Field Trials on Water Usage of Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus

The long-term goal of this multi-state, integrated research-extension project is to evaluate the field performance of mega-Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica and two related species) as potential for forage, food, and biomass crops for southern Nevada and semi-arid regions of the desert southwest. While prickly pear cactus is used as a forage and food crop in Central America and many semi-arid regions throughout the world, reliable and current information about the true productivity and water-input requirements of these species is lacking. Thus, there is a strategic need to collect detailed information about the true growth potential and resource input requirements for these water-saving crops, which require only 20% the water inputs of traditional crops.

To our knowledge, there are no studies that have attempted to collect such field information within the United States. The specific objectives and approaches are to evaluate the field performance of mega-CAM prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica and two related species) under three different irrigation regimes at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) field laboratory in Logandale, Nevada, to evaluate the forage, food, and biomass potential for these three field-grown mega-CAM prickly pear cactus species, and lastly, to provide educational outreach about the project by creating a project website, publishing one or more extension bulletins about the project, conducting on-site extension tours, and developing a one-day workshop to be presented in years 3-5 of the project to heighten public awareness about the project. This research will evaluate the use of prickly pear cactus species in production systems on semi-arid lands with limited available water resources.