5 Things You Didn’t Know about Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center

When you think of the Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center, rows of dark-fired tobacco barns probably come to mind. But this 615-acre facility located north of Nashville is home to research projects involving multiple commodities. The staff of fourteen works with faculty from six different departments to find solutions for Tennessee farmers. Read on to learn more about the history and mission of this REC.

1. Farmers wanted this Center. In The History of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station, T. J. Whatley writes that in 1943 state legislators representing farmers in the Northern Highland Rim region made an “urgent request” to establish an experiment station in the area. While the author doesn’t say why the request was so urgent, the detection and spread of the devastating black shank fungus in area tobacco fields in the 1930s probably played a pivotal role. For the bargain price of $15,000, the state purchased 191 acres just outside of Springfield. Additional acreage was later purchased, with the final addition being made in 1961.

2. Tobacco dominated early years. The northern Highland Rim has traditionally been known for dark-fire tobacco production. The combination of environment and soil properties in this region produces dark tobacco that has not been equaled in any region of the world. Tobacco has shaped the culture and politics of the region going back to the Black Patch Wars around the turn of the twentieth century. Shortly after the Highland Rim Experiment Station was established, UT and the USDA established a breeding program there to develop disease-resistant dark-fire tobacco varieties. Today research at HRREC continues to produce new dark-fire varieties with improved yield and quality characteristics. Researchers also evaluate burley and dark air-cured varieties.

3. Need weather data? They’ve got it. HRREC was recently awarded the National Weather Service’s 75-Year-Honored Institution Award for their many years of contributions to the Cooperative Observer Program. Participation in the program requires daily measurements of air, soil, and water temperatures, precipitation amounts, and wind speeds. Over the years, data collectors at HRREC have witnessed some pretty extreme weather events, most notably an F4 tornado that devastated the Center’s landscape in the spring of 1970. No lives were lost, but property damage was estimated at $255,000 (more than $1.6 million in 2017 dollars). According to Center Director Rob Ellis, more than 20 acres of forest had to be cleared to pasture because of the tornado. Those acres remain in pasture today.

4. Fertile ground. HRREC has a strong emphasis in beef cattle research, with many of the projects focused on improving cattle fertility. Improving conception rates translates to higher profits for beef cattle producers. Genetic testing, investigating artificial insemination protocols, and evaluating the forages consumed are research projects that have all delivered answers to farmers facing cattle fertility challenges. See video.

5. HRREC is home to a diverse crop mix. While this Center is well known for tobacco and beef cattle research, it also supports UT Agronomic Crop Variety trials as well as an array of specialty crops like canola, mustard, hemp, indigo, grapes, blueberries, and sesame. Researchers evaluate the potential of these crops to become viable alternatives for Tennessee producers and work with producers to find markets for these new crops. Listen to the podcast.

What’s next at Highland Rim? The Tobacco Beef & More Field Day is scheduled for Thursday, June 22, 2017. This free, half-day program features presentations from tobacco, beef, and forage experts, tours of research plots, and one of the best steak sandwich lunches around. Registration begins at 8 a.m.

Ginger Rowsey