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New Scientists Enhance NMSU's Agricultural Research at Artesia

LAS CRUCES -- With new scientists, a new laboratory building and new research projects, New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Artesia is more equipped than ever to help farmers in Eddy, Chaves and Lea counties.


"We do work in almost all aspects of crop production from plant fertility, proper irrigation, variety selection, and insect and weed control," said Carl Barnes, the center's agronomist and superintendent.

The Artesia center is one of 12 agricultural science and research facilities located throughout the state associated with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . Since the first research plot was planted in cotton in March 1956, research at Artesia has addressed the agricultural needs of the Pecos Valley.

"We focus primarily on cotton and alfalfa because those are the major crops in this area. We also work with all kinds of forage crops in support of the area's dairy industry," Barnes said.

Over the years, staff at the center has grown from three to 14 full-time employees. During the past year, increased funding from the state legislature provided the center with a new laboratory building and two new scientists -- Robert Flynn, an agronomy specialist, and Jane Breen Pierce, an entomologist.

Flynn studies nutrient management, plant nutrition and water quality. He's researching how farmers can best use the nearly 3.4 million tons of dairy manure produced annually in the state as a source of nutrients for crops. Dairy cows in Chaves County alone produce about 1.3 million tons of manure each year.

"Proper management of manure as a nutrient source is critical to promoting optimum plant growth and yield while protecting the environment," Flynn explained.

In one study, Flynn is trying to find out how much nitrogen manure supplies cotton in the first year after application. In a second study, he is looking at whether fresh or composted manure provides more phosphorus to sorghum sudangrass.

In another effort, Flynn is studying whether drip irrigation is an economical option for farmers in the area and what would be the best way to set up a system.

Pierce, on the other hand, is the center's insect pest expert. Her primary concern since she began in February has been the boll weevil.

"It's a pretty devastating pest," she said. "If cotton production is already marginal, a boll weevil infestation could be the decision-maker for a farmer to switch to another crop."

Spraying to control the weevil becomes too expensive for some producers, she said. In 1995, the weevil caused more than $36 million in losses in Texas alone.

To monitor the weevil, Pierce set up more than 600 traps in the Pecos Valley in April. So far, she's only seen 15 boll weevils captured from weekly trap checks.

"We expected many more, especially since more than 7,000 boll weevils were captured last fall," she said. "I don't want farmers to be overly encouraged, but it's not as bad as we thought it might be."

She said while it is uncertain why the weevil numbers are low, the early spring drought may have helped. Pierce does, however, expect numbers to rise again in the fall.

The monitoring project is funded by NMSU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Pecos Valley Farmers' Organization and the Mesilla Valley Farmers' Organization.

Pierce also studies whether traps, baited with pheromones or chemicals that attract the pest, stop the boll weevils that survived the winter from entering cotton fields.

Besides the weevil, Pierce has research projects involving the pink bollworm and the beet armyworm.

Last month, local producers got a chance to see all of the center's changes and new research during a field day complete with a tour and a keynote address by NMSU President J. Michael Orenduff.

"Field days are an integral part of the Experiment Station mission," Barnes said. "It's crucial that local producers get the opportunity to see the work we're doing."