alfalfa, efficiency, forages, Irrigation, models, nutrients, productivity

The pandemic virtual events adaptation

We see, hear, experience, how difficult this is. But we adapt as quick as we could to continue our respective roles. We show here some of the virtual field day content. Below are only the forage component of the virtual field day in 2020.

JT and Eeusha Nafi (postdoc) on alfalfa genetics, moistures, models
Ph.D. student Amanda Shine showing her study on alfalfa fall dormancy, nutrient, and moisture study
JT on Kernza
JT on Corn
Ph.D. Student Amanda showing her N and warm season forage research

alfalfa, efficiency, Irrigation, productivity, protein, wheat

Genetic-specific resource use efficiency

It is time to update contents of this blog through photos as they depict thousands of words. Recently, I accepted an additional 25% administration appointment as an interim superintendent of the research center while improving my research and other responsibilities such as outreach and service to the Crop Science Society of America and Agronomy Society of America, Montana State University, etc.

Below is a fraction of the inquiries focusing on genetic-specific resource efficiency studies. We manage a total of sixteen field-type research this year. We learned to plan and work as efficiently as possible as a team and kept our cool.

A USDA-NIFA Project with UC Davis, Univ. of Arizona, and Univ. of Florida characterizing Alfalfa fall dormancies subjected to Montana and Arizona growing conditions under various moisture. Other than providing information to our clientele, this will serve as a detailed data in the development of DSSAT-alfalfa model.

Funded by MT Wheat and Barley Committee, this project allowed us to study a ‘plasticity’ of traits such as high/low protein and high/low tillering genes.

Unfunded, but we try to accommodate local producer’s demand for information on popular crops in the midwest. Our short-season and cooler nights temperature may not be very conducive for soybean. But trying various planting date and newer short-season maturity groups (Photo taken on July 11, 2018).

(Photo taken Aug. 3, 2018). We might actually find a maturity group and planting date fitting this area.

Funded by MT Wheat and Barley Committee, this project investigates plasticity of traits such as seed number, seed size, tiller number, and yield genes for the NW MT environment. With the MSU breeder collaborator (Talbert) and a Ph.D student (B. Brewer), we might be able to find genes that are much more adaptive to various MT environments.

Sometimes, you just want to continue a project that is worthwhile to investigate and document further (This study was initiated last year by Bob Stougaard, now the Asst Dean for Research at Univ. of Georgia). This is a seeding rate study (number of seeds per area, rather than weight per area). We strive to get our local producers to use number instead of weight due to its economic implication. Seeds and tech costs are expensive.

We discuss what we learned over the years and look at Environment, Genetics, and Management associations. Production can be complex and comprehensive information over five growing seasons are informative. (Photo taken on July 10, 2018 during NWARC Field day).


efficiency, Irrigation, productivity, protein, wheat

(Re)Introduction of Soft White Spring Wheat

Producers in NW Montana have revisited and planted growing Soft White Spring Wheat in lieu of Hard Red Spring Wheat for economic reason. Last year (2015), other than the NW MT extreme drought that occurred, the price of hard red spring wheat dropped and soft white market price was higher. Thus, some producers have opted planting this market class this year. Though, this market class is prone to pre-harvest sprout and falling number at the elevator can be a real downer. There are strategies in terms of limiting irrigation water towards late seed-fill, etc. as discussed during this year’s winter grower meeting.

Soft white wheat is a low moisture wheat ideally used for asian-style noodles, pastries and flat breads. Low protein is desired for this market class and a high protein soft white is discounted at the elevator.

This year, we study management options to focus on yield increase and not on protein. The rationale was discussed during our July 12, 2016 field day and we look forward to provide you with updates during our winter grower meeting in Kalispell, MT. See you there.





Where is the rain?

This spring has been dry. Most conversations at garden and grocery stores have been, “Where is the rain?”.  A great excuse to talk about the weather to either vent on how dry it is or to simply start a ‘plain’ conversation.

While some US States are flooded, in Montana we ask the above question. The photo below is a view from NWARC with snow-free mountain peaks. Definitely, last year was a different story.


This year, Kent McVay, Paul Stoy, and myself, went ahead and submitted a grant proposal to Montana Wheat and Barley Committee to validate crop coefficients (Kc) to better irrigation scheduling. Kc is crop specific and varies during the course of the growing season. It is used to estimate crop water use, or  transpiration (partially), or engineers/scientists call it crop evapotranspiration (ETc). It is a multiplicand to the reference evapotranspiration (ETo) in order to estimate ETc (ETc = ETo x Kc).

We used Eddy Covariance tower that measures water and carbon fluxes. Installed in spring wheat (Creston) and in barley (Billings). Eddy is termed after transport of Eddies (or turbulent eddies or air
movements). Eddies that are in contact with the surface of a plant or canopy can pick up water vapor or sensible heat used to measure surface water loss, referred as evapotranspiration.

