Jackson County Extension Center nears completion

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 524 views 

Jackson County sits in the heart of the Arkansas Delta an area world famous for its rich soil and varied row crops. Farmers, agriculture researchers and others often congregate in the area, but according to officials finding indoor space to accommodate these gatherings has always been an issue.

Not anymore.

Work on the Jackson County Extension Center is nearing completion. Tommy Young, chairman of the Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board and a member of the Jackson County Quorum Court, said growers’ needs were at the forefront of planning the new 48,000-square-foot facility from its inception.

“Until now, space has always been a problem,” Young said. “There wasn’t a good place to have a meeting with growers. There was not a good place to have a meeting with researchers, who come from across the state to look at projects. They had to get under a shade tree.

“This place will be one where we can show growers the research in a meeting setting and allow the researchers and extension to come together and extend that technology out to the growers,” he said. “It’s a win-win all around for us to do that.”

The center is, in part, a renaming of the former Newport Extension Center. Originally part of the Erwin Auxiliary Army Airfield until its deactivation after World War II, the land was deeded to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees in 1959.

The center’s primary building will be known as the Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Producers Building, so named in recognition of both the state’s growers and the Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board, which donated $250,000 for the completion of the new facility. The Jackson County Quorum Court provided $20,000 to support the main building and $5,000 for the center’s 4-H Outdoor Skills area.

The Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Producers Building is being built adjacent to the research facility’s former office, which will be used for storage. The Division of Agriculture broke ground for the new center in October 2021. SCM Architects designed the $1.4 million center, a pre-engineered metal building with a façade of local stone.

Matthew Davis, staff chair for the Jackson County Cooperative Extension office, said county extension personnel have already moved their offices to the new facility.

The Jackson County Extension Center is one of only three facilities wholly owned by the state’s Cooperative Extension Service, featuring about 350 acres of tillable land. Extension researchers and agents will use the acreage for test plots and demonstrations of nearly every row crop grown in Arkansas.

“The center houses Extension’s soybean agronomics program and is home to numerous variety trials and demonstrations in soybean, corn, peanuts and even some wheat,” said Tom Barber, extension weed scientist and director of the Jackson County Extension Center. “We have every crop but cotton.”

Once completed, the center will house the Jackson County extension staff including agents who work in agriculture, 4-H and family and consumer sciences, as well as staff and farm technicians. The center will also have a 60-by-40-foot multi use room that can accommodate groups of 60 people for classroom instruction or as many as 100 for dining.

Vic Ford, associate vice president of agriculture and natural resources for the Division of Agriculture, said current and future research at the facility will benefit growers throughout the region.

“For example, the research being done there in plant pathology is beneficial not only to Jackson County farmers but to growers statewide,” Ford said. Other research areas at the center include fertility, weed science, breeding, entomology, agronomy and breeding.

Barber said he expects to hold the center’s grand opening in late spring or early summer of this year.