MARYVILLE, Mo. — All three members of the Nodaway County Commission spent Tuesday morning at Northwest Missouri State University's 448-acre R.T. Wright farm, where they participated in a tour hosted by Northwest President John Jasinski; Rod Barr, director of the university's School of Agricultural Sciences; and Director of Donor Engagement Mitzi Craft Marchant.
The focus of the tour was development of a planned $8.5 million, 29,000-square-foot Agricultural Learning Center to be built on the farm's southern edge just off Highway 71.
A new main entrance to the farm leading directly into the center is currently under construction.
Jasinski and Barr told the commissioners the center will serve agricultural enterprises across the region in an effort to fulfill a mission extending well beyond the university's expanding agriculture program.
“It's going to be a community and regional facility designed for more than just Northwest,” Barr said.
He added that center-based programs will seek to “circle the loop” embracing both traditional crop and livestock production and the food industry, a term that comprises everything from industrial-scale processing to “farm-to-market” restaurants, such as the William Coy's eatery at Mozingo Lake Recreation Park.
When completed, the ag center will include dairy and meat fabrication laboratories, classrooms, animal health and agronomy labs, offices and meeting rooms and a large exposition space designed for conferences, exhibitions, corporate gatherings, implement and technology displays and other large-scale events.
Barr emphasized the modular nature of the center, which he said will allow for the introduction of new innovations and technologies affecting one of the world's fastest changing industries.
South District Commissioner Robert Stiens, a professional farmer, voiced his support for Barr's vision of adaptability and change.
“Did anyone think 10 years ago that agriculture would have the technology we have today?” Stiens said. “We need to be able to change and grow.”
In terms of expanding opportunities available to Northwest students, both Barr and Jasinski said the center will have a significant impact on young people preparing careers in a variety of fields outside of traditional farming and ranching.
They said examples include students pursuing degrees related to marketing, business, computer science, mass media, technical writing and management.
This multi-disciplinary approach, Jasinski said, means the center and the surrounding farm will essentially constitute a “north campus” that is fully integrated with Northwest's core academic mission.
As for students within the ag school itself, Barr and Jasinski said the center will enhance programs designed to prepare young professionals for careers stretching well beyond harvesting corn and soybeans or raising cattle.
The need for a diverse agriculture program, Barr said, is evident in that more than 60 percent of the students enrolled in the ag school come from non-farming backgrounds and are seeking to build careers in a variety of ag-related industries.
When completed the center will be part of one of the state's fastest-growing ag schools — one that currently serves more than 650 students and has doubled in size over the past decade.
In terms of size, the Northwest School of Agricultural Sciences is ranked third statewide behind the University of Missouri-Columbia and Missouri State University in Springfield, though Barr said the difference between Northwest and MSU is almost too close to call.
He added that he believes Northwest's true competition in the ag field are large research universities like MU, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Jasinski said he believes Northwest has something of an edge over these larger institutions due to its emphasis on “profession-based learning” and “hands-on experience” as opposed to a concentration on academic research.
The president told the commissioners that Northwest has raised about $6.5 million toward construction of the $8.5 million facility, a tally that includes $2.5 million in state funds secured largely through the efforts of 12th District State Sen. Dan Hegeman.