UK’s Research and Education Center in Princeton takes direct hit from tornado

The Grain and Forage Center of Excellence at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center was damaged by a powerful tornado Friday.

The UK Research and Education Center in Princeton took a direct hit from the powerful tornado Friday that began in northwestern Arkansas and carved a path of destruction across the western half of Kentucky.

UKREC employees, led by director Carrie Knott, worked through the weekend, securing and caring for animals, assessing damage and offering support.

“Our hometown heroes of hope — our faculty, staff and Extension agents in our Western Kentucky communities have rallied to assist others even as we were dealing with damages to critical UK facilities in Western Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “As the University for Kentucky, we understand how important faculty and staff at the UK Research and Education Center and Cooperative Extension Service are to relaying educational information to their communities. We are committed to rebuilding, helping the area recover and emerging stronger than before.”

“The center is the home to a group of very dedicated UK employees, and I commend Dr. Knott and her staff for their heroic weekend recovery efforts,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and UK vice president for land-grant engagement. “While the center won’t be the same for some time, the college is committed to helping our employees and communities recover from these devastating events and serving the Western Kentucky agricultural community.”

While the physical structure that housed the UKREC is gone, the center has been, and always will be, vital to Kentucky agriculture. As a testament to the importance of the center to the state’s agriculture industry, two temporary office buildings and two temporary storage buildings will be placed on-site Dec. 14 for UKREC personnel.

“The outpouring of community support has been very humbling to us,” Knott said. “We are not closing our doors, but we will look a little different and be a little more fragmented at least for the near future.”

Due to the number of debris, officials ask that the public stay away from the center as the area is unsafe and structurally unsound.

The center was established in 1925 on nearly 1,300 acres about one mile from downtown Princeton. In 1980, the Rottgering-Kuegel Agricultural and Extension Building was added and housed the center’s nearly 50 staff and hosted countless extension and area meetings. That facility underwent a major renovation and addition to house the UK Grain and Forage Center of Excellence, which opened in 2019. Since its inception, numerous stakeholders have provided strong support to the center and critical funding for many of its improvements.

“The Kentucky agricultural community is a strong community. It is a kind community, and it is a generous community,” said Chad Lee, director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence. “We are going to rely heavily on them to help us get through this as we work to build anew. Our hearts are broken but not our spirits.”

Over the years, scientists at the center have spearheaded many important research endeavors including numerous no-till research projects, precision agriculture application studies and a soil fragipan research breakthrough. Center specialists have been the area farmers’ go-to resource for research-based information in agronomics, forages, beef management, disease control, pest control, precision agriculture, grain storage systems, soil fertility and grain marketing.

Numerous counties are dealing with the aftermath of the destructive tornadoes. The UK Cooperative Extension Service is diligently working with area organizations to meet the needs of tornado victims.

Extension has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to offer support for affected farmers. Those who wish to donate farm supplies should contact their local extension office. Extension agents will deliver products to the KDA for distribution to farm organizations working to meet the needs of impacted farmers.

Kentucky 4-H has a 4-H’ers Helping 4-H’ers Relief Fund https://kentucky4hfoundation.org/relief-fund/ that is collecting donations to help affected 4-H members, families and staff.

The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management is also accepting donations and relief effort volunteer applications. Individuals can offer to donate supplies or apply to volunteer at https://arcg.is/8aqnO.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has partnered with the Kentucky Farm Bureau to develop a GoFundMe account at https://gofund.me/6855c668 to provide monetary support for affected farmers. Donations are tax deductible.

Individuals, who wish to make monetary donations to the tornado victims, may do so by donating through UK’s Office of Philanthropy at https://uky.networkforgood.com/causes/9900-cafe-annual-discretionary-fund. Individuals may donate to help affected UK students at https://uky.networkforgood.com/causes/10124-basic-needs-and-persistence-fund. UK also offers the CRISIS (Crisis Relief in Situations Involving Staff and Faculty) Program to help UK employees experiencing personal hardship. UK faculty and staff may request assistance at https://staff senate.uky.edu/crisis.

Individuals may also mail checks with a comment to support UK CAFE Tornado Relief to UK Philanthropy, P.O. Box 23552, Lexington, KY 40523.