Milan, TN research center looks to keep leased land from federal government

An institute of agriculture is working hard to keep leased land from the federal government to continue research to help farmers.

On the outskirts of Milan, you will find productive farmland. Corn and soybeans do well in this rich soil, and it helps when the growers are experts. The UT AgResearch center at Milan includes some 600-acres of experimental crops.

“It’s just vital to our operation,” UTIA AgResearch’s Blake Brown states. “It’s vital to allowing us to get the information that we need to get to our producers across the state, across the southeast, and literally across the world.”

About 60 percent of the research plots here are owned by the next door neighbor, the Milan Army Ammunition plant. Production of ammo stopped a few years back, and this became a storage facility. Even the adjacent Milan Country Club Golf Course uses old mortar shells as tee markers.

For 40 years now, UT AgResearch has been leasing 388-acres from the army arsenal to grow experimental crops here.

“It’s been a wonderful arrangement. They have been great landlords,” Brown notes. “They have allowed us to do a lot of things.”

He says that the university’s leased acres could go to other agencies.

To try to keep its Milan center, UT’s Institute of Agriculture has requested a transfer of the acres previously leased from the arsenal, as well as new land that features forests and streams for additional research projects.

According to Brown, “Our concern is with the change at the arsenal, they’re shutting this facility down, the land will be dispersed at some point and our concern is that if we lose that, we lose 60 percent of our acreage. That really, really takes a toll on this operation.”

The center was established in 1962 on land the university purchased from the federal government. Today, it is home to hundreds of research projects and one of the south’s largest agricultural events.

The Milan No-Till Field Day focuses on soil conservation. The event has hosted 134,000 visitors from 37 states and 38 countries, including a virtual version in 2020.

Now, a campaign is underway on social media and through legislative contacts to transfer the land to the university so the field day and research can continue.

“We’ve been made aware that there are other entities that may be interested in this property. The National Guard potentially wants part of it and others, some who may be higher in the hierarchy than we are,” he adds. “We’ve not found anyone who is against us getting this property.”

The question now becomes when? It could be years before a final decision is made, but UTIA hopes to speed up the process. Leaders say that keeping this land, and perhaps gaining additional acres, will mean more help to farmers.

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