A fund-raising effort is under way to build a modern office and laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's High Plains Agricultural Lab north of Sidney.
The new building would replace a 1940s-era structure that was part of the Sioux Army Ordnance Depot when the U.S. government gave the property to the university in 1970.
The High Plains Ag Lab Building Project proposes construction of a new building with an estimated cost of about $500,000, according to Drew Lyon, Extension dryland cropping systems specialist for UNL and faculty supervisor of the High Plains Ag Lab.
Lyon says the building will provide office space for visiting scientists and graduate students and provide a more suitable area for processing samples of grain and forage than now exists.
The campaign is conducted by a local building project committee and the University of Nebraska Foundation. Lyon says gifts can be made in the form of cash, grain, or pledges that can be paid off over three years. It is hoped that money can be raised by this fall so construction can begin this fall or next spring, according to Lyon.
"Private, tax-deductible donations are the sole source of this building project," says Barb Schlothauer, director of development for the University of Nebraska Foundation in the Panhandle. "All gifts are given to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the High Plains Ag Lab Building Fund."
The proposed facility would consist of a 2,400-square-foot building with a laboratory and associated space for equipment and receiving; a conference room; and work stations for a farm manager and up to eight other staff, students or visiting scientists. The existing building wasn't designed as a research facility. A small seed-cleaning lab is the only research laboratory.
Leon Kriesel of Kriesel Certified Seed of Gurley and president of the Nebraska Seed Trade Association, says the project is needed because up-to-date research is vital for agriculture in the Panhandle.
"Small-grain dryland research is vital to our region's economy," according to Kriesel. "There are times when we just have to invest in the future. This building project will help keep current research, like the multi-state wheat breeding trial and Nebraska wheat nurseries in our southern Panhandle, as well as position our area as a place for new dryland research. Agricultural producers realize the importance of having this resource in their back yard. We can't lose it."
Keith Rexroth of Sidney is chairman of the HPAL Building Project Committee and farms in the area. He father was one of a local development group instrumental in getting the ag lab started.
Rexroth points out that it was a forward-looking group of Panhandle agricultural producers who enabled the growth of dryland research at High Plains.
"Forty-five years ago, Panhandle agriculturalists acted on a vision for a dryland research center. This world-class research is growing into the future of dryland agriculture," Rexroth says. "Help is needed to improve the lab building in order for our nationally acclaimed research team to continue the unprecedented progress."
HPAL, 6 miles northwest of Sidney, is a satellite unit of the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center. One-third of its 2,400 acres are used for dryland crop research and two-thirds is in pasture. The facility's mission is unique to the High Plains, a high-elevation, semi-arid crop region.
Five faculty members based in the Panhandle conduct the majority of the research, including a dryland cropping systems specialist, alternative crops breeder, cow-calf/range management specialist, entomologist and soil fertility specialist.
In the Panhandle, dryland agriculture is a major segment of the industry, occupying more than 2 million acres of cropland and accounting for more than $90 million per year directly into the economy. The estimated total economic impact is more than $200 million.
HPAL research has made a tremendous impact on increasing wheat yield and stabilizing the soil from erosion. Much of the gains came from more efficient use of water, but also from improved varieties of wheat, such as Lancer and Scout.
HPAL researchers have developed alternative crops such as proso millet. They also helped study the adaptability of brown mustard, canola, and camelina as oilseed crops that might be used to produce biodiesel.
The researchers share results every year with the public at an open house. This year's event is scheduled for June 21 beginning at 8:30 a.m.