BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (March 18) – A recent agreement between the University of Tennessee at Martin and Weakley County Schools will produce growth in the area’s agricultural map for years to come. That’s the assessment of those involved in the plan to offer dual enrollment courses and maximize the Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farms’ 65 acres.
The university’s College of Agriculture, Geosciences, and Natural Resources will work with Jason Kemp, the WCS Farm Manager and Dresden High School ag teacher, and school administration to develop the best practices for improving and developing the pastures, hay ground, and beef enterprise at the school farm.
“This partnership will help our students in Weakley County better understand the importance of ground cover, plant species selection, and which are best suited for our ground topography and livestock nutritional value,” said Kemp.
“With the implementation of additional automatic fresh-water systems installed this past year for our cattle, rotational grazing can be better utilized. Our pastures will continue to provide an adequate, nutritional forage supply while still maintaining a well-established plant system therefore reducing erosion,” he added regarding the 35 acres devoted to grazing.
Wes Totten, PhD, Professor, Plant and Soil Science, and chair of UTM’s Agriculture, Geosciences and Natural Resources believes the partnership directly engages the university’s strategic plan and mission.
“Our mission at UTM is to educate and engage responsible citizens to lead and serve, while emphasizing academic program excellence and student experience and success. A partnership with Dresden High School, Weakley County Farm, and all Weakley County high schools will be a great example of the value of a public/private relationship and the meaningful benefits it can provide secondary and post-secondary education, as well as the community,” he acknowledged.
Totten also added that the partnership will not only provide high-impact educational experiences in and out of the classroom and a “positive, hands-on post-secondary learning experience” but could serve as a model for other school districts to follow.
The farm continues to benefit from local public/private partnerships. To prepare the pastures for the new growth, Hal Bynum with Nutrien Ag Solutions took soil samples and then donated the lime and spreading. Now he is donating fertilizer and says he is committed to making the farm “a premier site.”
Recently, John Oliver and Zach Oliver of Lhoist North America in Gleason volunteered their time and equipment to clear old fencing, debris and tree limbs from the farm’s lower 14 acres which are currently used for row crops. They also helped clear and level the ground in the lots on the swine production side of the farm.
Lindsey Parham, the Career and Technical Education supervisor who works with the agriculture teachers in Weakley County, said that, next, Denny Davidson with the Forestry Service will instruct students and provide a controlled burn of remaining debris on the farm.
Once the cleanup is complete, planting the corn for test/demonstration plots on the property can begin later this spring.
Planting will involve yet another partnership.
“As a community-based cooperative, we are excited to be able to share some of our knowledge of agronomy with the youth in our area through this partnership with the Weakley County Livestock Production Farm,” said Rhonda McDaniel, Marketing Manager, Weakley Farmers Co-op.
She noted that this partnership will allow for testing and collecting important research data on products that the Co-op currently offers growers while also “educating prospective young farmers on new technologies that are needed to sustain productivity and the environment.”
Parham said the recent expansion of the farm, the purchase of freezers for meat sales, the community investment in support of the farm, and the UTM partnership are all leading to the type of learning experience farm founder V.J. Shanklin dreamed of and that Kemp is committed to seeing to fruition.
She reports that already the farm has updated the vaccination and breeding protocols to align more closely with current industry, supplied the school nutrition program with sausage from hogs raised on the farm, and started the process by which students can learn from marketing and sales of pork and beef products.
“As we partner with local agriculture industry to take part in research of corn varieties on our campus, the grain produced through these demonstration plots will then be used to feed our livestock,” she noted. “Students will have the opportunity to see first-hand new technologies used to plant, monitor and harvest grain.”
Already one of the premier, high school farming facilities in the state, the WCS Livestock Production Farm is setting a course to become a touring facility for middle- and elementary-school children and host educational field days, Kemp explained.
“These field days would share knowledge of agricultural technology with local producers by university experts, seed representatives, chemical representatives, livestock specialists, drone technology, and the list continues with unlimited options for growth in agriculture,” he concluded.