UNR Researchers Study Crops That Could Be Used For Beer
Researchers are studying crops that could be more sustainable in Nevada during dry years.
A small farm in Fallon could hold the answers to the production of drought-resistant crops. Researchers with the University of Nevada's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources say one of those crops could be sorghum. The crop originated in Africa, so they say it is suited for Nevada's climate. Researchers have planted 400 varieties of sorghum at the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station Newlands Research Center in Fallon. They say finding sustainable crops is important.
"Especially in Nevada where we have high heat stress, high salinity stress," John Baggett, UNR Biotechnical PHD Candidate said. "We're really looking for crops that are maintainable and sustainable with the changing environment."
Researchers say sorghum is not only sustainable but it is versatile. It is known as a dual purpose crop because the stocks can be used for livestock feed and the grain can be used for human consumption. One of those uses is craft breweries and distilleries.
"Sorghum is actually one of the few grains you can use to produce whiskey and rum out of it because the stock is nice and juicy," Baggett said. "So you can produce molasses but with the grain, you can use that to produce whiskey. You can produce a beer."
The grain is also gluten free. Many say those products are a growing market because it is used by people with Celiac Disease or related-allergies.
"Sorghum is something that is gluten free and can be used in that, and so we're trying to partner with some farmers but also how to develop that market by developing recipes for breweries and distilleries," Melinda Yerka, UNR Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics said.
"The brewing industry, the bread industry, a lot of the food industry is very interested in this as a way to sustainably produce a grain source that is useful to the consumer," Baggett said.
The question is whether there is a large enough market for farmers to mass produce sorghum. Experts say it only needs about one-third of the water as alfalfa. Tom Moura is a farmer from Lovelock. He says he sees sorghum as a crop that should be planted in smaller amounts.
"We've stayed with alfalfa because it's very sustainable," Moura said. "If we have some short water years, the crops still will grow."
Moura says he enjoys attending UNR's Field Day in Fallon, saying it is fun to hear about potential alternative crops.
"You always have some kind of rotational crop and what we want to do is look for a crop that will get us some good production, be workable in our cattle operation," Moura said.
Water has not been an issue, this year. Moura says one of the challenges is pricing because of dairy farms aren't buying as much hay in advance, as well as possible Chinese tariffs.
"The import situation in China is kind of limiting our sales and kind of getting all the buyers nervous and holding back," Moura said.
Despite the international issues, Yerka says there is a domestic market for some of their crops. Along with sorghum, they are studying pearl millet and soybeans. The research relies on federal grant money. Once they have results, they relay the information to Nevada's farmers, which saves them money.
"I can assume that risk with my grant funding," Yerka said. "I can develop the recipes with my grant funding and then I can demonstrate the value, not only for the farmers when it's being produced, but also to the market as it's being sold. What we're introducing to the people of Nevada is actual products that they can use without having to go through the risk of the actual developmental process."
Jim Kinney is a farmer from Winnemucca. He says he is interested in planting some of these crops because of the type of soil on his ranch.
"Forage soybeans might be a good thing to put in in an alternate year to plow under and boost the nitrogen," Kinney said.
Baggett says diversity drives sustainability because there are so many variables from year to year.
"If all the sudden you have a pest, a virus or some sort of lack of rainfall that's hurting your corn, something like sorghum can still be produced," Baggett said.
Nevada has had three good growing seasons over the past three years, following four years of drought that had a huge impact on farmers around the state. With this kind of research, they are hoping they can avoid those struggles in the future.