By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky researchers, Kentucky farmers and stakeholders celebrated the official opening of UK’s Grain and Forage Center of Excellence, a facility committed to moving the state’s and surrounding region’s agricultural community forward.
"The Grain and Forage Center of Excellence reflects our land-grant mission in the 21st century,” UK President Eli Capilouto said. “Agriculture is a fundamental component of the Kentucky economy, and the innovation underway at this center advances that work. It is another way we serve our role as the University for Kentucky and expand the boundaries of what’s possible for our state and beyond.”
UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment specialists have a long, storied history of working with producers to make Kentucky an international leader in agricultural innovation and adaptation. One such partnership between the late Don Halcomb, a Logan County farmer, and Lloyd Murdock, UK extension soils professor emeritus, developed the concept for the center. Their vision quickly gained support and momentum with the state’s farmers and commodity groups.
“The development of this facility is a strong testament to the wonderful working relationship the college has with producers and stakeholders across the state,” said Nancy Cox, college dean. “Grain and Forage Center faculty and staff will continue to work with our valued partners to continue to move the agriculture industry forward.”
The center became a reality in 2016 when the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board awarded the university $15 million for its completion.
“The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board is a proud partner with the UK Grain and Forage Center of Excellence. The research performed here on local soils, all types of crops and methods of production will prepare our farmers to compete globally,” said Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. “We do not know what agriculture will look like or what we might be growing in 50 years. The UK Grain and Forage Center of Excellence is our investment in being ready for that future.”
Center researchers are conducting projects that focus on efficient production and long-term sustainability. Some of the specific areas they are studying include variable rate irrigation, incorporating summer annuals into forage rotations, cover crops, improved forage quality, new marketing opportunities for specialty grains and fighting new weeds in forages and grains.
Through the Kentucky Agricultural Training Schools, center faculty and staff offer more educational opportunities to producers at critical times throughout the growing season to help them achieve higher yielding and quality crops with minimal environmental impacts. UK forage extension specialists host regionally focused grazing schools and the popular Kentucky Fencing School to help producers learn how to build well-constructed fences for their livestock.
Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the center provided meaningful research projects in a variety of disciplines for eight undergraduate interns from across the region this summer. Center scientists also hosted a capacity crowd of high school students for its first High School Field Scouting Competition. With a boost to the center’s high-speed internet, graduate students conducting research at the center can now remotely participate in classes in Lexington.
“The Grain and Forage Center of Excellence came about because we have been extremely focused on working with and helping producers grow crops and livestock more sustainably,” said Chad Lee, center director. “This new facility ensures that we have some basic tools to honor that commitment for generations to come.”