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Trending upward

Austin Peay’s agriculture program is on the rise with increased enrollment and a new Animal Science Facility at its farm
Story and photos by Chris Villines 4/27/2017


Austin Peay State University (APSU) adjunct professor Jay Morris, second from left, makes a point to his horse management class students during a session held at the new Animal Science teaching facility located on the university’s 440-acre farm in Clarksville. The facility meets the needs of APSU’s fast-growing agriculture program.
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Jeremiah Hester can’t help but laugh at the reactions he got from some of his fellow students at Austin Peay State University (APSU) when he first told them the school has its own farm:

Its own what?

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” says Hester, an ag science major who will graduate in December from the college located in his hometown of Clarksville. “Heck, I didn’t even know the farm existed until I was in high school.”

But the 440-acre plot of land three miles from campus, known as the APSU Farm and Environmental Education Center, and the university’s Agriculture Program as a whole are gradually moving away from this “well-kept secret” status. From 2009 to present, the number of students majoring in ag-related disciplines at APSU has swelled from 109 to 250, according to Department Chair Dr. Donald Sudbrink.

These aspiring agriculturists can choose from six different areas of concentration: Agri-Business, Agri-Communications, Agri-Science, Pre-Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Technology, and Sustainable Development.

“Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that there are 56,000 new jobs available each year in the ag industry but only a little more than 30,000 graduates to fill those jobs,” says Sudbrink, who came to APSU in 2006. “There’s a big need out there, and that’s part of the reason for the growth of our ag program.”

This past year, the program received another boost with the opening of a $1.2 million Animal Science Facility at the farm. The state-of-the-art building, painted in the distinctive red color found in APSU’s logo, houses a 64-by-50-foot classroom/laboratory which looks out into a 50-by-96-foot covered livestock working area and adjacent 100-by-96-foot pavilion.

“This land had been in general use as a working farm ever since it was donated to the university around 1960,” Sudbrink says. “Having the new Animal Science Facility is a real game-changer for us because now students can come out and perform a lot more hands-on work, which stimulates their interest. And it’s a great recruiting tool to show prospective students, too.”

The venue not only hosts a variety of university-related classes, but also other ag-related activities such as a recent beef cattle producer meeting hosted by Montgomery Farmers Cooperative. The Co-op has been a long-standing partner of the APSU Agriculture Program, helping to fund construction on the new facility and serving as the source for the farm’s purchase of cattle-working equipment, gates, fencing, and other supplies. With the Co-op’s support plus its one-mile proximity to the farm, the Clarksville store is where APSU Farm Supervisor Chad Pugh says he finds himself “probably two or three times a day.”

“Since agriculture is so strong in our area, it’s nice to have a learning opportunity like this on the farm that students at Austin Peay can use,” says Josh Briggs, general manager of Montgomery Farmers’ Clarksville store and a 2007 graduate of the APSU Agriculture Program. “You don’t have to go somewhere else to get an ag education — everything’s right here. We’re proud to be a part of something that helps promote the future of farming.”

Hester, who is one of two paid student assistants for Pugh, believes the enhancements at the farm have been “a valuable addition” to his overall educational experience.

“I can take the things I’ve learned in beef production class and apply those concepts out here,” he explains. “It’s hands-on, which is the way I learn best. You get to see firsthand how things should be done. It’s really opened my eyes to how fortunate we are to have all this now.

“I’m grateful for it.”

Beef cattle production is indeed at the core of the “working farm” aspect of APSU’s operation. The current herd of some 60 registered and commercial Angus were donated by a local producer five years ago.

“When I first started here, we were working with Brangus and spent 10 years trying to ‘breed the ear out of them,’” says Pugh, who is in his 18th year at the farm. “At one time, we had a mix of just about everything. Now, we’ve gotten rid of the old commercial herd and are focusing on purebred Angus with some that have a little Simmental influence.”

In addition to traditional cow-calf management, Pugh explains that there are other purposes for the herd.

“We do a little bit of everything,” he says. “This year, we are feeding out eight steers for slaughter. We keep our own heifers and retain a few bulls to sell as seed stock. And we also have a beef show team.”

This five-person team, led by APSU Associate Professor of Agriculture Dr. Rod Mills, made a splash recently by exhibiting the Reserve Division Champion Percentage Simmental at the 2017 Dixie National Livestock Show, held in February in Jackson, Miss.

Mills credits the new Animal Science Facility as being vital in helping his show team and other students interact with, and learn about, cattle.

“It’s a lot safer to work the animals because it’s easier to group them and get out of their way, and there’s easier flow-through,” he says. “One of the coolest things we’ve done at this facility is embryo transfer where we flushed the embryos out and brought them into the lab for students to look at under the microscope. When those calves were born this year, I could tell the students that those were the same four cells they looked at before. This teaching facility has been a big step up.”

As the name implies, the reach of the Farm and Environmental Education Center goes beyond teaching eager young minds about agriculture. The land also plays host to such classes as ROTC navigation training, field biology plot testing, geology (there’s a cave on the farm’s northeast side), and bird watching. There are two large solar panels, a wind turbine, and an astronomical observatory onsite as well.

“This is such an underrated, taken-for-granted property,” Hester says. “There’s so much you can learn here, so much you can observe. I feel lucky to be a part of this farm and this program and tell everyone I can about it.”

As the number of students continues to climb, Sudbrink says he’s appreciative of the partners who have helped APSU Agriculture get to this point.

“We’ve been able to grow through the support of our private donors, businesses like the Co-op, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the legislature,” he stresses. “We’re a program on the move.”

For more information about the APSU Agriculture Program and the Farm and Environmental Education Center, visit

Austin Peay State University is one of six Tennessee universities where eligible students majoring in agriculture receive scholarships from Tennessee Farmers Cooperative each year. For more information, contact APSU’s Dr. Donald Sudbrink at 931-221-7266.

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