The Maryland Board of Public Works earlier this month OK’d the university’s use of funds available to it from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1890 Facilities Grant program to acquire 20 acres from owner Perdue Farms.
The $550,000 purchase price includes a 10,098 square-foot warehouse and a 2,300 square-foot farmhouse. Two independent appraisals placed the property’s value at between $630,000 and $770,000.
Acquiring those structures will save the university the cost of building offices, storage, a garage, maintenance sheds, classrooms and research space, thereby enabling faculty-researchers to work and teach onsite immediately, according to Dr. Moses Kairo, dean of UMES’ School of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.
In the spring of 2013, UMES received the state’s OK to use USDA program funding to buy 365 acres of farm and wooded land fronting the east side of Stewart Neck Road between Jones’ and King’s creeks. That larger tract purchased with $1.55 million in federal funds surrounds the additional 20 acres.
“The purchase … will greatly enhance UMES’ capacity to fulfill its mission of teaching, research, extension and outreach,” a university report compiled for the state says.
Kairo said UMES plans activities at “the farm (that) will support research activities focused on specialty-crop production and precision agriculture, and natural resources and environmental sustainability.”
One UMES chemistry professor is conducting lab research on the medicinal benefits of the aronia berry, so Kairo said the Stewart Neck farm eventually may be a place where it can be grown under controlled conditions and cultivated to augment her work. He also doesn’t rule out growing a broad spectrum of what he describes as “ethnic crops,” such as hot peppers often imported from other states or countries.
“Some overarching themes of the research, extension and teaching efforts will be climate and energy,” he said, adding, “The farm will provide a significant resource to enhance both undergraduate and graduate research.”
The farm also could be a site where theories on improving drought management, developing nutrient management strategies and crafting precision agriculture strategies could be carried out. Kairo said he envisions the Stewart Neck property becoming a demonstration site for farmers to learn more efficient and productive ways to operate their businesses.
Tyson Foods currently rents the 20-acre property from Perdue and will become UMES’ tenant until the lease expires in August 2015.
The land’s condition and its location about two miles from the main campus is characterized as a modest commute for faculty and students, and “facilitates easier farm operations and management,” the university report notes.
Bill Robinson is the Director of UMES Office of Public Relations