IMG_0785IMG_0794 IMG_0789

EC Tower installed on May 15, 2015 in farmer’s spring wheat field. Thank you James for your technical expertise in the installation/programming, and Paul Stoy for these towers.

The NWARC field day will be in June 24, 2015. I will be discussing primarily on irrigation practices for spring wheat, plus, the EC Tower that you might have seen as you drive closer to NWARC along MT 35.

Where is the rain? I still ask that question. On a good note, it will be good for irrigation research and how various spring wheat varieties respond to various irrigation strategies towards improved recommendations on water management x spring wheat varieties for yield and quality.

IMG_0804 IMG_0805

On May 29, 2015, irrigation was triggered for spring wheat that was planted on April 22 on a fine sandy loam soil. Plants here have 4-5 leaves and are tillering – the stage where crop water requirement increases. In the photo is Marcelle Tikka- research assistant, inspecting the drip irrigation timer. The blue monitor is logging soil water depletion in centibars [Irrometer, Inc] to complement soil-water-balance approach.

IMG_0806 IMG_0812

A view of the water use efficiency studies in fine sandy loam and silt loam soils.

Thank you Montana Wheat and Barley Committee for funding another year to this irrigation study.



Plant stand, planting

Emergence Irregularity

Emergence irregularity is often observed on coarse-textured soil (sandy soil: sandy loam, fine to very fine sandy loam). There are spots in the field that retains more moisture ; some well-compacted to achieve better contact with seed for germination. In drier areas of the field, germination can be delayed.

Dry spring aggravates germination irregularity.  Producers run their center-pivot sprinklers in spring for the first time during the cropping season to achieve better germination and, attain plant growth uniformity.


The above photo shows a portion of the field with spring wheat seeds emerged.


The above photo shows a portion of the field (just few feet next to the first photo above) with no emergence. In this field there are canola residues from previous year. Traditionally, we think residues in the field will help keep moisture and reduce evapotranspiration – loss of water from surface soil.  It is important to note that there are multitudes of advantages returning residues to the ground. On a fortuitous dry spring/year, however, residue may dry up the surface even more. Dry residue on a dry spring (on a coarse-textured soil) may have reduced seed to soil contact and thus, exacerbates germination irregularities. See photo below with spring wheat seeds unable to germinate.


On a dry spring (like this year), dryland production system or irrigated fields on a coarse soil where irrigation system is not yet in-place ready to use, can only hope for rain. This reminded me of a special prayer intention at times… ‘pray for rain’.



Plant stand, planting

Seeding & Seed Size

“How many pounds seeds per acre should I plant?”, a producer asked over the phone. Agronomists/scientists receive such a call on a regular basis in spring. This is a very important call because making the right decision enables significant farm savings from seed dollar expense.

Target number of plants per acre is used in the U.S Corn Belt region to seeding. Corn seeding per acre ranges from 29 to 34k seeds on irrigated fields, whereas, 18 to 30k seeds on dryland fields. The difference between irrigated vs. dryland target seeding is related to availability of in-season soil moisture (stress).

Soybean, on the other hand, seeding ranges from 130 to 200k seeds/acre regardless of moisture regime.  Soybean plant is known to be highly compensatory. At low population, a plant produces more branches with more pods/plant and is the opposite at high population.  Thus, no distinctive seeding adjustment between irrigated and dryland production system. This article (click on the link) showed that soybean seeding on both irrigated and dryland is ~145k/acre. Still. producers plant more than what is recommended. Extension agents/ agronomists encourage to drop soybean seeding rate and save $10-$18 per Acre.

Lastly, the commonly used unit for seeding wheat in a commercial production scale is lbs seeds per acre (as per phone calls in early spring). I once asked a local seed dealer if thousand kernel weight can be specified in the purchase receipt of certified wheat seeds. Unfortunately not. In central MT, research on wheat seeding rate reported that 20 seeds/ft2 provided optimum yield. It is not uncommon that in high rainfall and irrigated parts of Montana, 35 seeds/ft2 is adopted, though, my spring wheat research in 2014 at NWARC used 20 seeds/ft2 with attained yields from 80 to 140 bushels/acre from dryland to irrigated, respectively.

Information on wheat seed size (thousand kernel weight) is not always available. It is a very important piece of information when estimating how much seeds to plant.

The graphs below illustrate potential savings from seed expenses when estimation of wheat seeds to plant is done with information on seed size. Estimates were calculated based on a 90% germination rate and 33 dollars/100 lb certified seeds. Percent plant survival (final standing plant) was not accounted.

wheatseeding2wheatseeding3 JT