High Plains Ag Lab Seeks Support To Replace 70-Year-Old Headquarters - UNL CropWatch, June 15, 2012

High Plains Ag Lab Seeks Support To Replace 70-Year-Old Headquarters - UNL CropWatch, June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012

A fund-raising effort is under way to build a modern office and laboratory at the UNL High Plains Agricultural Lab (HPAL) north of Sidney.

The new building would replace a 1940s-era structure that was part of the U.S. Sioux Army Ordnance Depot that was given to the University in 1970.

Exterior of High Plains Ag Lab, June 2012

Exterior of the High Plains Ag Lab, June 2012 Exterior of the UNL High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney. A local committee and University of Nebraska Foundation drive have been established to raise funds to build a new laboratory to continue research on dryland crops.

The High Plains Ag Lab Building Project proposes constructing a new building at an estimated cost of $500,000, according to Drew Lyon, Extension Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist for UNL and faculty supervisor of the High Plains Ag Lab. Lyon said the building will provide office space for visiting scientists and graduate students and a more suitable area for processing grain and forage samples.

The campaign is being conducted by a local committee and the University of Nebraska Foundation. Lyon said gifts can be made in the form of cash, grain, or pledges that can be paid off over three years. It is hoped that money can be raised by this fall so construction can begin this fall or next spring.

“Private, tax-deductible donations are the sole source of this building project,” said Barb Schlothauer, director of development for the University of Nebraska Foundation in the Panhandle. “All gifts are given to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the High Plains Ag Lab Building Fund.”

The proposed facility would consist of a 2,400-square-foot building with a laboratory and associated space for equipment and receiving; a conference room; and work stations for a farm manager and up to eight other staff, students or visiting scientists. The existing building wasn’t designed as a research facility. A small seed-cleaning lab is the only research laboratory.

Leon Kriesel of Kriesel Certified Seed of Gurley, president of the Nebraska Seed Trade Association and past president of the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association, said the project is needed because up-to-date research is vital for agriculture in the Panhandle.

“Small-grain dryland research is vital to our region’s economy,” Kriesel said. “There are times when we just have to invest in the future. This building project will help keep current research, like the multi-state wheat breeding trial and Nebraska wheat nurseries in our southern Panhandle, as well as position our area as a place for new dryland research. Agricultural producers realize the importance of having this resource in their back yard. We can’t lose it.”

Keith Rexroth, a Sidney area farmer, is chairing the HPAL Building Project Committee. His father was one of several who served on a local development group instrumental in getting the ag lab started. Rexroth pointed out that it was a forward-looking group of Panhandle agricultural producers who enabled the growth of dryland research.

“Forty-five years ago, Panhandle agriculturalists acted on a vision for a dryland research center. This world-class research is growing into the future of dryland agriculture,” he said. “Help is needed to improve the lab building in order for our nationally acclaimed research team to continue the unprecedented progress.”

The High Plains Ag Lab, located six miles northwest of Sidney, is a satellite unit of the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. One-third of its 2,400 acres is used for dryland crop research and two-thirds is in pasture. The facility’s mission is unique to the High Plains, a high-elevation, semi-arid crop region.

Five faculty members based in the Panhandle conduct most of the research, including a dryland cropping systems specialist, alternative crops breeder, cow-calf/range management specialist, entomologist, and soil fertility specialist. Several technicians help carry out research projects, and other faculty and technicians also travel from Scottsbluff occasionally to work on research.

In the Panhandle, dryland agriculture is a major segment of the industry, occupying more than 2 million acres of cropland and directly contributing $90 million per year to the economy. The estimated total economic impact is more than $200 million.

For years, research at HPAL was performed under the direction of Charlie Fenster, former dryland cropping specialist at UNL who retired in the early 1980s and now is an emeritus faculty member.

Fenster credited the Cheyenne County Rural Development Committee for promoting the project to UNL administrators in Lincoln and Gov. Frank Morrison, whose support sealed the deal.

HPAL research has made a tremendous impact on increasing wheat yield and stabilizing soil loss from erosion, Fenster recalled. Much of the gains came from more efficient use of water, but also from improved varieties of wheat, such as Lancer and Scout, he said.

The High Plains Ag Lab has benefitted the region’s ag sector in several major ways, according to researchers and local ag leaders:

  • Assessing the long-term effects of different tillage systems for wheat and other dryland crops.
  • Hosting wheat variety trials and contribute to the development of new wheat varieties adapted to the region, including hard white wheat varieties.
  • Developing management strategies for wheat curl mite/wheat streak mosaic virus, as well as other serious insect, disease and weed pests.
  • Developing alternative crops such as proso millet and sunflowers. (This lab supports the work of the only proso millet breeder in the United States.) HPAL has helped study the adaptability of brown mustard, canola, and camelina as oilseed crops that might be used to produce biodiesel.
  • Integrated crop and livestock systems

The researchers share results every year with the public at an open house. This year’s event is scheduled for June 21 beginning at 8:30 a.m.

David Ostdiek, Communications Associate
Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff