UK Grains Center of Excellence to strengthen Kentucky agriculture

Posted on Jul 20, 2016

By Katie Pratt

Thanks to funding from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, the University of Kentucky Grains Center of Excellence will help advance Kentucky agriculture for decades.

The board awarded the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment a $15 million grant on July 15 to renovate and expand the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, with particular emphasis on grain crops and forages. The university must match the award.

“Being awarded this project is a great honor,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the college. “We thank the commodity and producer organizations that inspired it. We appreciate the fact that the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board made this award from monies from a lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies. Thanks to the General Assembly, elected policy makers, Gov. Matt Bevin, Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Soybean Board, Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association.”

Center improvements will include updated and new state-of-the-art meeting facilities, laboratories and offices, and a boost to the center’s high-speed internet capabilities so professors at the center can teach classes for students in Lexington. The improvements will enhance the college’s extension, research and teaching capabilities and give center personnel the space to host additional educational workshops and trainings. While grains are in the center’s name, all commodity areas based at Princeton, including beef cattle, forages and pastures, and horticulture, will benefit from the improvements and expansion.

“The center will benefit Kentucky producers by providing new applications and technologies resulting in increased yields, reduced inputs and higher economic returns,” said Rick Bennett, UK associate dean for research and director of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. “This grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board could not have been possible without the strong support of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association and other agricultural commodity groups in the state who have been strong partners and advocates for the college’s research efforts.”

The Kentucky Corn Growers Association purchased an adjoining tract of land for the center to lease. The land will allow UK specialists to conduct large-scale research on intensive agricultural production practices, to study water quality issues and to help define the environmental footprint of intensive agriculture.

“It’s great that the Ag Development Board approved the $15 million to fund the Grain Center of Excellence, said Philip McCoun, Shelby County farmer and promotion council chairman of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association. “This will help complete the two years of work many leadership groups have put in, and will provide farmers with unbiased research.”

Farmer-leaders with the Corn Growers Association and other commodity groups first envisioned the center and have been supportive and involved with making the new center a reality.

“Princeton is centrally located to the majority of crop production in the state, and research conducted at the center has always been top notch and valuable to farmers,” said Davie Stephens, Hickman County farmer and chair of the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board. “The Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board is proud to be a part of the effort to move the center’s research to the next level.”

Pulaski County farmer and Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney said he was very pleased to see these funds allocated for the Grains Center of Excellence, a project the organization has supported since its inception, in keeping with its long-standing history of supporting agricultural research.

“Field crops contribute nearly $3 billion annually to Kentucky’s economy, and research is a critical component to that industry. This facility will take the outstanding efforts made at the UK Research and Education Center to a higher level, addressing the unique challenges of feeding a growing world population in the decades to come,” he said. “The center will not only be helpful to farm families but will be beneficial to all Kentuckians.”

Chad Lee, UK grain crops specialist, will be named the center’s director.

“While this idea began with grain farmers, we are excited that this funding will strengthen all areas of the center and renew our focus on grains and forages to positively impact at least another generation of growers,” Lee said. “I am humbled by the tremendous amount of faith the growers and state leaders have placed on us to make this center a reality.”

John Grove, director of the UK Research and Education Center, said the investment shows the trust the Kentucky agricultural stakeholders have for the center’s faculty, many of whom are new to the university and just starting their careers, and will help alleviate the limited space for research, extension and teaching.

“The center will benefit Western Kentucky farmers and the larger agricultural community within the region,” he said. “It will also create a work environment where our faculty can be fruitful, prosper intellectually and scientifically, and move grain and forage production forward in our state.”