The Western Agricultural Research Center in Corvallis is set to receive about $1.2 million in funding from the state for construction of a new facility. The funding is included within a broader legislative appropriation of $11 million for improvements to six agricultural experiment stations across the state.
In Corvallis the funds will be spent on construction of a new 2,000 square foot facility containing three laboratories for chemical and biological research, a new cold storage facility for storing crops and seeds, and high-tech meeting rooms for communicating with local producers. The meeting space will also be available for use by other community groups and organizations, according to the research center’s superintendent, Zach Miller.
“This money will allow us to build the kind of research and teaching spaces that are safe , modern and meet the needs of our farmers,” said Miller.
Miller said that when he arrived at the center in 2014 there was only a skeleton crew and some discussion among the leadership about closing the facility because there was not much need for horticultural education, that it was not a real part of Montana agriculture.
Over time though, Miller said, the situation was turned around and it has been demonstrated that there is a real need as interest and participation by orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms across the state has expanded. From that skeleton crew the Corvallis station has grown to include two faculty members, seven other full-time employees and five to eight students working seasonally part time. The workforce expansion was made possible through successful grant applications over that time totaling close to $8 million.
Miller said that more and more people are looking at growing high value products on small acreages. He said these efforts synergize well with the growing tourist economy in the state. He said that since his arrival at the station they have worked extremely hard at experimenting with various fruits and vegetables to see what grows best in the local environment. They have tried over a hundred different kinds of berries, apples, pears and other tree fruits. It’s a slow process, however, and takes a lot of time to produce results.
Statewide, Miller said, they are working with close to 50 vineyards and 20 wineries, and lots of new orchards, especially for cider production. He said the growth in berry farming was also very strong in the Bitterroot and across the state.
“These growers are organized, forming associations and sharing information and are doing well throughout the state,” he said.
Miller said that the $1.2 million allocated by the legislature would go entirely into building one new research and teaching facility, but that the legislature had also authorized them to raise up to $300,000 in additional funding for other needs like upgrading the waterlines and other infrastructure on the 30-acre farm.
Miller invited the public to attend this year’s Open House on July 29 at the research center located at 580 Quast Lane, Corvallis.
More information about the ag research station is available on the internet at www.agresearch.montana.edu/warc/index