Watershed Research and Education Center
Dr. Dirk Philipp, Assistant Professor
A few years ago a team at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture made the visionary decision of establishing the Watershed Research and Education Center (WREC) on a university-owned research farm in Fayetteville. Sitting smack in the middle of the urban/rural transition in a highly visible location, this center is rapidly developing into a first-class facility for investigating and demonstrating best management practices in livestock agriculture.
Encompassing about 250 acres of pasture- and cropland, the location for the center proved ideal for enabling researchers and extension personnel to engage in a novel form of cooperation and educating the public. While still in the process of developing infrastructure, a number of workshops, farm visits and student classes were hosted for local producers, citizens and national and international groups alike. The heart of WREC is a riparian zone that already stretches for about 2,000 feet along an intermittent stream that drains residential areas to the east of the farm, dissects WREC in a westward direction and leaves the center as it borders on Interstate 540. This geographic feature was the main reason for establishing a new center there. The population in Northwest Arkansas has been growing rapidly during the past decades and will put increased pressure on water and land resources in the future. The location is thus ideal to bring stakeholders together to work on the challenging task of producing food for a growing population while maintaining the sustainable use of natural resources.
The riparian zone is comprised of various native tree and brush species that were planted on either side of the creek as a 150-feet wide buffer zone with the intent of mitigating runoff and nutrients it may carry with it. Parts of the buffer zone are native grasses that not only provide habitat for various wildlife species but which can also be harvested as cellulosic biomass for generating energy. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established very early in the process several monitoring stations along the creek for a quantitative flow analysis of waters passing the farm. The setup allows researchers to determine the magnitude of runoff and associated nutrient intake from each section of the farm based on management practices. North of the creek the center encloses a wetland area that will be developed for teaching and research purposes.
Four-acre paddocks were restructured into large pastures to allow qualitative and quantitative edge-of-field measurements of runoff in the future. Currently, there are 20-acre swaths of novel endophyte tall fescue, orchardgrass, bermudagrass and mixed grass pastures and cropland used for annual forages. Several other pastures will be restructured and established in different annual and perennial forages in the future. The year 2012 also marked the return of cattle to the property after a period of fence rebuilding and establishing a cattle working facility. With the dedicated work of the farm crew, several thousand feet of permanent fences were reestablished according to long-term plans for WREC, enabling state of the art animal science research in ruminant nutrition and forage agronomy. Several graduate students have completed their research using facilities and pastures at WREC.
As public outreach is a large part of the core philosophy of WREC, the center is open to farm tours and educational activities for the general public, university students and pupils from surrounding school districts. Local citizens recently visited the place as part of the UA Agricultural Experiment Station “Appreciation Day,” celebrating 150 years of the land grant mission. In the past, research was showcased to area high school students and pupils from middle schools during field visits. Undergraduate students from the Animal Science Department have used the opportunity to learn about forage crops as part of their curriculum. With increased opportunities for student education, research and outreach to the public, WREC is on its way to becoming a regionally important research and education center.