When you’re wandering through Yellowstone National Park or hiking the Big Horn Mountains or exploring the Red Desert, Wyoming can seem like the most beautiful place on the face of the Earth. Maybe it is.
But not every acre of this expansive place is a work of natural beauty. There are 30 million acres, or roughly 55 percent of the state, that would most likely be a desolate waste without the around-the-clock attention from the men, women and children whose families have lived on the same plot of land for generations.
The farmers and ranchers of Wyoming are as responsible as Mother Nature for some of this state’s beauty—a flourishing crop of wheat or barley can be just as spectacular as a breathtaking vista or a sparkling lake.
“One of the rewarding things about my position is the contact I have with our state’s producers,” says Frank Galey, dean of the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Our agriculturalists realize that they must care for the soil, water and plants in order to survive and thrive. They, perhaps more than any other group of Americans, realize that we must not only take care of ourselves today but leave things as good or better for the next generation.
“Gov. Mead made a comment at a recent reclamation meeting that has stuck with me. He said that his grandparents used to say to leave two blades of grass for each one you take,” Galey adds. “Our ranching and farming communities live that each year.”
These folks who rise early each day and retire late in the evening have a friend in Wyoming’s university and its four strategically placed research and extension centers. The centers, located in Laramie, Lingle, Powell and Sheridan, offer support to the state’s robust agricultural community and conduct research that is critical to producers’ success.
In one of America’s driest states, UW’s research efforts have minimized the impact of drought. The James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in Lingle and the Laramie Research and Extension Center (LREC) have helped ranchers to properly wean calves before drought and have developed special feed for cattle in the aftermath of drought.
The Powell Research and Extension Center (PREC) and the Sheridan Research and Extension Center (ShREC) also lend significant knowledge to farmers and ranchers regarding irrigation, agronomic weed control, cropping systems and more.
“Agriculturalists are among the most dedicated class of people in the world, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for their endless stewardship of the earth’s precious natural resources,” says Bret Hess, associate dean of UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station. “I think Paul Harvey’s ‘On the ninth Day, God Created a Farmer’ is a perfect example of the commitment that farmers and ranchers have to their land and livestock. If you don’t remember Harvey’s rendition from the 1970s, you may recall it from the Dodge pickup commercial that played during the Super Bowl. We owe them an unspeakable debt of gratitude.”
How do the research and extension centers in Laramie, Lingle, Powell and Sheridan advance the university’s relationship with farmers and ranchers in Wyoming?
Hess: Each of our centers has an advisory group composed of farmers and ranchers to help us address topics that are relevant to farmers and ranchers in specific areas of the state or throughout the entire state.
The advisory groups provide input into the types of problems they are facing, as well as the types of activities the centers could be addressing that may assist them in their operations. The advisory groups also assist in planning the annual field days, which help ensure the centers offer programs that are of interest to farmers and ranchers. And the centers often host producer meetings and provide tours to a variety of groups throughout the year.
Why are the R&E centers important to UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources?
Galey: The research and extension centers are a critical part of our producer driven research and outreach programs. These sites serve to allow us to perform research that is applicable to Wyoming’s agriculture and natural resource needs by providing infrastructure and a point of contact that can assemble our faculty, as well as interested members of our public. The centers also provide a physical presence for UW in other towns and regions across Wyoming, serving us with a way to connect with community colleges around the state.
What type of work is done at the UW-based center in Laramie?
Hess: The Laramie center is engaged in all three segments of the college’s mission: research, teaching and extension. These activities occur at both the greenhouse complex and livestock center. In fact, the staff that is responsible for the greenhouse complex and the livestock center regularly balance their daily tasks to accommodate activities in all three of these areas. The Lab Animal Facility is the only part of the Laramie center that is engaged only in research.
What does the future hold for the R&E centers?
Galey: It seems that agricultural producers are always looking for improvements and research-based answers to their questions. The key for the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is to remain responsive to producer requests and suggestions. The biggest challenge will remain in finding the funds to adequately staff and maintain the programs. Recent budget cuts have taken a toll, and keeping the centers modern and responsive will require creativity and lots of support.
Hess: I think the future is very bright. All of the centers have either recently completed a strategic plan or are in the process of completing a strategic plan. These plans were written or are being written by teams that include center faculty and staff, campus faculty and members of the respective advisory groups. It is my sincere hope that composing these teams in this manner will result in the creation of plans that will serve all of the major players. As the plans become implemented, I envision greater involvement among the respective groups and, therefore, stronger programs at all of the centers.