MU Southwest Center benefits the region through research and outreach

Located about three hours south of Columbia in the town of Mt. Vernon lies one of the University of Missouri’s hidden treasures. Southwest Research Center has been serving Missouri for almost 60 years by providing a place for researchers to investigate different aspects of the agriculture industry.

On Thursday, Sept. 13, the center began constructing a new meeting facility on the grounds.

“Our new educational conference facility will help in a variety of ways,” said David Cope, superintendent of the center. “We currently have many organizations ask if they can have a meeting here, but then find that our current space is not suitable for their needs.  Our location will allow those people to come here and, as an added benefit, learn more about what we do here.”

The new structure will be 7,050 square feet and will feature a 3,800 square foot conference room. It is being built just west of the administration center.

The Southwest Research Center’s main focus is agriculture research that will benefit the region.

“We focus on beef cattle research, fescue toxicity and forage research, with quite a bit of horticulture as well,” said Cope, “We have a 2-acre Chambourcin grape vineyard also.”

Jendel Wolfe, the center’s business support specialist, went more in depth on explaining the current research projects happening at the center. The beef herd at the center is being expanded and improved through the use of reproductive and genomic technologies; there are black walnut variety trials happening that include thinning, new cultivars, root stock studies, and seed germination; there is a partnership with Lincoln University to study tomato production in a high tunnel; with agronomy, the research includes testing of new varieties of annual Lespedeza and birdsfoot trefoil for Missouri pastures, ultrasonic pasture readers, and the impact of prescribed burning on ergot alkaloid production in endophyte-infected K31 tall fescue.

Outside of the different research aspects of the center, they also host workshops and events throughout the year.

“We have an annual Field Day that will draw over 2,000 people with high school ag education students and the general public in attendance,” Cope said. “In addition, we have an annual Ag Fun Day where we teach third and fourth grade students about agriculture.”

There are also different FFA contests and practices held at the center. The Mt. Vernon FFA Chapter uses the center for soils judging, grasslands, and forestry practice throughout the year, according to Mt. Vernon FFA Adviser Jay Shepherd. He went on to say that the new facility being built on the property will be vital because there are many different commodity groups that meet at the center several times a year.

 “[The research center] makes an impact on the community by bringing people to Mt. Vernon that are going to specifically learn at the farm,” Shepherd said. “It puts us on the map in the agriculture community and brings money to the local economy from those visiting.”

“We have over 4,000 visitors each year to our facility,” said Jendel Wolfe, the research center’s business support specialist. “These groups include FFA chapters, high school advanced statistics classes, boys scout troops, cattlemen, visitors from other countries, 4-H groups, dairy groups, other universities, and various workshop participants.  We are a facility that is used for various reasons.  These include meetings, workshops, research, high school classroom, and hands-on learning about agriculture.”

By using the Southwest Research Center, the University of Missouri is able to attract people both near and far that may not have ever stepped foot on the MU main campus in Columbia.

 “We are the only outpost the university has in this part of the state (outside of the clinical campus in Springfield), so when people see the Southwest Center, they think of the University of Missouri,” Cope said on the importance of the center. “We utilize that for education/outreach efforts, as well as recruitment for the University of Missouri.”