Annual field day held at Western Ag Research Center

Assistant Professor Andrej Svyantek (wearing the Go Back To WARC t-shirt) tells the tour group about the experimental gardens containing zinnias, snapdragons, eggplants, peppers and cabbages. The success or failure of the many varieties of flowers and vegetables is documented and new varieties are created. Photo by Michael Howell.

The annual Field Day event at the Western Agricultural Research Center (WARC) located on Quast Lane just north of Corvallis drew a large gathering last Thursday where attendees feasted on locally grown and prepared food, including some experimental dishes for taste like the variety of smoothie blends containing different Montana berries and hemp seeds prepared by graduate students at Montana State University.

WARC is one of seven statewide research centers sponsored by MSU’s College of Agriculture and the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) in Bozeman. The Vice President, Dean and Director of MAES, Dr Sreekala Bajwa, who was on hand to address the crowds of visitors at last Thursday’s event, highlighted how the type of research carried out in these facilities across the state is not the ordinary university research type. this can lead to items and papers sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. The ongoing research at these agricultural research centers involves the people who will benefit most from the start, local producers, potential producers and value-added producers. They provide inspiration and direction for the design of experiences in the centers.

Dr. Sreekala Bajwa (center), vice president, dean, and director of the Montana State University College of Agriculture & Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES), was the introductory guest speaker at the annual Field Day celebration from the Western Montana Agricultural Research Center last Thursday. ARM Superintendent Zach Miller is leaning on the tree. Photo by Michael Howell.

After a hearty meal, Field Day attendees had the chance to tour the facility and grounds and hear from various experts about some of the experiments currently being conducted at the station.

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WARC is the only research center in the state that focuses on horticulture, specializing in high-value specialty crops, fruit and vegetable production, local food security, and increasing sustainability and yields economical for small farms. Research is also conducted on row and forage crops, labor and labor efficiency, complexity of small business aspects of value-added products, and start-to-finish operations. end.

According to ARM Superintendent Zach Miller, Montana ranks second in the nation per capita in microbreweries. “We are excellent apple growers and cider makers,” he said. “But starting an orchard or a vineyard is a major investment. Farmers need to know what will grow well here and how to grow it successfully. »

WARC staff learned a hard lesson, for example, when their recent experiments growing a variety of different apple trees were hit by a very severe cold snap in 2020. Most of the apples that made it to America, he said, came from Normandy and England. where they have developed for thousands of years. Miller said our climate wasn’t that mild, so they decided to try several varieties and see what worked best here. They got a clear answer that winter when they lost half of their apple trees and a third of their cider varieties. That’s good news, according to Miller, finding out on his own could cost a private entrepreneur his entire investment.

WARC is also involved in experiments related to fire blight, a disease that can have catastrophic effects on apple orchards in Montana. Although the heirloom apple orchards of Normandy and England don’t suffer much from fire blight because it picks up heat while in bloom, the same is not true in Montana. Dr. Qing Yan of MSU Bozeman, who has worked with WARC for two years, spoke on the tour. Fire blight is caused by the phytopathogenic bacterium Erwinia amylovara. The most common and effective treatment is with antibiotics. The problem with treatment, according to Dr. Ying, is that bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotic treatment over time. He said they were carrying out tests to determine if the fire blight in that area showed signs of antibiotic resistance. Some resistance to streptomycin, a commonly used antibiotic, has been detected elsewhere in the state. Ying said they would also investigate potential alternatives, such as using beneficial bacteria, if an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria begins to take over.

Another interesting experiment that could have a surprising impact on irrigation practices is the regulated deficit watering treatment program.

It is an irrigation regulation program that has proven itself with winegrowers, in which the vine is “stressed” with water at certain times in its development. The result is much less water needed for irrigation and better flavor. Miller said they wondered if the same technique would work for apples and decided to try it. They irrigated a control plot of apple trees with the usual amount, about 15 gallons per week given in two spurts. In the test plot, the trees were irrigated only when sensors placed in the soil throughout the plot indicated that the soil was dry. The reduction in water use was significant and no difference could be discerned in fruit trees or fruit at the end of the season.

Miller said they are also studying how the berries might perform under regulated deficit watering.

WARC researches more than fruits and berries. Assistant Professor Andrej Svyantek explained to the group of tourists the center’s work on testing different varieties of plants and breeding new ones. Svyantek and his graduate students have planted eight varieties of zinnias and are trying to crossbreed black and orange snapdragons, 21 varieties of eggplant, 90 varieties of peppers, and heirloom organic cabbage.

Mac Burgess and two wagons of graduate students attended the Bozeman College of Agriculture field day. He said that since Bozeman is so much higher than the Bitterroot, he likes to visit the Corvallis area to see what things will look like in Bozeman two weeks down the line.

Workers at Towne’s Harvest Garden, a five-acre diverse vegetable and educational research farm supporting a student-run, community-supported agricultural program, sometimes replicate experiments underway at Corvallis to further validate the results.

Mary Ellis of the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition in Missoula was on hand at the Field Day celebration to raise awareness of her organization’s efforts to build a vibrant future for Montana’s farmland, farmers, and food systems. “Our three core programs work together to ensure farmland is conserved, farming remains a viable livelihood, and all Montanaans have equal access to nutritious, affordable, locally grown food,” Ellis said. In addition to running the Farm Link Montana program (see farmlinkmontana.org), the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition offers classes and workshops in the classroom and on farms throughout the year to support the development of beginning farmers and ranchers. and established. Photo by Michael Howell.

Burgess is a strong advocate of winter squash as one of Montana’s best crops.

“We can grow great quality winter squash,” he said, “but they’re very undervalued.”

He said butternut squash and acorn squash grow well here, but many other varieties also do very well. Not only do they last a long time, but they improve in quality over time by gaining sugar and orange coloring. “They call them winter squashes because that’s when you eat them,” Burgess said.

WARC is in the process of modernizing its facilities. In 2021, Montana’s 67th Legislature passed House Bill 14, providing state capital project funding to improve the infrastructure of Montana’s university system, including a much-needed upgrade to WARC facilities. To supplement state funding, MSU has committed to providing matching funding to WARC to support the design, construction, furnishing and equipping of this important facility.

The proposed new facility will contain:

• Adequate office space for faculty and staff

• Meeting room with videoconference and distance learning equipment. There are no similar facilities in nearby communities and the facility is expected to be used extensively for outreach and education events.

• Three individual laboratories: a wet laboratory for chemical/microbiological work with extractor hoods; two dry laboratories equipped with computer stations for data entry/analysis

• Covered loading dock large enough to include product washing and processing area

• Cold room: a cold room of 400 square feet for fruits, vegetables and other high-value crops for long-term storage and research

• Storage room for seeds and research materials

Anyone interested in donating to the project can do so by check to “MSU Alumni Foundation”; write “93627 – WARC Enhancements” in the memo line and send mail to: MSU Alumni Foundation, PO Box 172750, Bozeman MT 59717.

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