Starting in 2003, the Noble Research Institute's three operating divisions began emphasizing projects that leverage the strengths of each division to address specific agricultural issues. The primary strengths from each division are expertise and experience in basic science, cultivar development and agricultural evaluation and demonstration to solve specific agriculture-related problems. These projects fall into a research effort we termed "cross-divisional" research projects.
I will use this article to very briefly introduce some of these cross-divisional projects and also to provide a broad view of the issues we are attempting to address.Redesigning Alfalfa
With the release of Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties, it is important to establish the economic benefits associated with this product. We will begin doing this with advanced testing, not only on Noble Research Institute farms, but also by establishing trials on cooperators' operations.
An additional focus under this project is increasing the digestibility of alfalfa. The effort here has involved identifying means of modifying lignin (a poorly digested structural component of plant cell walls) in this crop, resulting in increased digestibility, therefore leading to more efficient animal production. With this technology now in hand, low-lignin alfalfa lines have been generated and are undergoing field testing.
There also is an effort to decrease the incidence of bloating when alfalfa is grazed by cattle. While alfalfa can supply ample nutrients for significant cattle performance when grazed, there is the ever-present risk of bloat associated with this management practice. Ongoing work in this area is investigating the possibility of modifying the plant to significantly reduce this risk.
Closely associated with this focus is a renewed effort to investigate cotton root rot. This soil-borne fungus has long been the reason that many alfalfa stands in southern Oklahoma and North Texas have failed. In addition to basic research to gather more information about this organism, a portion of this effort will attempt to quantify factors that contribute to the presence of this fungus and use these factors to establish a predicted risk associated with the establishment of new alfalfa plantings.Improvement of Fall Production of Cereal Grain Forages
The Noble Research Institute has had a long and successful track record concerning development and subsequent releases of new cereal grain varieties. Most of this past work has centered on the development of an improved variety from both a grain and forage standpoint. With the transition in the Noble Research Institute's service area from a dual-crop focus to predominantly a graze-out situation with much of the cereal grains, the cereal grains breeding work has begun investigating the development of varieties that are more productive from primarily a forage production standpoint. New trials will focus particular attention to early fall forage production, allowing for more economically viable options for stocker cattle enterprises.Cool-season Perennial Grass Development
Since the initiation of the Forage Improvement Division in 1997, one of its main focuses has been the development of a cool-season perennial grass. The cross-divisional component of this project will focus on comparing promising new varieties with more traditional annual production systems from an animal performance and economic return standpoint to effectively determine their future role in production agriculture in Oklahoma and Texas.
This is but a sample of the many cross-divisional research efforts being planned at the Noble Research Institute. My hope is that this brief article will serve to whet your appetite for some of the results to come out of this effort. Stay tuned.