This past summer, Lloyd Murdock retired from his position as extension soils specialist and director of the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton. In a 43-year career, his accomplishments in no-till production, soil compaction, and remote-sensing fertilizer applicators resulted in environmentally sensitive ways to increase yields.
Q: What sparked your interest in soil science?
A: I wanted to be in agriculture, and at that particular time, I loved math and chemistry. Soils seemed to be a good fit and were more challenging to me than studying plants.
Q: What did you think when you started working at UK?
A: I wasn’t sure I’d like the job. I wanted to be in research and teaching, and this was an extension position. It was the best decision I ever made. When I got here, they boarded up an old hallway in the original Research and Education Center building and put me in there. I was the first faculty agronomist stationed in Princeton. It was pretty lonely for a while.
Q: How did the farmers receive you when you first arrived?
A: It would be like if you were a medical doctor who moved into a town that didn’t have one. They were really excited to have me here.
Q: What’s your greatest accomplishment?
A: Probably my greatest accomplishment is teaching Western Kentucky farmers how to make good decisions about fertilizers using a scientific base for recommendations.
Q: What kept you in Princeton?
A: The fact that the people here didn’t have any help at all. They appreciated us so much and believed in us. They built the new Research and Education Center for us. It’s just been very gratifying. And as communications with Lexington got better, I learned that I didn’t have to be on a university’s main campus to achieve the success I wanted.
Q: How do you plan to spend your retirement?
A: Well, I still have a 50 percent post-retirement appointment with the College. I plan to do some research on the fragipan, a soil layer that naturally occurs 2 feet below ground level and limits Kentucky crop yields and growth potential. I started this research years ago but never completed it.
Q: As you step down as director, in what condition do you feel you’re leaving the center?
A: The administrative system and management style completely changed; we’ve managed the budget and set priorities, with research being the top one. If you treat people good and fair, they will become a very productive team.
Alliance Keeps Cracking
Although horses and cattle are big business in the Bluegrass, the poultry industry is actually the biggest moneymaker in the state, generating more than $800 million from operations in more than 40 counties.
“Through the Alltech-UK Nutrition Research Alliance, we are committed to using our modern poultry facility to research ways to improve poultry production,” said Bob Harmon, chair of the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences. “The facility continually provides hands-on learning opportunities for students, scientists, and faculty to work together to serve animal agriculture, using sound science and the combined resources of UK and Alltech.”
The Poultry Research Facility at the College’s Coldstream Farm is one of very few institutions that conduct research with both brown- and white-egg laying hens. The facilities have a combined capacity of 2,600 laying hens, nearly 1,200 growing broilers, and 500 breeders. This allows the alliance team to study how nutrition affects breeder performance as well as growth and development of the offspring. Modern methods of research, including nutrigenomics (how nutrients affect gene function), enable researchers to develop feeding programs that allow poultry to reach their genetic potential.
In the eight years since the alliance began, graduate students and visiting scientists from all over the world have had unique opportunities to collaborate with UK and Alltech animal scientists on everything from molecular biology to applied poultry science.
In addition to working at the college level, alliance team members reach out to primary and secondary schools to further interest in science education.
Each year they conduct chick-hatching demonstrations at elementary schools and support numerous 4-H programs related to poultry science.
The publication of more than 125 scientific abstracts, 15 journal articles, and four book chapters since its inception demonstrates the alliance‘s success.
Jessica Ballard says she’s all about the story of the food. It’s powerful. It’s healing. It’s deep. She’s seen that firsthand at the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program’s farm in Fayette County.
“Women come here in pain from their struggles and trauma,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been able to give them an opportunity to connect with something outside themselves, something outside their own personal situation. They come out to the farm, and they see life; it may be declining even, but they are able to nurture it and witness life outside their own human struggle.”
Ballard, an alumna of the College’s sustainable agriculture program, has spent the past couple of years empowering women at the shelter through food and a small farm they’ve developed on BDVP property. With some timely grants and lots of help from volunteers, Ballard has come a long way in making the property something the residents and the leadership are proud of—an expansive garden full of vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, flowers, and most importantly, healing potential.
“It’s good to get outside for a while and ground yourself,” she smiled. “They don’t call it ground for nothing.”
“A few years ago, the garden area was old pastureland,” said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research in the College and current vice president of the BDVP board of directors. “Diane Fleet (BDVP associate director) had the vision to create a farm, and she tested her ideas broadly within the local food garden community. One of the best things for the farm was securing the talents and energy of Jessica Ballard. The UK College of Agriculture is proud that one of our first sustainable ag graduates has helped create this wonderful garden setting.”
