Associate Professor and Entomologist Jane Pierce, Ph.D. demonstrates the difference between gland and glandless cotton at NMSU’s bi-annual field day, Thursday. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
With 80 acres of various plants, New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center has plenty of space and opportunities to conduct research, but only once every two years do they hold an event to inform the public about some of the many projects going on.
The bi-annual field day — although this time it has been three years since the last field day — was held Thursday, and with some long-term projects under way, there was plenty to talk about.
One of their biggest projects involves glandless cotton. Most cotton contains glands — little black dots on the stems that are toxic to most animals — explained Associate Professor and Entomologist Jane Pierce, Ph.D.
“We manage insects and pests,” she said of most of the farm’s research. “Obviously there will be some pests, but we don’t want them to the point that they cause ecological damage.”
Using this concept, they have taken on the challenge of figuring out how to grow the more susceptible glandless cotton without having a heightened insect problem. This is challenging because it is the glands on cotton that usually help keep insects at bay. These glands, however, also render the seeds inedible for people because of their toxins. Seeing as 65 percent of cotton’s yield is in the seeds, having glandless cotton is exponentially more profitable.
Whereas a normal seed sells for $250 per ton, a glandless seed is worth $900 per ton. That’s $440 per acre versus $120 per acre. And although it takes some extra effort, Pierce said the substantial difference of $300 makes the effort worth it.
So with some fieldwork and a lot of time in the lab, Pierce and some students have deduced a couple of options for helping the susceptible glandless cotton.
One option is to plant BT cotton around the glandless. The BT cotton attracts insects, but is basically 100 percent immune to insects, thus acting as a diversion and trap.
Another helpful option is to keep it planted in smaller plots of land.
The final option to cutting down on an insect problem with glandless cotton is to plant alfalfa around the plants. The alfalfa, as well as hay, provides beneficial organisms that help prevent insects.
Shifting into another area of research, however, Pierce said that although the alfalfa works with cotton, it does not help much in protecting pecans. After multiple tests and observations, it was finally determined that alfalfa doesn’t help because one of the primary predators lurking about pecan trees is the ghost spider.
Of all the pecan tree predators, 80 percent of those were discovered to be spiders, and of that 80 percent, 90 percent were specifically the ghost spider. This spider only lives in trees, not bushes, so the alfalfa had no effect.
Another aspect to the center’s research involved Chagas Disease. Birthed from a protozoan called trypanosoma cruzi, Chagas Disease has been very common in Central and South America. But as of 2010, it has also been detected in 50 to 60 percent of triatoma rubidia bug.
Although it does not have a very effective transfer process, these bugs can infect humans by defecating on the human face, usually around the mouth and eyes, while that person sleeps. It can then be transferred into the human’s system if rubbed into orifices such as the mouth or eyes.
This research, along with many other projects, is mostly long-term. And although many things are happening on the farm, the center was only able to impart so much information to the public who visited for the field day event.
After dinner and introduction, there were four different tours people could go on. The first discussed developing high performance alfalfa for different soil types. The next discussed the process of alfalfa to ice cream. And the final two tours involved information on the glandless cotton, how to increase its value and a debate on high profit versus insect losses. The potential alternate use of various crops and products was also discussed.
“It’s been three years since our last (field day), and we just want to get the public back out here and let them know what we’re doing,” said Interim Superintendent and Professor Keith Duncan, Ph.D.
He said it is up to the board whether the next field day will happen next year or in two years, but the farm will continue their research all the same.