Centers and farms are hubs for research, teaching and hands-on experience

Research is ongoing every day at the 16 farms and centers owned by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.  From animal genetics and nutrition to advancements in crops and plant breeding studies the work done at these research centers and farms, which cover more than 14,000 acres scattered across the state, creates knowledge producers can use.

Several of the farms are located in Columbia, and one of those is the Bradford Research Center. Bradford is primarily a row crop research facility, but also focuses on some vegetable production. Andrew Biggs, supervisor at Bradford, believes the many research centers are a vital aspect to the university’s success. 

“To a lot of people around the state, the research centers are the face of the university,” Biggs said. “They really provide pertinent information for people living in that particular geographic region.”

Sixty percent of all research from Bradford can be used directly by agriculturalists across the state. Some examples of this applied research can be found in the studies of native plants and conservation. In recent years, researchers have looked into various methods to use native plants in different ways that provide both food and cover for wildlife animals. Other research is focused on plant genetics and breeding, as well as basic research that will be able to be utilized on farms in the future.

There are several different methods that researchers and supervisors at the centers use to relay the information they have found to community members. Throughout the year, there are field days where people can visit the farm and learn more about the new research. In recent months, Bradford held a sweet corn tasting, a native plant sale, and tours for elementary students to learn more about crop and vegetable production.

In addition to helping surrounding communities learn more about the agriculture in their region, research conducted at any of the centers can be used to teach students at the university. Some professors within CAFNR are directly involved with the research themselves, which Biggs thinks is important for their students.

“By having faculty that conduct research and learn new things, they are able to disseminate the new research to the students they are teaching,” Biggs said. “The nature of research really allows them to shed some light as to how things work.”

Derek Brake, assistant professor in Animal Sciences, has been at the university for one year and is involved with research in animal nutrition. The purpose of nutritional studies in animals is to improve production efficiency of livestock by predicting the correct amounts of nutrient requirements, which minimizes costs of feedstuffs for the producers.

Brake believes that being directly involved with the research has impacted his and other professors’ ability to teach their students.

“Active researchers are able to keep us at the forefront of knowledge in their area of research,” Brake said. “They translate laboratory findings and cutting-edge research into real world settings and without the farms, it would be much more difficult to do.”

Another sector of research completed by the Animal Science Research Center deals with animal genetics and genomics. By testing genes in animals, researchers have found ways to maximize production and increase fertility rates in livestock animals, which then contribute to the success of producers and lead to higher profitability on their farms.

Not only do the centers provide opportunities for professors to create knowledge, they also allow students to have hands-on experiences within different aspects of agriculture. The research centers employ many part-time students which provide them learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Brake says there is a disconnect between many people and agriculture and by allowing students to be employees, they are able to get a better insight of what happens on farms.

“For some time now, a trend has been a decreasing number of people that get exposure to livestock as children, but that doesn’t mean there is a lesser need for professionals working in those fields,” Brake said.

The research centers allow students to gain experiences and find a possible future career. Sarah Estes, a student employee at Foremost Dairy Research Center, said she has acquired more than just knowledge by working at the dairy farm.

“I’ve also gained confidence in myself, which will help me in any career path I choose,” Estes said. “Besides, it is more fun and engaging than sitting through a lecture.”

Estes has completed various jobs on the farm including the smaller tasks like moving the cows to a new pasture to bigger tasks like vaccinating and pulling calves. She said it is experiences like these that will help her in the future.

“You can learn about it in the classroom but until you actually get the hands-on experience, you won’t truly retain that knowledge,” Estes said.

The university provides ample opportunities to students to further engage their learning. Engagement and the maximization of student learning is largely resulted from the work completed at the research centers. Students have many options to optimize their education that they would not have if it were not for the centers.

Statistics show that the college itself is ranked within the top 15 programs around the world for its research in plant and animal sciences. Research findings from the centers not only have an impact on the university, but also on people around the state and even the world. The findings can be used by anybody almost anywhere to improve their techniques and create a more sustainable future in agriculture.

According to CAFNR, over $42 million was dedicated to the college’s research centers in 2017. Without this funding provided by federal and state grants, numerous donors and the university itself, it would not be possible for the centers to continue operating.