For two decades a small group of Northeast Texas farmers, through a unique research organization, have funneled more than $750,000 into applied research and education designed to address special Blacklands crop conditions.
Since 1987, Cereal Crops Research Incorporated, CCRI, has donated funds for applied research in wheat, grain sorghum, corn and cotton. The organization also supports a student practicum course at Texas A&M-Commerce that allows students in agriculture majors to earn course credits and get hands-on experience in crop production. Students enrolled in the course make a crop, from land preparation through marketing.
“We're in our 20th year with CCRI,” says current board chairman Maynard Cheek, a retired farmer from Farmersville, Texas. “In 1987, we saw a need for research projects that fit our farming conditions. Blacklands soils are different and we thought applied research focused on these conditions would help local farmers.”
They set up the research organization in cooperation with East Texas State University in Commerce, now Texas A&M-Commerce, and worked with faculty agronomy professor Don Reid and Texas Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist Jim Swart to design and carry out research efforts.
“We also saw a need to give agricultural undergraduates hands-on experience,” Cheek says. “Most of our ag students now come from non-farm backgrounds and many don't know how to put in and take care of a crop.”
Research goals have changed over the years, Cheek says, “ so our emphasis changes. We started with cereal crops but we've also funded research on cotton, corn and milo. We stress what is important to area farmers. Wheat research has been extremely important to the area.”
The CCRI board of directors consists of 13 members, only one of which is a full-time ag industry representative. One other farms and works in an agri-business.
Reid says cotton provides an excellent opportunity for the student practicum because it “requires so much management.”
Keith McFarland, president of Texas A&M-Commerce, says the relationship with CCRI benefits the college as well as the local agricultural economy. “We appreciate all the support we get from CCRI,” he says. McFarland says the agricultural program benefits from private individuals willing to help fund research and education efforts.
“CCRI provides a foundation for university outreach,” Reid says.
McFarland was on hand recently when CCRI made its latest contribution to the research and education program, a gently used John Deere 6000 Hi-Cycle.
“John Loehr, with Ag Power Inc., Minneola, Texas, and Cheek presented the 60-foot boom sprayer to the program. Loehr says the 12-year old sprayer “in immaculate condition,” cost $12,500.00. “A new one would be closer to $150,000,” he says.
Cheek says funding for CCRI comes from area agri-businesses, which furnish seed and other inputs for research trials and the student crops program. Proceeds from the sale of cotton and grain crops go back into the program. Students get to keep any profits from their production, after paying back CCRI for seed, fertilizer, etc. If they lose money, they don't have to make up the difference.
“They're only out their time but they still gain a lot of experience and get course credit,” Reid says.
Cheek says the program receives some grant dollars.
He says the economic impact CCRI has had on area farmers for the past 20 years is difficult to evaluate. “We've picked up a lot of new information on wheat varieties adaptable to our area,” he says. “And growers on the board constantly look at the projects and adjust priorities. We try to speak for the entire ag industry in the area.”
Current research includes poultry litter disposal and use as a fertilizer. “We're working with Pilgrim's Pride,” Cheek says. “This project can be of tremendous value to the area. It could help the poultry industry get rid of waste and provide farmers with an economical source of fertilizer.”
Swart says CCRI represents “a unique concept for funding applied research.” Most of the research goes on cooperator farmer acreage.
“We started with nothing,” Cheek says. “Some farmers started with no real backing on the first plots. Still, they thought it was a good idea.”
“This is an ideal method of providing producers with non-biased data,” Reid says. “We will work with anything that can make money for area farmers. If it helps a local farmer be more profitable, he'll buy more tires and equipment, so everyone benefits.”