Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory director Dewey Mann

Waterman set to build on urban agricultural traditions

By Matt Reese

A long-time haunt for agricultural students in the shadow of the downtown Columbus skyline is building upon its unique history and location on The Ohio State University campus. The Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory already has a little bit of all things agricultural and there are a number of updates and changes on the way that will allow the options and potential to grow.

“People know the tradition and history of enhancing educational opportunities, thinking about the connectivity and excitement around career paths in food, agricultural and environmental sciences, and that is a priority for the College. We achieve many of those goals through our Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory,” said Dewey Mann, director. “We want to showcase the breadth of Ohio agriculture. We see this as an exciting platform for public engagement. If you are going to have a comprehensive University where hort and crop science faculty interact with medical center faculty, you have to have a physical space for them to do their work and come together. We think the facilities are going to be able to help build on those existing synergies.”

Waterman is comprised of 261 acres on the west side of campus along Lane Avenue. There have been plenty of changes in recent years, with more to come. With a long history of urban livestock production, Waterman is moving forward with planning for a new Multi-species Animal Learning Center (MALC). This center will integrate with the planned remodeling of the existing Waterman dairy, which will include robotic feeding and milking technology.

“We are in the initial design phase of the MALC. This will be a facility with an indoor arena. We will have housing for a horse herd, the poultry flock, small ruminants with goats and sheep, large ruminants with our beef, and a small farrow-to-finish unit will also be housed in that facility,” Mann said. “You’ve got animal operations, with interactive displays where people can go up onto the second floor and look down into the barns and see modern animal agriculture at its finest.” 

The MALC will focus on the full spectrum of animal-human interactions, from production animal agriculture to companion animals. It will also bring people and animals together for hands-on learning, public events, and programming through Ohio State University Extension. The early facility design includes a substantial show arena that would be a backdrop for future livestock judging events, camps, and workshops. Along with the arena, research and education wings dedicated to beef, swine, sheep, poultry, and equine, and a visitor’s education center are also early design possibilities.

“We believe that this facility will raise the level of excellence for all that we do in animal sciences,” said John Foltz, chair of the OSU Department of Animal Sciences.

The plans for MALC also fit in with new staffing additions as well for OSU’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Foltz recently announced the appointment of Bain Wilson as livestock evaluation specialist. Wilson will join the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences, effective August 2021, as assistant professor, professional practice. He will lead the Ohio State Livestock Judging Team, teach the department’s livestock evaluation course, and begin connecting with Ohio 4-H livestock evaluation teams across the state.

“We are excited for Dr. Wilson to join the faculty and to lead the livestock evaluation courses and team. His arrival is part of a larger plan of pursuing excellence for our judging team,” said John Foltz, chair of the Department of Animal Sciences.

Wilson currently serves as an assistant professor in beef production and youth livestock at Virginia Tech. His position there involves teaching, research, and Extension. He has served as the coordinator of the intercollegiate livestock judging team at Virginia Tech, as well as the coach for both the Virginia and Illinois state 4-H livestock judging teams. Wilson led the 4-H livestock judging teams to national championships at both schools. 

His research at Virginia Tech focuses on production practices that have the ability to improve the output and viability of beef production systems. Wilson received a bachelor’s degree in animal science and industry from Kansas State University, a master’s in animal sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a doctorate in ruminant nutrition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to the announcement of Wilson as livestock evaluation specialist on the Columbus campus, a new livestock evaluation coaching position has been announced for Ohio State ATI on the CFAES Wooster campus. 

“We are equally excited to share that two organizations have come forward to provide funding for a livestock evaluation coaching position at CFAES Wooster–ATI, which will create a junior livestock judging team on that campus,” Foltz said. “The creation of this team will be a fantastic way to give students experience in livestock evaluation and, if they choose to continue their education on the main Columbus campus, they would be excellent candidates to join the senior judging team.”

Both positions are being supported by the Dr. Thomas B. Turner Livestock Judging Coach Endowed Fund, which supports the existing, senior judging team on the Columbus campus as well as the new, junior judging team and coaching position at CFAES Wooster. In addition, CFAES has begun the search for an assistant professor in Small Ruminant Production and Management. 

Along with the MALC, the future Waterman complex will also include a Controlled Environment Food Production Research Complex. Construction for this project started in February and is on schedule to be completed by Fall of 2022. The facility will have a focus on supporting research in controlled environment agriculture and food production industries with the use of smart technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase energy, water, and food system efficiencies.

The new Kunz-Brundige Franklin County Extension Building opened in 2019 and houses the Franklin County Extension team. Using this beautiful facility as the focal point, a garden-based programming hub is being build up around this space, complete with parking, pathways, and better connectivity. Several programs are benefiting from establishment of this new hub, including the JamesCare for Life’s Garden of Hope that is headed into its’ eighth production season. 

“[The Garden of Hope] started with about 40 patrons, cancer patients, cancer survivors and their caregivers. Initially it focused on nutrition and dietetics. It has evolved and we know in agriculture, working outside in the dirt is therapeutic. It has been amazing,” Mann said. “That program has built a community and brought people together who are going through a similar condition in life, and has grown to over 400 participants. We are looking forward to those kinds of programs continuing, connecting with similar initiatives, and positively impacting lives using food and agriculture as the vehicle.”   

In addition, Waterman also has plans for a welcome center, a pesticide storage facility and additional site improvements including roadwork and drainage. The end goal is a smattering of all things Ohio agriculture in one central, urban location. 

“Not losing focus of tradition and the things that this institution is known for, students and the general public can come to learn about agriculture. This will not function as a metro park, but we want to bring people in whether it is through animal education, Extension, formal education through a classroom, or an informal walk around like a visit to the zoo where you can interact with the displays,” Mann said. “One of the key challenges we face in agriculture is the rural-urban interface. There is a lot of information out there and we have found that people are curious about agriculture. People want to have dialogue and they want to talk about different production practices. This is going to be a forum where we are going to be able to do that. And Dean [Cathann] Kress has set a lofty goal that we are going to have every student at The Ohio State University to be engaged in programming at Waterman.” 

The future of agricultural production in Ohio is going to be diverse, and Mann hopes to see that reflected in the offerings at Waterman.

“A student and I were having a discussion about different agricultural production methods. The student asked, ‘What is the answer? Is it indoor controlled environment ag, is it backyard farming, is it hydroponics, is it animal ag, is it CAFOs, is it big ag?’ My answer was, ‘Yes, it is going to take all of these things to feed a growing population,’” Mann said. “We are excited about what Waterman will bring to the table as far as modern facilities and a physical location where you’ve got everything.” 

To learn more about supporting the livestock judging team and the Waterman MALC facility, contact Kyle Lavetsky, senior development director, at lavetsky.1@osu.edu, or Trish Raridan Preston, associate development director, at raridan-preston.1@osu.edu.

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