Dryland range management can be a challenge, but help is on the way. Recently, the University of Nevada, Reno, opened the Great Basin Research and Extension Center near Eureka as part of a new initiative for the region. The facility will focus on issues related to sustainable grazing management of dryland rangelands, livestock and crop production under water-limited environments, and alternative water and irrigation strategies for crop production.
The College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) is one of the land-grant founding colleges and is spearheading the enterprise situated on a 644-acre ranch in Diamond Valley. The grazing area is supplemented with several grazing permits on Bureau of Land Management lands in the Diamond and Fish Creek Mountains surrounding the valley.
Bill Payne, dean of the college, notes, “The operation will address real-world problems through research and Extension — providing useful knowledge to the ranchers and farmers of Nevada. It's also a Nevada showcase, as much of the world looks like this, and the knowledge we generate here will be useful throughout drylands of the world."
Drylands are areas in which lack of moisture limits crop and/or pasture production during part of the year. These conditions generally occur in arid, semiarid and dry subhumid regions of the world. Drylands make up about 41% of the Earth's land service, including most of Nevada.
Payne adds that the opening of the center coincides with the launch within the CABNR of the new International Center for Sustainable Dryland Agriculture (ICSDA). He notes that 2.5 billion people, or 30% of the world’s population, including most of the world’s poor, live in drylands. These 2.5 billion individuals face several common challenges including desertification, salinization, soil nutrient depletion, poor water quality, invasive species, declining biodiversity and soil erosion. The center in Eureka and the ICSDA were created to address such issues at state and international levels.
The Eureka center found its new home through a grant from the Ruby Hills Mining Co. LLC, which donated the ranch to the university.
Payne says there are three main focuses for the center — sheep genetics and management, range restoration and improvement; and water-efficient cropping systems.
At the center of the operation is a Rafter 7 Ranch herd of sheep purchased by the university in July. One of the first major projects for the university under its operation of the Great Basin Research and Extension Center was the Rafter 7 sheep auction held Sept. 12, which attracted buyers from around the world. The herd numbers 1,800, and 230 sheep were sold.
The sheep are both purebred merinos and Rambouillet-merino crosses initially developed about 30 years ago under the direction of Hudson Glimp, professor emeritus of animal biotechnology at the university, in order to boost the Nevada sheep industry. Genetically the herd has made major contributions to the Western U.S. and international sheep industries.
As the center gets going and the ranch is established, a new lambing facility has been built. According to Chris Pritsos, associate dean for research and director of the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station (NAES), which is overseeing the operation, “We’ll take a year to get the operation going. Right now, we’ll operate as a production herd selling rams, lambs and wool.”
The center is about more than selling sheep. It will also help fund research and programming through Extension. The center will ultimately include an administration, teaching and laboratory facility; herder and labor housing; a refurbished domestic stock well and water system; modernized irrigation facilities; and a redesign and reconfiguring of the sheep corrals. The ranch has three 120-acre pivot sprinklers producing alfalfa hay and other forage crops, a cattle feedlot and a dryland crested wheat pasture.
Away from town
The facility is at an elevation of 6,481 feet in central Nevada and about 250 miles from the university’s main campus in Reno, and about 10 miles southeast of the Gund Research Ranch, also managed by NAES. “One of our goals with this project over the past two years has been to get us out of the Reno-centric perspective and expand our presence throughout the state,” Pritsos says.
Payne adds, “It is important to understand that the Experiment Station has a statewide mandate, similar to Extension. It’s been decades since the college has taken an active new step with a facility of this size outside of the Reno-Sparks area, but this is what land grants are supposed to do — work elsewhere — around the state. We’re happy about it, but also have on a sober set of glasses, too, as there are a lot of unknowns and hurdles to jump. We have high hopes, but we are sticking our necks out a bit.”
Gary McCuin is interim director of the Great Basin Research and Extension Center and a longtime Extension educator for the university in Eureka County. With his new assignment, he’ll split his time between the two positions.
“I see the center as a means of achieving Extension’s mission through applied research and operations of farming, rangeland and livestock production; and conveying the knowledge gained through these endeavors to stakeholders in Nevada, the West and globally,” McCuin says.
McCuin is a cowboy and rangeland manager by trade and education. He is also fairly local, having grown up and worked on ranches within a hundred miles south of Eureka. He’s been working with Pritsos and Payne on getting this project off the ground for the past two years.
“This position will greatly expand my ability and that of university researchers to deal with real-world and real-time challenges and opportunities faced by producers,” he says. “If we keep our focus on dealing with the issues, problems and challenges of our stakeholders, then we can fulfill the missions of a land-grant university and Extension.”