The Cereal Crops Research Incorporated could serve as a model of collaborative effort between private organizations and Land Grant universities across the nation, agrees CCRI President Ben Scholz and Texas A&M-Commerce President Dr. Dan Jones.

CCRI has been around since 1987, when it began as an organization of farmers in northeast Texas, supported by some industry funding. “We were interested in getting crop demonstrations established to provide data on yield, disease, weed and insect issues in a timely manner,” Scholz said.

“We also wanted to get institutions working together, primarily Extension and A&M-Commerce. And we hoped to promote better communication between the research station and growers.”

Jones said the long-term cooperation between CCRI and A&M-Commerce benefits all involved — growers, the university, and the region. Progress, Jones said, “takes a partnership. We can’t do it alone. I see a tangible advantage for the university in collaborating with CCRI. We can attract more students. But the benefits are more than just budgetary, although that is important. We also want to serve the people of this region, and this region is growing so we have to grow, too.”

Collaboration also improves opportunities for research. “We’re trying to expand our research capabilities. Our new provost was hired with that goal in mind. We have strong research goals and we want to ramp up research efforts in science, agriculture, humanities, social sciences and education.

“Agriculture is a natural place for partnerships and with CCRI we get a tremendous boost with funding opportunities.”

Jones said funds may be available that the university has not taken advantage of. He mentioned potential USDA research programs that would fit well with joint A&M-Commerce/CCRI projects. “We stopped by USDA last year when we were in Washington, just to touch base. Partnerships help with USDA funding.”

“USDA needs to see stakeholder input,” said Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist who works out of Commerce and has worked closely with CCRI since its inception.

“Federal government agencies want to see sustainable projects,” Jones commented. “And they like to see some local funding.”

CCRI has 19 members and gets some funding from wheat and other crop checkoff programs. They also have strong regional industry support.

Scholz said the most immediate goal for CCRI is to work with Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M at College Station to fund a research farm near the Commerce campus. He and several other growers representing wheat, soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and other crops will meet with AgriLife Research officials in College Station sometime in October to discuss the possibilities.

Collaboration crucial

“We want to be part of the agriculture research effort,” Jones said. He added that the collaboration between Commerce, College Station, CCRI and industry would create a formidable research organization.

“No single agency or institution can accomplish this by itself. We want to partner with creative people with innovative ideas and creative ways of looking at problems. When we match those people with other people with equally interesting ideas, that’s when sparks fly.”

“We see it as a good opportunity to partner,” Scholz added. He said CCRI would like to obtain a 150- to 200-acre farm within 15 minutes of the Commerce campus. They believe four or five pieces of property that fit those parameters may be available.

The University currently has some land available near campus, but Scholz said it is not suitable for crops research. “The soil type is not appropriate. We want class 1 land.”

He said the A&M-Commerce agriculture college alumni “want the farm to be part of the University.”

Jones agrees. “This will help us expand our agriculture program. We already have a fine College of Agriculture but we want it to grow.”

He also said the university can help with some of the expense of operating a research facility. “We can help keep overhead costs down by using existing resources.”

Scholz hopes to see a new research farm within two years. “After we meet at College Station, we hope to see things start taking shape. We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of agreements to consider on cost shares, etc.”

They hope agriculture will be part of the university’s growth pattern, which set a new record for enrollment this fall.

“We had 10,912 students registered for the fall semester,” Jones said. He allowed that not all those would show up, but estimates final fall enrollment will be between 10,300 and 10,400.

“This is the first time in history we’ve broken 10,000 in enrollment.”

CCRI community involvement

Continued involvement with the community, and with partners such as CCRI will add to that unprecedented growth. “We want to be in front of the train,” Jones said.

Swart hopes the new efforts will continue to feed into the College of Agriculture and the first indication may be the student practicum, a special program that gives ag students an opportunity to make a crop as part of their curriculum. That program has been supported by CCRI.

“We’ll ramp that program back up beginning this fall,” Swart said. “Some students will make a wheat crop.”

Scholz said CCRI has seen benefits over the years from its collaboration with Texas A&M-Commerce. “We’ve gotten a lot of data on fungicide treatments on wheat. We’ve also seen results on ryegrass control studies and projects have helped us stay on top of new products.”

He said a “whole-farm concept has helped area farmers adjust seeding rates and variety selections.”

“Researchers are more in tune with what growers need.” Early on, CCRI went to Jim Swart or recently retired agronomist Don Reid, discussed problems and they set up trials to find answers, Scholz said.

“Those collaborative efforts helped to address needs and interests in the region,” he said.

Jones hopes to expand on those efforts as the region and the university grows. And Scholz expects CCRI to continue to contribute to Texas A&M- Commerce research efforts. Since 1987, they have funneled more than $1 million into the program. Funds have been generated through crop sales, grants and product donations.

And CCI will continue to serve as something of a sounding board, cattle prod and cheerleader as the university goes forward.

“I don’t think there is anything else like CCRI in the country,” Scholz said. “And I believe it could be a model for the nation to follow to improve collaboration between growers and institutions.”

rsmith@farmpress.com