Sunday, July 14, 2013

Montana Field Day and Much More

So this past week I made my way to Great Falls, Montana so that I could attend a field day and look at a research plot that involved AgroLiquid.  I got to Great Falls in the middle of the afternoon, so I had some time before the field day which was the next day.  I have been to Montana many times and there are numerous references around the state to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, officially known as the Voyage of Discovery.  There is an Interpretive Center that I have never visited, until now.  It was very impressive with a complete explanation of the entire voyage, which was from May of 1804 to September of 1806.   
It was an amazing journey of physical challenge and endurance as they explored the Missouri River in the hope of discovering a "Northwest Passage" to the Pacific Ocean.  All was going well until there were these mountains, which had to be crossed on foot and horseback rather than by river.  But it was truly a Voyage of Discovery.  I was amazed that they actually had to pull the boats for so much of the entire journey West, which was upstream.  And they didn't exactly have Red Wing boots or anything like that.  They saw many animals that were new to white men.
One of the biggest hardships was when they got to the area that is currently Great Falls, Montana.  There they were met by not one, but a series of five waterfalls.  Although they weren't really very high, they could not be crossed by water.  Below is one of the falls, although the dam reduced the strong water flow.
So they had to carry the boats some 20 miles around.  This required several trips as they built trailers out of wood for the traverse.  This is a life-size model in the museum.  They talked of how their soft leather shoes were pierced by cactus and rocks, and how there were hailstorms that sent them looking for cover in the grassland.  They originally thought it would only take a few days, but it took 2 weeks.  This is a much longer tale than can be covered here.  So read up on it if you want.  One more amazing fact though.  Out of the 30 men on the journey, only one man died, and that was of appendicitis.  Tough crew.  But it was definitely worth the stop.
The field day was at the Montana State University Western Triangle Ag Research Center north of Conrad, which is about an hour north of Great Falls.  There has been good weather for growing crops this year with decent rainfall for a change.  So growers must have been in a good mood as there was a big tunout of well over a hundred.  Their biggest ever.  In fact the bank that put on the lunch had to scramble back to the store for more food.  (They said they would just raise loan rates to pay for it.)  Anyway, there were a variety of topics on the tour by a variety of researchers both from the WTARC and the Bozeman campus.  There were presentations on spring and winter wheat varieties, barley varieties, bugs, disease, canola, and nutrient research.
Below is Dr. Olga Walsh who is the assistant professor of Soil Nutrient Management at the WTARC.  She is accompanied by her technician Robin who is demonstrating a Greenseeker chlorophyll sensor.  Probably most people in ag might be somewhat familiar with this.  They are used to detect chlorophyll levels in a crop and then can automatically program a sprayer to apply an appropriate amount of nitrogen based on the reading.  It's supposed to variably apply the correct rates over a field rather than a single rate like now. The instruments have been out for more than ten years, but still are being researched and have not reached the market penetration they probably had hoped.  Part of the problem is that they have to develop data equations, or algorithms, for almost every crop.  But the big drag is that the algorithm for, say, spring wheat in Montana is not the same for spring wheat in North Dakota.  So every state has to develop data for every crop. And it can vary by year too.  But it has given researchers plenty to do.  Dr. Walsh says that they are still several years away for crops here.  Good luck with that.
After the tour, Dr. Walsh showed us the experiment we are evaluating different fertilizers on spring wheat.  Loyal readers will recall the blog post on February 14 where I said we were helping set up a drill for application of Liquid fertilizer for plots and showed pictures.  Well we did and now have some fertilizer plots at the WTARC.  Below there is Dr. Walsh and Dr. Tom Jensen of IPNI (International Plant Nutrition Institute, you know, the 4R people), who accompanied us.  I thought the AgroLiquid plots looked better than the dry plots.  We had some different treatments of various research-worthy stuff.  But like the other university tests we have, the plots are pretty short, only 25 feet long.  I think they don't have much room or something even though Montana is a big state.  But that is how they do it, and they wouldn't be where they were otherwise.  So time will tell.
After that was over, Area Manager Jerehiah Gulick and I went a little ways back West to his town of Fairfield.  There is lot's of barley there, and it seemed like every field we drove by, Jeremiah would say "That field has Liquid on it."  He has done a good job and so has the fertilizer for growers.  Below he takes a close up look.
I did learn at the field day that this area of Montana is almost perfectly suited for growing premium barley, and the barley product manufacturers know it.  There is plenty of interest and barley-handling facility growth to prove it.  Plus it's just pretty to see a field at this stage of growth blowing in the wind.
Well that was a fun trip.  I saw and learned a lot which served me well to share in this here blog.