individuals in manipulative experiments, traits can be quantified for a range of invasive plants. Ultimately, this new area of research will provide a greater understanding of how invasive plants differ in their adaptation to habitats at the molecular to population scale.
Within the last decade, an increasingly critical question is being asked regarding agriculture, which is, ""Can we sustain (increase) production with our current management practices?” We are now faced with the reality that our current production systems cannot support the expected increase in world population by the year 2050. With the increases in herbicide resistant weeds, off-target movement of pesticides, organic production, threats of widespread disease and pest outbreaks, and public concern for safe food supplies, in addition to the abovementioned onset of a warmer, drier climate, it would be unwise to ignore the importance of developing new and/or enhancing current ecologically-based management strategies to lower inputs and incorporate advanced computer technologies, such as robotics, sensors, and guidance and communication systems. My project is part of a group that includes ecologists, engineers and agronomists working with computer scientists to address the complexities of natural and agro-ecosystems with regard to invasive plants.
A more holistic approach is needed for managing natural- and agro-ecosystems where invasive plants exist and threaten habitats, natural resources, and livelihoods. By using a framework that addresses the key factors contributing to the successful establishment of invasive plants, a research program can be built that has a clear mission and leads to sustainable management solutions. In combination with educational endeavors, such as a short course for practitioners, research could be expanded and shared with stakeholders, land managers, and professionals from Utah and neighboring regions through a first-ever, Invasive Plant Research and Training Center at USU. No other state is like Utah with the diversity of invasive plants in both natural and agro-ecosystems and facing climate change and a growing urban population. A Center focused specifically on invasive plants through research and training would be able to address immediate and future needs of our society by producing and disseminating new knowledge on the science of invasive plants."
Functional Genomics and Ecology of Nitrogen Mineralization and Nitrification
Project Lead: Jeanette Norton
Human activities have dramatically altered the global nitrogen cycle by increasing the amount of reactive nitrogen in the environment; human associated inputs of industrially produced N fertilizers and N fixation by crops now exceed the natural N inputs to terrestrial systems. Nitrifying microorganisms play critical roles in the movement of this reactive nitrogen through ecosystems and in the availability of nitrogen for plant growth. In many agricultural soils when available nitrogen supply exceeds plant demand, nitrification increases leading to accumulation of nitrate that is reactive and mobile in the environment. The nitrogen use efficiency of our N fertilizers in agricultural systems remains quite low, typically only around 30% in cereal crops. Nitrification may lead to losses of nitrogen by leaching and denitrification. Nitrate leaching from agricultural systems is a significant contribution to the contamination of surface and groundwater. Nitrification therefore needs to be managed to protect the quality of surface waters and soils. Information is needed on the physiology and ecology of the bacteria and archaea responsible for cycling nitrate in ecosystems. The transformations of organic nitrogen are of increasing importance in organic agriculture. We will further understand the role of organic versus mineral N fertilizers in promoting nitrification. We will improve understanding of the genomics of nitrifiers, characterize the processes in agricultural and wildland systems and examine links between nitrification and plants in soils. Improved understanding of nitrifying bacteria and archaea in soils and in wastewater systems may suggest management options for particular environments. Delineation of the limiting factors for nitrification in water delivery and wastewater treatment systems will help municipal and other government entities in preventing water pollution and planning for water reuse in the semi-arid and arid Intermountain West region.
Linking nitrification to microbial community in agroecosystems under changing climate.
Project Lead: Jeanette Norton
Human activity has more than doubled the input of reactive nitrogen (N) to terrestrial systems, yet N availability remains a common limitation to plant production. Improved understanding of N cycling in agroecosystems is essential for increasing N use efficiency and sustainable food production. Availability of N from organic sources is the result of the enzymatic processes that comprise N mineralization, immobilization and nitrification. These transformations between organic N and inorganic N form a central part of the internal soil N cycle. Understanding the process of nitrification is central to our ability to predict and manage soil N losses and to understand impacts of agricultural management.
Irrigated Perennial Legume Pastures for Dairy and Beef Production in the Intermountain West
Project Lead: Jennifer MacAdam
The goal of this project is to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of beef production in Utah and the Mountain West region. This work addresses concerns that beef consumers have about the welfare of cattle finished in feedlots and the implications for their own health when feedlot cattle routinely consume subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics and hormones to promote growth or offset unhealthy feedlot conditions. This research project also addresses environmental and social justice issues, such as the feeding of grain to ruminants, where feed conversion rates are extremely poor, the soil erosion and nitrogen fertilization associated with this annual cereal grain production, the generation of greenhouse gases that accrue to agriculture from the transportation of cattle and grain to central feedlot locations on the Great Plains, the concentration of nutrient and antibiotic pollutants in the air and water close to feedlots; and the economic shift of profits from cattle largely raised by small producers in the West to feedlot owners and meat processors in other regions. Finishing beef cattle on pastures and marketing it within the western region to consumers interested in a leaner but still juicy and good-tasting product would create a more-sustainable alternative to conventional beef production.