Family Helping Family
When alumni and supporters think of SIU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the word “family” often springs to mind.
Seburn Pense, professor of agricultural education, recently was quoted in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ spring e-newsletter as saying, “Students come here and they see the campus and the facilities. They see that this college is like a family.”
Karen Midden, associate dean and professor for the college, agrees.
“The College of Ag really is just an excellent college with so much to offer its students,” Midden says. “We are very much like a family. The university farms provide hands-on experience for the students. It’s a backbone of the animal science teaching program, (and) it’s critical for agronomy and horticulture as well. The leading research at the farms provides experiential learning and prepares students for jobs in industry and academia, or to pursue graduate degrees.”
Right now, University Farms is in need of some assistance in several areas. The 2,000-acre farm system has significant upkeep needs – and, with the budget cuts and restricted spending in place across campus, the college hopes alumni will step forward and help.
After all, that’s what families do.
The following are areas that need assistance:
When visiting the research greenhouses where students do significant research on soybeans and tomato plants, the need for updates is evident. As Midden explains: “The SIU research greenhouses were built sometime in the 1950s and are extremely outdated. What they need is to update their systems.”
The soil in all research greenhouses must first be sterilized before any planting can begin. To sterilize the soil, SIU greenhouse employees use a soil steamer. Unfortunately, the steamer no longer works, so employees must borrow one, which is inconvenient in scheduling and transporting.
The heating and cooling systems are in need of modernization, which would include the replacement of pipes, thermostats and vent motors. The propane boiler, which heats the greenhouse, also needs to be repaired or replaced.
Swine and Beef Centers
At the farm’s swine and beef centers, a sanitation truck is used to transport the manure from the livestock areas. This truck, which is between 25 and 30 years old, has a faulty engine in need of repair. The centers also have several tractors more than 50 years old that require constant repairs and upgrades.
Perhaps one of the biggest needs is for an automated hog feeder. Currently, an SIU employee must hand-feed the hogs each day, hauling between 50 and 60 buckets every morning, seven days a week.
Colten Collier, senior agricultural research technician, also points out fencing that needs repair at the beef center.
“Bulls often break through these fences to get to the cows, and we don’t have the lumber to replace it,” Collier says. “So we patch it as best we can.”
But Collier says the fences are not the only issue.
“One of the challenges we face is that we can’t put the cows in several of the pens, because the watering system is so old that it can’t hold water any longer,” he says. “If there’s no water, then the space can’t be used for the cattle.”
In the farm’s service center sits the farm’s only combine, used to service 700 acres of corn and beans. The motor for the combine is more than 25 years old and is in constant need of repair.
“Our herbicide sprayer burned out six years ago, so now we contract that service out,” Midden says. “The problem with contracting is that we can’t control when we get the spraying done. That’s critical, because there is such a small window of when to spray and when to plant. It would be nice if we could control the timing to suit our needs.”
University Farms is more than a working farm system. It’s also a classroom, a laboratory and a social scene for students who learn and work at SIU. Students conduct feed efficiency research projects and learn animal husbandry at the beef and swine centers, and they conduct soil fertility and plant growth research projects in the research greenhouse. Some of these projects are faculty-mentored student studies, while others are faculty research with student assistants, but everything at the farms contributes to the hands-on learning community the College of Agricultural Sciences created.
Monetary donations to support these areas of the farm or donating actual items is the best way to ensure University Farms continues its success.
To learn more about the College of Agricultural Sciences’ University Farms program, visit http://coas.siu.edu/research/university-farms-forest-research/. To learn more about the needs of the College of Agricultural Sciences, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/agricultural-sciences.php.