Five Things You Didn't Know about the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan

Situated in the heart of the state’s row crop production area, the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan facilitates nearly 200 research projects annually on Tennessee’s leading row crops- corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat. Here are a few extra facts about the REC at Milan.

1) It was created from a U.S. Army Ammunition Plant. The Center was established in 1962 on 488 acres that belonged to the Milan Army Ammunition Plant. According to T.J. Whatley’s A History of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station, UT received the land as surplus property from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare “after considerable negotiation.” The Center was originally created to serve as a larger field station…a place where agricultural research plots more closely resembled the large fields of the state’s farmers. Today the relationship with the Milan Arsenal continues, as the Center leases 388 acres from the MAAP for agricultural research. Watch former AgResearch employee reminisce about the beginning of Milan Experiment Station.

2) It’s the birthplace of “Farming Ugly.” After the Center was established, the work emphasis quickly shifted to finding a more sustainable method of planting crops. Research showed a system called “no-till” could reduce the soil erosion that was devastating Tennessee fields. However, no-till was not popular with farmers who referred to it as “farming ugly.” Fast-forward to 2016 and no-till is now used on 76 percent of major crop acres, and producers are gaining the economic and environmental benefits of this technique. Every other year, farmers from around the world visit Milan for the No-Till Crop Production Field Day where they can learn to farm more efficiently.

3) It’s home to the West Tennessee Ag Museum. “Tom McCutchen, the first superintendent at Milan, not only had the vision to develop the no-till concept but also to preserve the history of West Tennessee,” says Blake Brown, current director. McCutchen had a passion for collecting antique farm equipment. (See video.) Upon his passing, community leaders banded together to make sure Tom’s dream of an agricultural museum became a reality. With more than 15,000 items on display, the museum tells the story of rural life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each year, the facility hosts dozens of school field trips in addition to the Fall Folklore Jamboree, a cultural heritage event held on the third Saturday of October.

4) The work here continues to change farming. Modern farming looks much different than the pictures you’ll see in the West Tennessee Ag Museum. Thanks to research and education efforts, nearly half a million acres of Tennessee farmland are now being managed using precision agricultural technologies. The AgResearch and Education Center at Milan has been on the forefront of the technological advances in agriculture. UTIA scientists developed the cotton yield monitor here, and over the years our researchers have evaluated auto guidance planting, tillage and spraying systems, planter row shutoff, greenseeker technology, variable rate irrigation, and unmanned aerial systems.

5) The Field of Worms can be found here. If you till it, they won’t come “they” being earthworms. Fortunately, years of no-till research have created a very hospitable home for earthworms in the AgResearch and Education Center’s fields. In fact, one field which has been continuously no-tilled for forty years is known as the earthworm field. Here you can almost always find earthworms by simply turning up a shovel-full of soil. Earthworm populations are beneficial to soil as they speed up organic material breakdown and their burrowing improves water movement and nutrient flow.