A north Delta institution dedicated to excellence in agricultural research and education, serving area and Mid-South farmers — that’s the Fisher Delta Research Center (FDRC) at Portageville, Mo.
It is the largest of Missouri’s 19 off-campus agricultural centers, farms and forests, operating within the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the MU Agriculture Experiment Station.
Unlike the rest of Missouri, Bootheel agriculture more closely resembles that of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
“Our area — which possesses some of the world’s most productive farmland — forms the northern tip of the Mississippi River Delta,” says Trent Haggard, FDRC director.
“Our 15 different soil types and research on crops, including corn, cotton, rice and soybeans, enable us to serve Southeast Missouri, the Mid-South and the rest of the country.”
Haggard says a major strength of the FDRC is its research team, which has done, and continues to do, the research that growers need today, and will need tomorrow.
“We can handle the unique and diverse scope of what encompasses Bootheel agriculture,” he says. “The area has many needs, many crops, much weed/insect pressure, and irrigation opportunities.
“As a team, we’re on top of the current challenges within all those spheres, while simultaneously conducting research that’s needed for 5, 10, 20 years down the road.
“While we address today’s concerns, we need to address our needs 20 years from now, whether that’s in the greenhouse or in the field.
Partner across disciplines
“One of our tremendous assets is how well we partner within the center across disciplines and attack an issue as a team; we can go into many projects with a multi-faceted approach.
“Additionally, all our researchers produce a tremendous amount of work in multi-state studies, tackling regional needs with their counterparts at other Mid-South universities.”
One research example is the center’s soybean breeding program, which constitutes one of its biggest departments.
World renowned soybean breeder Grover Shannon is developing high-yielding varieties that meet specific grower needs, such as resistance to soybean cyst nematode and root-knot nematode.
“We are especially excited about his research to develop soybean varieties with high oleic seed oil and lower trans fats,” Haggard says.
“Eventually, we’ll have soy oil that will be as healthy and heat-tolerant as olive oil. The high oleic oil is a beneficial fatty acids oil that will taste better and last longer in a high heat fryer, and will be healthier.”
In addition to the intellectual assets of its research team, the center benefits from the leadership of its 60-plus member advisory board, which reads like a Who’s Who of local growers and industry leaders.
“We draw tremendous strength from such a large board in expertise, experience and feedback,” Haggard says. “In addition to offering guidance on grower needs, they can obtain additional funding for us.
“For example, in the George Paul Harris Club of 1,000 — named in honor of the late agricultural steward and leader from Senath, Mo. — members donate at least $1,000 to the endowment. This funding supplements what we receive from the university and allied industry.”
The Fisher Delta Research Center includes four locations in the 12-county area that forms the Missouri Bootheel. It is headquartered at the Marsh Farm in New Madrid and Pemiscot Counties. Other locations include the Lee Farm in Pemiscot County, the Rhodes Farm in Dunklin County, and the Cavanaugh Farm in New Madrid County.
“Our most direct constituency are growers in the surrounding Bootheel counties,” Haggard says. “The center comprises 1,045 acres of research ground bequeathed to us over the years by several prominent families who believed in the need for research in our unique area.”
The center’s facilities include regional soil and plant testing laboratories, a cotton micro-gin, greenhouses, a drought simulator, foundation seed building and a soybean seed library.
“We have our own micro-gin that operates in tandem with the work that Cotton Research Associate Andrea Jones performs,” Haggard says. “It helps us work more closer with industry.
“We’re also constructing a drought simulator facility to help us breed drought-tolerant varieties. The drought simulator is one of only three in Missouri and a handful in the world.”
In addition to researching new technology to help growers increase efficiency, the center also gives back to the community. Its annual field day — 2015 will mark its 54th — shares research information with growers, consultants and landlords, as well as area youngsters. The center annually hosts more than 350 FFA and 4-H students on the same day, running a simultaneous program in another building and a tour of research plots.
“We also help out the community in emergencies,” Haggard says. “During a recent ice storm, we opened the center’s facilities to those without power, shelter and food. We also responded to the community’s needs in 2006 when a tornado ripped through Caruthersville and Braggadocio.
“We believe in being prepared for emergencies. One of our new office wings is engineered for seismic activity. The headquarters office also has an emergency preparedness heliport.”
Haggard’s background is agriculture through and through. He grew up on his family’s farm at nearby Steele, and was a constant visitor to the Delta Center. After studying agriculture at the University of Missouri (he hails from a multi-generational Mizzou family), he worked for Case IH from 1994 to 2012, when he became FDRC Director.
“I grew up in a farming operation and visited many others across the country and overseas,” he says. “I’ll put our area’s farmers up against those in any other region — whether it’s growing rice, cotton, soybeans, corn or wheat.
“In addition to having excellent growers, the Bootheel is blessed with a good growing season, excellent soils and drainage, readily available water and relatively inexpensive irrigation.
“The number of irrigated and landformed acres in this area has increased tremendously over the last 20 years, making crop production more efficient. We can consistently grow high-yielding, high quality crops, regardless of Mother Nature.”
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