Photo of soybean field

The University of Kentucky’s Grain and Forage Center of Excellence benefits greatly from the support of the state's farmers and commodity groups.

“There has been some discussion about this center on an informal basis for almost a decade now, about how do we make this happen,” said Chad Lee, director of the center. Lee said those conversations took place between Logan County farmer Don Halcomb and Lloyd Murdock, UK extension soils professor emeritus.

“If you talk to Don, he credits Lloyd. If you talk to Lloyd, he credits Don,” Lee said.

The idea became a reality when the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board awarded the university $15 million in July 2016, stipulating that the university raise an additional $15 million in gifts, grants and donations within five years. To accommodate the center, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is renovating and expanding its Research and Education Center in Princeton. Construction is slated for completion in late summer or early fall 2019.

Inspiration and passion are words that best describe our partners in making the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence a reality.

Firmon and Betty Cook

Despite a decline in the farm economy since 2014, Betty and the late Firmon Cook felt an obligation to UK for what it has meant to the family farm. The Cooks, with their son Milton, have been grain farmers in the Princeton-Cadiz area for many years raising corn, wheat, and soybeans. The couple are both UK graduates.

“The main reason we wanted to contribute was because the research center in Princeton has been an asset to our farm over the years,” Milton Cook said, speaking for his father who recently passed away. “Dr. Lloyd Murdock, specifically, has helped diagnose issues, and there has been a relationship with the university for a long time. That is what motivated us to make a contribution.”

The Cooks gave $100,000 toward the center's general fund at the end of 2017.

“The western end of the state is where most of your row crop production occurs,” Milton Cook said. “It is only logical to be doing that research where it happens, and I think it will be beneficial for UK.”

Wheat Field


Howard Martin

Howard Martin's gift was the first major gift received from an individual following the announcement by the Ag Development Board. The $20,000 he contributed to the Lloyd Murdock Endowment will go for maintenance of the center.

The Todd County native didn't attend college, but Martin was an inventor and entrepreneur. He developed an equipment attachment to clean the rows in no-till fields, where debris collects as a result of the fields not being plowed or turned. For three decades, his invention has been sold and marketed as the Martin-Till system. He credits Murdock for a lot of his success, because he helped Martin get a patent.

No-till field

“He always gave me what I called a ‘reasoned answer’,” Martin said. “You could tell he had given it thought, and not just off the top of his head. He is very much a devoted teacher and professional.”

Murdock, who has known Martin since he arrived at Princeton in 1970, respected him for his intellect.

“I admired him, and he always had really good questions,” Murdock said.

Rankin Powell

Rankin Powell spent more than 30 years as a UK agriculture and natural resources extension agent in two Western Kentucky counties. His first stint was in Livingston County for 11 years. Then he left extension for a few years to help on the family farm when his father's health was failing. Powell returned to extension as the ag agent in Union County, where he spent another 20 years before retiring. He has donated $25,000 to the Grain and Forage Center and then contributed a gift of grain worth $51,000.
Photo of Corn
“I wanted to give back to UK to help generate unbiased research information for dissemination by ag extension agents,” said Powell. “UK is great place to work, and I enjoyed it tremendously.”

Powell believes the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence will be a big boost for the state's farmers, especially those in Western Kentucky, where the majority of the commonwealth's grain crop is produced.

I think this center really is going to help us,” Powell said.

William and Rene Payne

Bill Payne and his wife, Rene, gave $154,000 to establish and endow the Payne Family Scholarship, which supports students who have an interest in forages. Growing up, Payne helped his father on their Lincoln County beef and dairy farm, and the two later formed a partnership.


Photo of beef in field

He said UK was always a huge help to their farming operation, answering their questions and including them in research projects, which is why he wanted to give back to the college. Payne writes grazing management plans for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and serves on the Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council's board of directors. The Grain and Forage Center for Excellence task force has also benefited from Payne’s expertise.

-- Jeff Franklin