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Creech awarded Sustainable Agriculture Grant
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Creech awarded Sustainable Agriculture Grant

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Cody Creech at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff has recently been selected to receive a $250,000 research and education grant from the North Central Region - Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE). The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE) is subdivided into four regional areas and administers each of its grant programs with specific priorities, audiences and time lines. The SARE program is a competitive grant established by the USDA agency, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

The purpose of SARE is to promote research and education on sustainable agriculture practices and ensure the economic viability of the agricultural industry in the United States for future generations functioning within each of the specific needs for it’s four geographical divisions. The grant was awarded as part of NCR-SARE’s Research and Education Program which is designated for researchers and educators involved in projects that explore and promote environmentally sound, profitable, and socially responsible food and/or fiber systems. The research and education projects being considered must include a strong outreach component and significant farmer/rancher or other end user involvement from inception of the idea through implementation of the project.

NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council (AC) decides which proposals will receive the funds through a two step submission process. The AC represents SARE members from a diverse mix of agricultural stakeholders within the region including farms and ranches, the Cooperative Extension Service, universities, federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

The AC members opened the application process over a year ago and received 146 pre-proposal submissions. Pre-proposal applications consisted of a few sentences that would give a precise direction for the research relating directly to SARE’s mission.

Creech was among the 33 selected to further submit a full proposal and 14 of those were chosen to be funded by the AC members. The selection process involved a very detailed and lengthy report that could demonstrate the research carried out would be impactful to the region and the resources would be available to carry out the project. Creech was able to meat the criteria by articulating the nature of his research, it’s education components relating to the sustainability of agriculture and he further established the availability of resources at the Scottsbluff Panhandle Research and Eduction Center (PREC). Resources from the PREC include and are not limited, Dr. Amanda Easterly at the High Plains Ag Lab (HPAL), Chris Cullen, Bijesh Maharjan at PREC, Mitch Bradshaw at PREC and Katherine Frels the wheat breeder at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Creech was able to incorporate into his project agronomists, entomologist and plant breeders.

Creech, Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Horticulture and Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist, was awarded the grant for his project, “The Effects of Wheat Stem Characteristics and Wheat Stem Sawfly Infestation on Yield, Residue Longevity, Soil Water, and Soil Health.”

“This project evaluates if wheat residue longevity can be improved by using solid- or semi-solid stemmed wheat varieties, and if these improvements are mitigated in the presence of wheat stem sawfly. Improved residue persistence can enhance soil water content and the subsequent crop yield,” Creech explained.

The NCR-SARE grant leaves Creech with $250,000 that he intends to use towards funding a graduate student and the substantial amount of manual labor involved with checking for the wheat stem sawfly. The grant is a 3 year commitment that began November 1 and Creech currently has wheat in the ground to begin the project.

The number one issue wheat farmers in the Panhandle have been facing is the wheat stem sawfly that lays larvae inside the wheat stem that will hatch and feed on the wheat pith within the stem. The wheat stem sawfly primarily has been damaging wheat in Montana, the Dakotas, western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. Sawfly larvae feed inside the wheat stem, weakening the stem as the larvae move towards the base. During this process the sawfly larvae infestation results in a yield loss and difficulty in harvesting.

Creech explained an approach that would monitor wheat residue longevity, evaluate solid or semi-solid stemmed wheat varieties, and wheat stem sawfly characteristics and its effects on crop yield.

Wheat planted represents 1,000 research plots at the HPAL, located near Sydney. The planted wheat varieties are those that have previously indicated resistance to the wheat stem sawfly and are a range of solid and semi-solid breeds of wheat.

From the large amount of plots, Creech’s team will be able to carry out many research avenues to ultimately determine the yield impact of the wheat stem sawfly.

The research team will be sampling 50-100 wheat stems per plot at intervals throughout the growing season. Checking for the presence of the sawfly involves cutting along the length of the individual wheat stem. Those samples will be collected and checked for three key indicators. The presence of the wheat stem sawfly, sawfly larvae and where it has fed regarding the length of the wheat stem and the presence of the parasitic sawfly wasp. Data from this will aid in determining wheat varieties that may be more resistant to the wheat stem sawfly. This data will directly aid the wheat breeder by shortening the process of developing breeds by providing specific wheat characteristics.

Another aspect to the research will be Creech’s ability to net or completely cover portions of the plotted acres to establish areas known to be free from sawfly infestation. Netted acres will be beside non-netted acres to provide a better understanding of the sawfly impact on wheat yield. It will also give Creech a more accurate comparison between the hollow, semi-solid and solid wheat varieties.

Further, the research team will be analyzing the wheat crop residue. The current wheat plots will eventually be no-till planted to corn. Residue of wheat will be weighed and analyzed in comparison to residue that was infested by the sawfly and residue that was not. This data will contribute to understanding the potential yield loss of the corn crop as well. Wheat residue is a key component to maintaining soil water content and soil nutrients.

Creech will also be analyzing the wheat stem sawfly’s effect on wheat residue by placing wood boxes over areas to separate wheat varieties. The residue will be weighed to compare the impact of wheat variety and sawfly infestation.

The research project Creech has undertaken is ambitious but he is looking forward to discovering answers for the Panhandle wheat producer. The project completion will result in a large amount of data to better guide the wheat breeder’s process, where best to split the plant and what characteristics in the plant can be early indicators in the wheat development process.

The wheat residue plots will be planted to a crop again the following season to give the research team an opportunity to validate what was learned in the prior season and refine research goals for the growing season. The project’s completion will result in three years of wheat data and two years of corn yield data.

“To put it all together, to tell the complete story of economic impact, soil moisture side, and breeding side, how they ultimately affect the producer, and what the true cost of the sawfly is so that they can make choices to mitigate that,” Creech said.

With his multifaceted research, Creech has the goal of being able to give information back to the wheat breeder and provide helpful information to the Panhandle wheat producer.

Creech is excited about the many outcomes his trial will bring and looks positively in the direction the project will take the Panhandle. “There are 600,000 acres of wheat in the panhandle, think about increasing that number by even one bushel,” he said.

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