Prized dairy herd lost two missions

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, left, smiles with Kevin Thompson, the new director of the state Agricultural Research and Education Centers at Lewisburg and Spring Hill.

Two of four missions at UT's Institute of Agricultural Research and Education Center on New Lake Road have been eliminated to cut costs, according to the center director.

"Animal health research dropped off, as well as crop and forage research," center director Kevin Thompson said Monday while reflecting on a meeting between state and local leaders who are concerned about the farm that has a world-renowned herd of Jersey milk cows.

Some of the research that's been conducted here is being redirected to UT's research farm at Spring Hill and other research centers, Thompson said.

UT's Lewisburg farm will narrow its focus to "reproduction and reproductive physiology," Thompson said.

He succeeded Dr. Dennis Onks who retired last fall. Jan. 11 is when Thompson started working as the director of the research centers here and in Spring Hill.

Meeting Feb. 2 at the Hardison Office Annex on College Street to review adjustments at the state farm were: Thompson; Hugh Moorehead, a research associate and on-site manager at the New Lake Road farm; Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett; County Commissioner Tony White who's the president of the Dairy Producers Association; County Commission Chairman Billy Spivey; Marshall County Farm Bureau President Jimmy Ogilvie; UT AgResearch Dean Bill Brown; Assistant Dean John Wilkerson; and Dr. Joseph DiPietro, UT's vice president for agriculture.

The Jersey herd remains in Marshall County largely because of federal stimulus money, but that runs out at the end of the state's next fiscal year on July 1, 2011.

"When the federal stimulus money runs out, the UT AgResearch budget will be 13- to 15 percent less than it was in fiscal year 2009," the university explained in a prepared statement that was distributed on Feb. 2 in the conference room of the UT Agricultural Extension Service Office.

To overcome the loss of federal funding, center officials are looking for partners to increase efficiency and generate revenue.

"We will pursue value-added opportunities to increase revenue generated through milk sales, and become more active in marketing genetics of this outstanding Jersey herd," Brown said.

"We are working with the Jersey Association to produce high quality heifers and bulls for sale to dairy producers," the AgResearch Division dean said.

"No agreements have been made, but we are optimistic," Brown said.

Thompson explained, "Southeastern states have lost their research dairy herds," so UT leaders want to sell help so others can maintain their foot in dairy herd research.

"Actually, it would be reciprocal," Thompson said. "Hopefully that could motivate them to put some research dollars here.

"Other states might be envious of us and we may be able to help them, so that's probably some of the areas we need to explore."

Meanwhile, crops will still be grown at the farm on New Lake Road and the number of employees will remain the same, 10.

That's not including Thompson, 40, who lives at Spring Hill on the research center with his wife, Leah, and their two sons. Leah Thompson was a 4-H instructor in the Marshall County U-T Agricultural Extension Service during the mid-1990s working with Lester Brewer who preceded Rick Skillington.