Garden Variety: Kansas State’s horticulture center in Haysville closing
Kansas State University’s John C. Pair Horticultural Center in Haysville is set to close later this year to meet budget demands of the university. The Center, founded in 1970, is a 120-acre facility that primarily conducts research on trees and shrubs, houses field trials for horticultural plants, and hosts educational events. The loss of the Center and its staff means a loss in research-based information on horticultural crops, especially in the fields of pest resistance, water conservation and production methods. This is truly a loss for all Kansans.
KSU announced the decision on June 14 and noted in a news release that the university has faced reductions in base support and loss of revenue from recent enrollment declines. The budget cut specific to the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension, through which the Center is funded, is $3.5 million.
The closing means laying off five full-time professional staff, cutting four to five seasonal workers, and selling the facility’s assets.
Since the announcement, horticulture industry professionals and other supporters have lobbied the university to keep the Center open. A petition was started on change.org and quickly gained over 1500 signatures.
University administration is currently holding to its original decision but has agreed to develop a task force to look at the potential for an alternative funding model for the Center. If staff and supporters can raise $200,000, the Center can stay open until 2019. About $40,000 has been raised currently.
Dr. Jason Griffin, the center’s director and K-State Research and Extension’s State Specialist in woody ornamental plants, says he is hopeful that a solution can be found. Griffin has been at the Center for 17 years.
Griffin’s most interesting and practical work is on producing disease-resistant pine trees suited for Kansas and finding ways to utilize eastern red cedars. He is also evaluating production methods that would help the tree nursery industry be more successful, improving transplant survival rates of trees and shrubs, studying environmental stress on plants and ways to alleviate it, and comparing cultivars of tree and shrub species for performance in Kansas. He recently completed an evaluation of elm cultivars with Dutch elm disease resistance as part of a national, 10-year project.
In addition to Griffin’s work, the facility hosts research projects of 8 other KSU faculty members in different disciplines. The Center’s website says that research crops at the facility have included trees, flowers, turfgrass, medicinal plants, grapes, peaches, strawberries, asparagus, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes.
Planned projects if the Center finds a way to stay open included more work on sustainability and water conservation, evaluations of high tunnel (hoophouse) production for certain vegetables, and continued work on evaluations of grafted tomatoes, sweet potato cultivars, turfgrass cultivars, and landscape management techniques.
Knowledge gained from the various research projects is disseminated to the public through various trainings and K-State Research and Extension publications. Professors travel frequently to industry meetings and seminars to provide training, and the Center hosts Field Days and community workshops regularly. Groups who utilize the Center the most are the Kansas Nursery and Landscape Association, Kansas Arborists Association, Kansas Turfgrass Foundation, Kansas Forest Service and Master Gardeners. Most activities are open to the public.
Sweet potato growers will also feel the pain of the Center’s closing. For more than a decade, the Center has produced and sold organic sweet potato slips (transplants) to sell to growers to meet the demand for regionally-produced plants. They produce tens of thousands of slips that are shipped to growers in 25 states.
To show support for keeping the Center open, contact KSU administration and tell them what the Center and its research means to you. Include President Richard B. Myers, Provost April Mason, Associate Dean Ernie Minton, Associate Dean Don Boggs, Associate Dean Gregg Hadley, and Horticulture Department Head Candice Shoemaker. Sign the petition at change.org. Donate money if you can.
The Department also plans to close the 80-acre Pecan Experimental Field in Chetopa. The Director of that facility, Dr. William Reid, retired recently after 37 years at the station. He worked under a joint appointment between KSU and the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and evaluated native pecan varieties and management.
The namesake of the Center in Haysville, John C. Pair, was a professor of horticulture for KSU and Director of the Center from its opening in 1970 to his death in 1998. Pair and the Center were nationally recognized in the horticulture industry for the relevant and visionary work performed there.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.