Impacting Minnesota Agriculture

March 22, 2022

How much Zinc should a pregnant sow get in her diet? Which perennial plants will survive our harsh Minnesota winters? What size of solar PV system is best for a small farm? The answers to these questions are all part of why the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is imperative to the advancement of agriculture in west central Minnesota and beyond.

The WCROC, located in Morris, MN, is home to innovative and cutting-edge research in the areas of agronomy, dairy, horticulture, renewable energy, and swine. We evaluate and study the effectiveness of various precision technologies with our livestock herds, calculate the amount of floor space swine need to maximize health and production of the animal, and grow various hybrids of crops to know which varieties perform best in our region.

We work closely with farmers, rural leaders, other professionals from industry and academia, and citizens to identify which areas of agriculture are proving to be challenging or could use an innovative eye.

But why does this matter? If you’re a farmer, it’s not always practical to “test” different systems to know which one will be most economical and/or productive for your farm. Farmers don’t necessarily have the resources or time to evaluate multiple growing methods, or to compare different diets for improving the health and production of their livestock animals, for example.  

That’s where we come in. At our research facility, we work to develop the best-case scenarios in agriculture so that producers can look at the data and decide what will work best for their farm, without having to conduct the experiment and take the risk of hurting production.     

“The WCROC is an essential piece of our agricultural community, not only for farmers but for non-farmers as well.  Production agriculture is a significant economic driver of our west-central rural communities and the WCROC offers important research and outreach that connects our farmers and stakeholders with innovation and emerging technology with a focus on sustainability and efficiency,” reports Natasha Mortenson with Riverview Dairy, LLP in outreach and education. “The WCROC is important, not only to our community, but to all farmers in the state that grow crops conventionally and organically, raise dairy cattle, and continue to look for ways to do more with less.”

Other examples of our work include:

  • The effects of weather on crop growth
  • Small scale renewable energy systems to reduce the carbon footprint of ag production
  • Combating pest, disease, and weed pressures for both conventional and organic growing systems
  • Crossbreeding options for a milking dairy herd
  • Developing environmentally responsible alternatives to plastic for fruit and vegetable production
  • Comparing housing options for calves
  • Exploring methods to improve welfare of pigs in modern production systems

While we focus some of our research on niche areas – like organic production or cover crops – we also work together across our various program areas to develop enhanced and sustainable systems. A great example of this collaboration is how we develop renewable energy systems for dairy, swine and crop production with the goal of reducing carbon intensity.

“WCROC’s renewable energy research successfully explores the relationship between renewable energy generation and beneficial electrification.  As rural communities explore opportunities in renewable energy and efficiency, WCROC has established itself as a great asset for the region and state,” reports Ryan Rooney of Runestone Electric Association.

One of the pillars of our mission is to provide education. We welcome visitors to our Center to view any of our ag production systems and encourage dialogue with our expert staff. Our doors remain open to educational opportunities for elementary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate students as well. We host numerous in-person and virtual field trips for elementary students on where milk comes, what natural resources are considered renewable, and how plants grow, while high school students take a deeper dive with us into rumination, animal diets, livestock housing systems, and life cycles. 

College students pursuing degrees in environmental science, biology, or pre-vet studies get valuable hands-on learning with us through class visits. We also have a “WCROC Rising Agriculturalist Internship” available each year, which gives an undergraduate student the opportunity to join our team and work side-by-side with us in our pursuit of ag discovery. Graduate students that choose to work with our faculty get a front-row seat in following research protocols, collecting data, and academic writing. We take great pride in helping to shape the future of agriculture by cultivating our youth.

To set up a tour of the WCROC, or to inquire about educational opportunities including our Rising Agriculturalist Internship, please contact Esther Jordan at [email protected]