Year of a new beginning – that is how I will recall the year 2017. The operational activities of the Noble Foundation transitioned into the Noble Research Institute, which began the process of becoming an agricultural research organization (ARO). For the most part, operations continue as they did prior to the change; however, it is with a renewed and more integrated focus on agricultural outcomes. The mission of the Noble Research Institute is simply: To deliver solutions to great agricultural challenges. We dissolved the divisions and are working as one team, integrating our core activities – producer relations (which includes consultation), education (producer and youth), applied agricultural systems and stewardship (encompasses research and demonstrations on our farms and ranches), and research (includes basic plant, soil and associated microorganism research as well as plant breeding). This new organizational structure will allow us to do more for agricultural producers than ever before.
Also at TCC, we launched the Beef Sustainability Pilot Project alongside our industry partners – Integrity Beef Alliance, Beef Marketing Group (BMG), Tyson, Golden State Foods and McDonald's. It marks one of the first studies in which information is transparently moved among all sectors of the beef supply chain.
This two-year pilot project is conducted using metrics and indicators from the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) guidelines. Individual animal traceability through the entire supply chain is a key metric in the project. Most of the first calf crop for the project will have arrived at the BMG feedyards by mid-December 2017.
Noble is excited about the potential impact this pilot project will have on the industry in addition to the producers participating in the Integrity Beef Alliance program.
The 2017 Leonard Wyatt Memorial Outstanding Cooperator Award recepient was given to Craig Watson. Craig and his wife, Mori, live in Sherman, Texas, and operate about 900 acres together.
At Texoma Cattlemen's Conference (TCC) in February, we recognized Craig Watson of Sherman, Texas, as the 2017 Leonard Wyatt Memorial Outstanding Cooperator Award recipient. Craig operates about 900 acres of mostly introduced pasture while developing 300 replacement heifers annually. He has implemented a managed grazing plan, rotating almost daily through multiple paddocks. He over-seeds with annual forages and cover crops. Craig utilizes estrus synchronization and artificial insemination with his replacement females, breeding the heifers to bulls with high accuracy EPDs with proven calving ease and high growth traits. He continues to host on-site demonstrations of new Noble small grain varieties and is always willing to participate as a guest speaker at producer meetings. Craig is most deserving of this recognition.
There have been some changes in the producer relations group's staff this year. Clay Wright, one of our livestock consultants and consultation managers, retired at the end of May after 40 years of outstanding service to our organization. Clay's impact transcends our farms, our producers, and our staff as he has provided agricultural guidance and professional mentorship to many a producer and professional alike. Bryan Nichols, a livestock consultant for the past few years, left us in August to return home to direct and manage the family operation in western Oklahoma. Although we were saddened at Bryan's departure, it was an opportunity he was preparing for, and we are pleased for him and his family. Ryon Walker, Ph.D., was hired as a livestock consultant in May. He came to us after managing the Louisiana State University research station at Homer, Louisiana, for the past five years. Prior to that, Ryon spent five years as an extension livestock specialist in Minnesota. Ryon has a Ph.D. in livestock reproduction and breeding, and he brings new and complementary skills to our consultation expertise. Most recently, we have hired two new consultation managers from within the consultant pool. Rob Cook, a pasture and range consultant, and Josh Gaskamp, a wildlife and range consultant, accepted management roles within the producer relations consultation activities as we begin operations as the Noble Research Institute. They join Russell Stevens as consultation managers.
A new land stewardship program was unveiled. This program will have implications across all Noble activities – consultation, education, applied agricultural systems and research. The land stewardship program is complementary to our organization's stewardship ethic and will underpin our consultation activities.
Twain Butler, Ph.D., a Noble research scientist, received a large, national collaborative grant to work on cover crop species of small grains, legumes and brassicas, and to develop varieties with greater contributions to soil health. This adds to our plant breeding research capabilities.
The applied agricultural systems activities include the construction of the 640-acre grazing facility, two high-fenced areas to conduct grazing treatments on variety trials, and the relocation of a pivot irrigation system, all at the Red River Farm in Burneyville, Oklahoma.
The cattle program has transitioned to complement the Integrity Beef Alliance program, allowing us to conduct cattle systems research with implications throughout the Southern Great Plains.
The applied agricultural systems group has initiated several brush management demonstrations to reclaim native rangeland acres impacted by brush encroachment.
Our specialty agriculture effort hosted an open house at the backyard agriculture area on our main campus. Approximately 150 people attended.
Our tours and educational activities continue to grow as well. The Noble experience was appreciated by the many participants attending the 350-plus events we hosted this year. Overall, 2017 will be remembered as the year the Noble Research Institute began, propelling the Noble Research Institute into a new era as an agricultural research organization. As such, we are better positioned to address the great challenges that agricultural producers will face into the future. The agricultural challenges of tomorrow are merely the seeds of opportunity for the Noble Research Institute. It is always exciting to be Noble!