Moving the Agricultural Food Chain Forward

Agricultural Experiment Station balancing research, proper safety protocols during pandemic

The Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) at the University of Missouri operates a system of Agricultural Research Centers across the state in an effort to meet the regional needs of agricultural producers and natural resource managers. With nearly 14,000 acres, these research and demonstration facilities host more than 35,000 people each year for field days, Extension activities and other community events.

The various facilities play a vital role in the agricultural food chain in numerous ways, including seed variety trials, plant and animal breeding studies, and providing agronomic information. As research ramps down at MU due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Research Centers are working to help move the agricultural food chain along.

“The Agricultural Experiment Station has been responsible for finding the answers to numerous agricultural-related questions for decades,” said Shibu Jose, associate dean of the CAFNR Office of Research and director of the AES. “What we do at our farms and centers is essential food systems research, with a focus on providing information and best management practices to farmers and producers throughout the state.

“With the current global situation, we are doing our best to continue with this research with the understanding that the situation is incredibly fluid and constantly changing. Our priority is to keep our people safe and we are closely following the recommendations of the CDC, including practicing social distancing.”

With the planting season for crops and the spring breeding season for cattle fast approaching, Jose said the farms and centers are currently planning to move forward with their 2020 trials and other select projects. Jose has been in regular contact with the superintendents at each Research Center to talk through what the upcoming planting season will look like.

“We obviously may be very limited in what we can offer in terms of results,” Jose said. “It really just depends on what we are able to do with the limited personnel.

“We understand that farmers and producers rely on the information we provide related to soil fertility and herbicide rates, weed control, crop varieties, conservation practices, animal husbandry and many other topics that define their economic bottom line. We also understand that if we do miss a planting season, that could possibly set us back a year and set producers back two years or more. That information is critical for our farmers and producers.”

While those plans are still being developed, contingency plans are also being made for many different scenarios, especially the farms and centers that have livestock. Those facilities are considered essential because of the livestock onsite. That also includes the Mizzou Meat Market, which is located on campus.

“We’re working through a system that allows for us to provide help in case a farm or center is in need,” Jose said. “Whether that help comes from other Research Centers or volunteers through our advisory boards, we’re trying to have multiple back-up plans in place.

“For the Meat Market, demand has really increased for beef and pork in recently days, so we feel like it’s an essential service to the community. Again, we’re following the guidelines, including offering curbside pickup to minimize interpersonal interactions.”

The Foremost Dairy Research Center, located just west of Columbia, is another example of an essential facility. The cows at the Research Center are milked twice a day, and will have to be moving forward.

Additionally, Mizzou declared the MU Soil and Plant Testing Lab a critical operation due to its assistance to farmers across the state. The lab provides soil testing, fertilizer recommendations and plant analysis services.

“If we can do so safely, the MU Soil Testing Laboratory in Columbia remains open,” said Rob Kallenbach, associate dean of CAFNR Extension and senior program director of Agriculture and Environment Extension. “We understand the essential role our lab plays in supporting Missouri’s agricultural industry.”

As some county offices close, samples and payment can still be mailed directly to the lab in Columbia. More information and shipping labels can be accessed via MU Extension’s website.

A handful of Research Centers are also working with MU students by providing internet as the students take part in remote learning. The Southwest Research Center (Mt. Vernon), Forage Systems Research Center (Linneus, Mo.) and Thompson Research Center (Spickard, Mo.) have had students stop by and utilize the internet.

To protect the health and well being of the campus community, the MU Office of Research and Economic Development issued restrictions for all on-campus research laboratories, with a focus on essential activities.

“We are currently in the process of ramping down our research across the college,” CAFNR Vice Chancellor and Dean Christopher Daubert said. “We’re working with our researchers to find the best ways to condense their projects without completely losing the momentum of the project. We’re definitely not starting new research or operating as business is going on as usual. We are taking the precautions very seriously.”