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It may be covered now with fresh fallen winter snow, but later this year or in 2019, a 111-acre tract of farmland east of Sturgis may be verdant with a variety of row crops and forage as part of an ag research station for South Dakota State University.

A legislative bill, SB48, passed and sent to Gov. Dennis Daugaard last week, authorized the South Dakota Board of Regents and SDSU to buy the improved, tillable land for $902,461.

According to a bill brief provided by the Board of Regents, the land purchase is funded by $502,461 in proceeds from the SDSU research park payout received by the university in 2017, with the additional $400,000, to build a facility for equipment storage and maintenance, office space and a small classroom, coming from ag experiment station fees.

Kristi Cammack, director of the SDSU West River Ag Center in Rapid City, said the land replaces approximately 100 acres of research and demonstration land rented by SDSU near Wall.

“We ended up not getting that land lease back several years ago and so we’ve been on the hunt to find a good location with some suitable farm ground out here in western South Dakota,” Cammack said in an interview. “This is really a nice-sized area for us. It’s easily accessible for the public.”

The tract is located about seven miles east of Sturgis — just north of the Sturgis Municipal Airport and west of the Western Dakota Antique Club grounds — along Meade County Road 12, also known as Alkali Road.

The bill authorizing the purchase came with an emergency clause, allowing the university to take possession in time for the growing season this spring.

Cammack said the land has been planted with alfalfa and other livestock forage grasses for several years. “It really gives us that time to prepare the site and get it in really good condition, so that when we do all that research, it’s starting from a good baseline,” she said.

South Dakota State University agronomist Christopher Graham oversees ag research activities through SDSU’s West River Ag Center, often partnering with ag producers throughout the region on farm trials, a process which has both advantages and disadvantages.

Having its own tract of land is a big deal, he said.

“It’s great to work with farmers and have them involved, but without land, we really don’t have any say with what gets planted where and when things take place,” Graham said. “Now we have control and we can implement different crop rotations that we’re interested in.

Graham said one of the West River ag producers he works with is also a realtor, and assisted in the search for available land. “We looked at few different locations,” he said. “(This location is) flat and it’s uniform, and it just met our needs the best.”

Graham expects to rotate a number of crops on the newly purchased tract, among them a mix of small grains — wheat and oats and also alfalfa and other annual and perennial forages.

Also planned are studies of the intermingling of livestock and maintenance of soil healthiness. A future possibility is a structure on the site for equipment storage and to host meetings with ag producers.

“This is really filling a void for us. Agronomic research is really important to our producers out here in West River,” Cammack said.

Graham hopes to also coordinate research activities with nearby Sturgis Brown High School and with the neighboring Antique Club with its annual late summer Steam & Gas Threshing Bee.

“We’re really hoping we can engage the community with this new land,” he said.

Another similar measure, SB49, also passed and sent to the governor last week, authorized the Board of Regents and SDSU to spend $665,000 to purchase 72 acres of ag land in Brookings County.

(Editor's note: the above story has been changed to clarify the total purchase price which is split between the cost of the land and funds to be used for maintenance, storage, office and classroom at the site.)

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