Fleet said they started the garden to help with the program’s growing food budget and as a solution to maintaining the farm’s acreage. Not only are they growing and cultivating items, they are also selling flowers. Vital help came from UK’s Krista Jacobsen and Ben Abell in the sustainable agriculture program.
“It has really married the two purposes—providing food and taking care of the mowing, but then we started meeting really great people in the community who wanted to help us, and it’s become part of the philosophy of all our work here,” Fleet said. “We are giving women a project they have ownership of, a place where they can see the value of their labor. It’s very empowering and therapeutic for them.”
She said the garden has also given program staff and volunteers a way to teach women about business.
“The garden also spurs some business sense in them,” she said. “I think, so often we look at some big corporation and think, ‘Wow, I can’t do that,’ but this shows you that you can do a business on a smaller scale.”
Future plans for the farm include food preservation classes for residents and more research opportunities for UK scientists.
New at the Helm
Richard Coffey became director of the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton July 1. He hopes to encourage cooperation among faculty and staff to further multidisciplinary research and outreach programming; improve technology capabilities to create new possibilities for information sharing and teaching; and enhance educational opportunities for graduate students.
A long-time leader of Kentucky youth livestock programs and UK swine extension specialist, he will continue to serve in those roles in addition to his new responsibilities.
As the new assistant dean for diversity and director of the Office of Diversity, Quentin Tyler wants to position UK nationally for its efforts in strengthening workplace diversity, recruiting and retaining a diverse student body, andbuilding cultural competency. Most importantly, he wants to serve as a resource for faculty, staff, and students of the College.
“The Office of Diversity will remain committed to providing the necessary support to improve the lives of all Kentuckians,” Tyler said. “Diversity is critical, and it’s a fundamental element of higher education.”
When Daviess County farmer Brian Wink and Christian County farmer Bruce Cline were looking to become greener, they turned to UK to realize their energy saving dreams.
Wink was interested in replacing a 30-year-old grain dryer with newer technology.
Cline wanted to install a half-acre of solar panels on his farm. He had an agreement with Pennyrile Electric and its service provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority, to sell them the energy he generated.
Both were hoping to receive grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund to offset some of the cost of these improvements.
Grant recipients can receive up to 25 percent of the project’s cost. The USDA grant has limits of $500,000 for a renewable system and $250,000 for an energy efficient system. The Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund grant has a $10,000 limit. Both programs require an energy audit.
That’s where UK‘s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering came in.
“We found there weren’t a lot of auditors evaluating agricultural structures and projects,” said Michael Hagan, UK engineer associate.
The UK Cooperative Extension Service received a USDA grant that paid for 75 percent of the cost to conduct on-farm energy audits. Hagan conducted the audits for Cline, Wink, and many others. Other audits included poultry house upgrades, greenhouse improvements, dairy facilities, and farm shops.
“Not just anyone can do an energy audit for a project like this,” said Kendal Clark, Cline’s cousin, who assisted him with the grant applications. “People don’t understand the value of the Extension Service. It reaches far beyond Lexington.”
Cline’s 832 solar panels are estimated to produce more than 245,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. He received state funding. With the grant and a federal tax credit, the solar panels will pay for themselves in 11 years.
Wink received funding from both programs. His new dryer uses 20 to 30 percent less energy than the old one. Based on energy savings alone, the dryer will pay for itself in 27 years. Hagan said the payoff on dryers is longer compared to other projects, because the initial cost is high and farmers use the dryers for only a few months each year. For most farms, dryers are a long-term investment and provide operational and economic benefits in addition to improved energy efficiency.
Between 2008 and this July, UK energy auditors conducted 149 audits. These audits helped Kentucky farmers make energy efficiency improvements that will save or generate nearly 69 billion Btu per year with annual cost savings or generated income of more than $1.41 million.
UK Ag students’ artistic expression through agriculture will be on display in December with a unique art exhibit. In its third year, “Art Through the Eyes of Future Educators: By Choice, Not By Chance,” sponsored by Community and Leadership Development, will showcase agriculture literacy through art. Students and faculty in Agricultural Education, Animal Sciences, and Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering collaborate in displaying their artwork.
“By infusing art into our method of instruction, our students discovered new methods of showcasing their work and expressing their passion toward a specific topic,” said Stacy Vincent, assistant professor of agricultural education. He is joined in the project by Animal Sciences Professor Bill Silvia and BAE Associate Extension Professor John Wilhoit.
BAE and Ag Ed students in Wilhoit’s class created bicycle rack sculptures that they will auction off to raise money for the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club in Lexington, which encourages bike riding by inner city kids.