The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO A&M) and local agriculture producers have joined forces to form a unique public-private partnership designed to promote agricultural education and place a significant number of agricultural lands back into production following a 10-year lag in harvest.
NEO A&M leases approximately 1,600 acres of land located west of Miami along the Neosho River from the GRDA, which is a cost-of-service provider headquartered in Vinita providing customers with low-cost, reliable electric power and serving as a conservation and reclamation district for the waters of the Grand River. Subsequently, that land is subleased to local producers on a cost-share basis where proceeds support scholarships and other funding opportunities for agriculture students attending NEO A&M.
“This partnership makes sense because the GRDA and NEO A&M have several common goals, including increasing educational and research opportunities for students, revitalizing agricultural practices in north-eastern Oklahoma and creating a revenue stream for NEO A&M’s agriculture program,” says McKenzie Nygren, agriculture department chair and instructor at NEO A&M.
Aaron Roper, director of the GRDA’s Neosho Bottoms, adds, “The GRDA is very excited about the partnership and the opportunity it brings NEO A&M students. The outdoor classrooms will facilitate interaction among students, producers and agricultural scientists to provide students with a unique opportunity to apply what they have learned in their classes to real-world applications where they receive valuable input and learn from local producers.”
For example, use of these outdoor classrooms has provided students an opportunity to engage in projects that demonstrate the impact of soil moisture, fertilizer and other crop-management practices on subsequent wheat harvests throughout the growing season.
“Students can’t get these experiences out of a textbook,” Nygren says. “It’s especially unique that these on-the-farm opportunities are available at the junior college level.”
From the wheat field to the pecan grove, students are introduced to a wide variety of agricultural practices. Jim and Holly Hollon, who have grown pecans and managed cattle in the Ottawa County area for several years and own Oklahoma Native Pecan Co., were the first producers to sublease land from NEO A&M, and Holly says they have enjoyed sharing their operation as an educational tool.
“The students have come out and seen what it’s like to clean up the land, or get it ready for pecan production, and we’ve shared our knowledge about best practices for fertilizing and pest management,” Holly says. “They’ve also seen our machinery in action during the harvest season, and students have helped us go through the pecans and eliminate the bad ones to ensure we have a good grade in the end. Jim and I hope the pecan industry continues to grow in our area, and we’re proud to be part of this partnership; it’s a great way to introduce the next generation to what we do.”