Outreach Center a Long-Term Resource
By Dan Lemke,
For 125 years, northwest Minnesota farmers have had a unique resource working on their behalf.
The Northwest Research and Outreach Center (NWROC) in Crookston delivers unbiased research on a range of agricultural topics—all with the goal of helping farmers make the best management decisions they can.
The Morrill Land Grant Act established the University of Minnesota in 1862, by 1887, the Hatch Act created the Agricultural Experiment Station. Ag Extension was created in 1914 through the Smith Lever Act. Those developments were key to creation of the Northwest Experiment Station, which was established in 1895 and was Minnesota’s first outstate experiment station. The name was changed to the NWROC in the late 1990s. Today, the NWROC is one of ten research and outreach centers (ROC) spread across Minnesota.
“All ROCs are strategically located,” says Albert Sims, NWROC Director of Operations. “The NWROC is unique from the other ROCs for a number of reasons. Our landscape was determined by glacial Lake Agassiz, so we have some unique soils. Water flows north, so it has international implications, and our cropping system has been largely small grains and sugar beets.”
Sims joined the Northwest Experiment Station in 1995 as a soil scientist, working in the areas of nutrient management, fertilizer and residue management. In October 2010, Sims became NWROC director of operations.
Over the course of the NWROC’s 125-year history, the center’s structure and capacity has changed, but Sims says the focus has not.
“Our value is providing independent research. It is funded research, but the ideas, direction and interpretation are not based on marketing,” Sims explains. “Our role is to give farmers the best information possible for them to make decisions.”
Sims says the ROCs provide people with the connection to resources available at the University of Minnesota.
“Farmers and agribusinesses know that if they need an independent
view on data, they have a home at the University of Minnesota,” Sims adds.
Research at the NWROC has largely focused on spring wheat and sugar beet, with smaller efforts on potato, canola, edible bean, barley, and oats. In recent years, more corn and soybean research has entered the mix as a growing effort.
Dr. Albert Sims
Sims says the University owns about 1400 acres of land and rents about 525 additional acres. About 250 to 300 acres are used for research plots. Sims says demand for addition research plot land is increasing. The NWROC has four faculty members, roughly four office staff, six operations workers and 11 research staff.
The NWROC has three primary avenues of funding. About one-third of the center’s funding needs come from allocated funding through the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources. Sims says those funds, which have been reduced by 30 percent since 2001, are mostly used for key operations personnel and all-purpose research technical assistance.
The NWROC also operates a commercial farm, growing sugar beets, spring wheat, soybean and corn to generate income. Income from the NWROC farm provides necessary revenue to maintain their capacity to fulfill their mission of research and outreach/Extension.
“Without that income, we can’t maintain our mission,” Sims says.
Much of the research projects conducted at the NWROC require outside funding. Sources include private companies, commodity organizations, and state and federal agencies.
“To develop and maintain their research and out-reach/Extension programs,” Sims explains. “Faculty at the ROCs, and most of the University, must seek outside funding sources.”
Sims says graduate students, technicians and research trials almost all require outside funding. That’s due in large part because public support has not kept up with expenses.
Sims says interaction with farmers is an important part of what the NWROC offers. He encourages farmers to come to meetings and events presented by the NWROC to share their ideas and concerns.
“When we interact, we learn as much from the growers as they do from us,” Sims says. “Conversations with farmers have stimulated many research projects.”
While many of the research studies are supported with outside funds, Sims says researchers are able to maintain their objectivity because their focus is on delivering information
“We are doing our best to help them make deci-sions by providing fair and unbiased information. We’re not here to market or sell a product, we’re here to develop and share information,” Sims contends.
Sims says the NWROC’s work impacts all citizens, especially in areas like water quality and soil health. De-spite changing times, Sims expects the center will continue focus on small grains and sugar beet research but is likely to expand to include nutrient and water management, and remote sensing technology in an ever-changing cropping system.
“In today’s financially challenging environment, we are doing what we can to maintain capacity for research, outreach and extension so that we remain valuable for agriculture in northwest Minnesota,” Sims says. “That is our goal.”
More information about the NWROC, including research results, is available at https://www.nwroc. umn.edu/.