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Crops conference looks at Research Center innovations

Monday, January 10, 2011

Innovations in research and programs at the University of Missouri's Southwest Research Center near Mt. Vernon was provided by Richard Crawford, superintendent, at the 87th annual Lawrence County Soils and Crops Conference last week.

Studies on how well beef cattle convert feed into weight have expanded into groundbreaking areas, Crawford said. Researchers used to guess how much a cow ate in the pasture. GrowSafe, a Canadian company, has developed a system to measure what cows eat. At a feeding station, the amount of food eaten by each cow measured exactly, and each cow is identified by an inserted computer chip. Each cow is weighed at every feeding.

Crawford said researchers are placing markers in pastures to measure what cows are eating and the animals are wearing antennaes to record the data. Feed colored beads are given to cattle and then researchers collect them in the manure.

"That's what it takes to do research," Crawford said. "You can't do this on your farms."

By calculating residual feed intake (RFI), researchers can figure growth based on real intake as opposed to normal predictions. The results evaluate the genetic metabolic efficiency of the animal.

In expanding the research, Crawford said the portion of the dairy operation located north of Interstate 44 will be moved to 50 acres west of the Mt. Vernon Airport to consolidate dairying closer to the milking barn on the south end of the farm. The new land will be used for heifer development and using different forages.

The dairy operation is working on running 115 cows on 84 acres, or 1.4 cows per acre through managed grazing. The land north of the interstate will see new studies of agri-forestry. A pasture area inside a forested section will be developed to study the efficiency of pastures under a partially removed forest canopy. The effect of trees on grasses and how grasses affect trees will be studied.

Other studies are being done on cow-calf pairs, dry cows and beef herds.

The grape vineyard at the center produced one and a half tons of grapes per acre in it first harvest, Crawford said. Most of the grapes were picked by hand. In 2011, Crawford expects five tons from each of the vineyard's two acres, resulting in a bigger operation that will be contracted out for machine picking.

Viticulture research will continue on irrigation and fertilization. Crawford hopes to add some new varieties of grapes this year, including table grapes for the first time.

Two new staff people have offices at the Southwest Center. Stacey Hamilton, the regional dairy specialist who has been based in Dade County, has taken the new job of state pasture dairy specialist. Sarah Becker, a horticulture specialist with Lincoln University, is part of the close collaboration between extension services from both universities. Becker has her own projects and works closely with horticulture specialist Andy Thomas.

Crawford recalled that six years ago he spoke about expanding buildings at the facility. Money from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) ran out when the construction contract was about to be awarded and now the project is on indefinite hold.

Crawford said the plan is "still on the books" and will go forward when state funding rebounds from the economic downturn. Money dedicated to the program cannot be used for any other use, he added.

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