SDSU to transform cattle research station into 'nationally recognized' precision ag site

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum
Beef cattle out at pasture at Cottonwood Field Station

South Dakota State University is modernizing one of their oldest science stations into a cutting-edge agriculture research and education site.

On Thursday, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved SDSU's plans to renovate the Cottonwood Range & Livestock Field Station during their June Regents meeting.

The upgrades would cost $6,000,000 to complete and "would transform the Cottonwood Field Station into a nationally recognized, innovative range beef cattle research and education site supporting ranchers and rangeland managers," according to the school's Preliminary Facility Statement.

Gov. Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 84 into law during the 2022 South Dakota Legislative Session, which covered the cost of the renovation.

The Cottonwood Field Station is located about 11 miles west of Phillip, South Dakota and features a research facility with 2,640 acres of grazeland for cattle and another 1,100 grazing acres near Sturgis.

Kristi Cammack, SDSU director of West River Research Extensions, told Farm Forum Thursday the station would be transformed into a multi-purpose building for both research and educational uses. The renovations include the construction of a classroom, locker rooms, calving and cattle handling area, laboratory, office and wash area.

Historically, the field station has primarily been used for livestock research, but Cammack said the upgrades would make it possible for professors and producers to conduct hands-on agriculture classes and workshops at the site for SDSU undergraduates and local K-12 students.

"Before, we just did not have any place to conducts these trainings, so this will really expand the way we hold trainings," Cammack said.

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Cammack added the upgrades would also expand their research to incorporate modern precision ranching technology. This would include a Vence — a virtual livestock paddock system akin to an invisible fence for dogs — and precision feeders that can optimize a cow's diet.

The also benefit South Dakota's beef industry as a whole, Cammack said, as producers would receive improved access to and instruction on how to best use the precision ag tech.

"We have a lot of grazing land and grazing cattle in the state, so enabling them to have access to the tools they didn't have access to before would be a big leap for our producers," Cammack said.

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SDSU would also be better able to compete for grants and contracts with the upgraded station.

Additionally, the renovation would repair much of the facility and cattle pens, which were damaged following a severe windstorm in 2020 that has since limited research capabilities.

Dominik Dausch is the agriculture and environment reporter for the Argus Leader and editor of Farm Forum. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @DomDNP and send news tips to ddausch@gannett.com.