Black and Gold and Green

Research centers improve efficiency in research and practice

From turning today’s tuna salad into tomorrow’s tomatoes, and improving water quality and conservation through advanced irrigation and drainage techniques, CAFNR’s 17 research centers are improving production efficiency, reducing costs and inputs and working to conserve natural resources.

Solar collectors power the monitoring stations at Greenley Research Center’s drainage and subirrigation system.

Sometimes the solutions involve working with what nature provides, such as capturing ground source air to maintain consistent temperatures for heating and cooling, or designing creative reuse of materials such as turning waste vegetable oil into biodiesel.

Through these solutions, coupled with long term research projects such as Greenley Research Center’s drainage and subirrigation (MUDS) project and paired watershed research, the Centers help farmers improve their operations and conserve natural resources. The savings realized from this efficiency and energy management help fund the maintenance of the research infrastructure. Each year more than 35,000 people visit the centers to learn how they can apply the latest research to their operations.

“I think sometimes people think farming hasn’t changed in the last 20 years, but in reality it’s changed radically,” said John Poehlmann, assistant director of the Missouri Agriculture Experiment Station.

Here’s a snapshot of some of those changes, including the centers’ myriad sustainability practices:


  • Greenley Memorial Research Center – Long-term research in drainage and sub-irrigation has increased yields in corn and soybeans by 20 to 40 percent. The wise use of water also has a positive effect on quality and quantity of water flowing to nearby waterways.
  • T.E. “Jake” Fisher Delta Research Center – Research in irrigation techniques including terminal irrigation and advanced monitoring of soil moisture allow for significant water conservation and improved crop yields because plants are getting just the right amount of water, just when they need it.
  • Greenley, the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) and Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center – Ongoing watershed studies discover best practices to create riparian buffer zones to capture nutrients and improve water quality and examine watershed science in agricultural and forested ecosystems.

    Elderberries, a nutritious fruit native to Missouri. At the Southwest Research Center and Horticultural and Agroforestry Research Center researchers explore different growing methods and varieties of fruits and nuts, strengthening and diversifying Missouri’s food system.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation

  • Hundley-Whaley Research Center – A “slinky field” captures ground source heat and circulates ground temperature-conditioned water to heat exchangers throughout its Learning and Discovery Center for even and efficient heat.
  • Bradford Research Center and T.E. “Jake” Fisher Delta Research Center – Pesticide handling and storage facilities take advantage of low temperature fluctuations below ground. By circulating underground air in their facilities they greatly reduce the need to provide supplemental heating or cooling.  The consistent temperatures prolong the shelf life of the products.
  • Forage Systems Research Center, Thompson Research Center and Wurdack Research Center – Earth tubes are used to keep remote watering stations from freezing during winter months. By tapping into the air at a constant temperature underground, they can avoid the cost and energy required to provide electricity.
  • Whenever renovations are made, the Centers upgrade to the most efficient standard as is practical, Poehlmann said. Recent upgrades include LED zone lighting at South Farm and Hundley-Whaley and new insulation at Southwest Research Center, which now saves thousands of dollars a year on heating and cooling bills.
  • Bradford Research Center and Southwest Research Center – Solar greenhouses capture the sun’s energy and release it slowly through the evening, protecting plants when temperatures are as low as 10 degrees outside.

    Andy Thomas, research assistant professor, describes how the solar greenhouse works at Southwest Research Center’s Field Day last fall.

Natural Resource Management

  • Forage Systems Research Center –  Rob Kallenbach, professor of plant sciences, and Dave Davis, superintendent, are working to provide year-round rotational grazing strategies for cattle producers, saving the time, energy and inputs to make hay. Kallenbach recently completed a study on stockpiled fescue for winter grazing, a key component to achieving year-round rotational grazing.
  • Researchers at many of the Centers explore crop management and variety testing to conserve soil and grow the best quality crops with the least amount of inputs.
  • South Farm – Researchers at the Swine Research Center use deep pits for manure rather than lagoons, enabling them to capture more nutrients to use as crop fertilizer.
  • Foremost Dairy – The need to put phosphorus on their pastures for the last 20 years has been eliminated through use of manure to fertilize fields, essentially allowing the cows to feed themselves.

Recycling and Reuse

  • Bradford Research Center – Creative reuse of resources is the new standard. A corn stove heats plant shelters by burning research trial grain that can’t go to market, and a furnace burns pallets that would otherwise be discarded to supplement the heat in the main building, saving the Center more than 9,000 gallons of propane each year. A Zero Carbon Footprint Vegetable and Production System creates a closed loop by composting food waste from MU dining halls, using the compost to grow vegetables and then selling the produce back to Campus Dining Services.
Tim Reinbott, superintendent of Bradford Research Center, stands in front of a Conservation Partnership Award the Center recently received from Missouri Quail Forever.
  • South Farm – Collects used oil from its operations and other research centers and burns it in a Shenandoah Used Oil Heater to heat the land improvement shop. This provides an onsite heat source and saves the cost of having the used oil picked up.
  • The research centers also use the Federal Excess Personal Property program through the USDA. From heavy machinery, such as tractors and trucks to gloves and boots, faculty and staff at the centers save money and resources by acquiring goods through the program. “If you think about what it would cost to recycle something like that or for us to buy it new or even the carbon required to make new products, there’s a big savings there,” Poehlmann said.