Farmland and livestock may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of the University of Missouri. Often the only thing that differentiates any of the 13 MU teaching and research facilities from a private farm, is the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources sign at the end of the road. In fact, these research centers are a key part of the learning experience at MU.
One of these facilities is Baskett Research Center, located east of Ashland, Missouri. Baskett is abundant in natural streams and forests that make up its vast tract of 2,226 acres. For Benjamin O. Knapp, superintendent of Baskett, the area presents an opportunity to merge classwork with the outdoors.
“[Baskett] gives an opportunity to get out of the classroom, get hands on, and to see some of these ecosystems we talk about in the natural world,” Knapp said.
Getting outdoors and enjoying camping, hiking and fishing were a few of the activities that led Knapp to pursue forestry and eventually become superintendent of Baskett research center. As superintendent, Knapp also deals with the research side of running of Baskett.
“From a research standpoint, there’s a lot of different projects that have gone on at Baskett. It’s a sizable tract of forested land that presents a pretty good resource for research opportunities,” Knapp said. “Currently one of the larger research projects is called the MO-FLUX tower, which measures gas exchange from the forest to the atmosphere and is part of a network across the country.”
In addition to the land research at Baskett, the University also runs Bradford Research Center, a land area that focuses on plant science rather than silviculture and forestry. Bradford farms recently hosted its annual tomato festival, which drew around 1,000 visitors. Andrew Biggs, who became Bradford’s superintendent in March, relies on community events to raise awareness of Bradford’s importance.
“It’s kind of hard to get the general public excited about corn and soybeans,” Biggs said.
Despite this challenge, Biggs believes involving the public will help the facility’s research efforts and recruit more people into agriculture. Currently, Bradford farms has the largest concentration of research plots in crop and oil related sciences.
“Getting the community involved adds a whole lot of value to the farm itself. Without community involvement the number of people you would reach would be very small,” Biggs said.
Working with the community can also increases profits, especially for the animal production side of the research facilities. Both the Foremost Dairy Research Center and the Equine Teaching and Research Facility auction off livestock to the public.
“We sold a calf a couple years ago called Mogul Pastel involved in genomic research that ended up selling for $25,000” said John Denbigh, who has been involved with the dairy for 30 years and currently serves as superintendent.
While Denbigh has been involved with the dairy it has employed a handful of part-time workers and also provided hands-on experience for students interested in milk production. Foremost is the only dairy in Boone County. Most of the research done at Foremost is on maximizing production and, more recently, on genetics.
Similar to the dairy program, the equine program focuses on animal production and research. The center is run by 75 student volunteers and by students in equine science classes. Seniors work with horses on behavior and training in hopes of marketing their riding prospects. Students in marketing management classes organize online auctions, and proceeds are put back into the program.
Graduate student Natalie Duncan’s experience at the Equine Center was a path to pursue her interest in horses, since she didn’t grow up with horse experience. Since Duncan started volunteering at the farm, she has researched neo-natal development and served as a manager for the facility while pursuing her graduate degree.
“I love teaching. I really love that this is a facility open to students of any level of horses whether they have been riding their whole life or have never touched a horse,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s experience at the Equine Facility is one of 13 research and teaching opportunities available to students and faculty. Like Bradford, Baskett, Foremost and the Equine Center, most of these research facilities are used for a combination of research, teaching and community involvement.
Funding for agricultural research is provided through the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), and over half is from federal sources. According to CAFNR, fiscal funding for research in 2015 was $41,343,324. All together the land used in the University’s agricultural centers totals 14,000 acres.
For Biggs, the funding is a means to engage in research and teaching that leaves a lasting impact outside of the classroom.
“Theory is a wonderful thing, but to really truly understand the knowledge you’ve attained you’ve got to apply it. That’s the next step,” Biggs said.
> photographs by Emily Adams