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The heart of the Department of Agricultural Sciences, the Valk Center is the site of most classroom instruction. It also boasts a Classroom of the Future for students with notebook computers. The Agriculture Resource Center offers up-to-the-minute commodities information and computer work stations.
The complex houses classrooms, a research laboratory and a preparatory room for Horticulture students. A growth chamber can simulate any type of growing environment on earth. Seven greenhouses feature state-of-the-art technology and are heated with circulating water. They are also equipped with a warning system if the temperature drops drastically.
Located on the edge of campus, the dairy provides plenty of hands-on instruction. The 80-plus herd of Jersey, Holstein and Brown Swiss is artificially inseminated. Approximately 40 lactating cows are milked twice each day, often by student employees. The Embryo Transfer Laboratory is also housed at the dairy. Students are involved in all stages of the process, from palpating cows to freezing embryos.
Commonly called the North Farm, this 750-acre facility employs a farm manager, animal technician, crop technician, swine herdsman and University students. The beef herd is composed of Gelbvieh, Angus and Charolais cattle. Suffolk ewes bred with Dorsett rams produce market lambs which are used in meats class. A farrow-to-finish swine operation gives students an opportunity to explore changes in the pork industry.
The University grows corn and soybeans at the North Farm, in addition to several acres of alfalfa and grass hay. Research is also conducted for soil analysis and global positioning.
The lighted arena provides a place for rodeo team members to practice for college competitions and to host their own rodeo events. Team and club members can board their horses at indoor or outdoor stables on a semester basis for a fee.
U.S. Patent 6,149,694 is Northwest's newest achievement. The utility patent is for Northwest's cutting-edge bio-energy project which processes animal waste into fuel. The University burns pellets made from solid animal waste blended with dry materials. This biomass fuel yields a high energy level, burns with no odor and does not release dangerous gases that contribute to global warming. Biomass is a raw energy source like coal or oil.
Using slightly modified farm equipment, a research team at Northwest found a method to mix switch grass and animal waste so that it will burn odor free. These pellets can be burned to create steam, which can be used to provide heating and cooling for the University.
The process involves separating the manure into liquids and solids through a mechanical separation process completed at the University's farm. The liquid is treated and stored in a lagoon, and can later be recycled through the waste disposal system or applied to area crops as a nutrient-bearing liquid. The solids are then dried and processed into pellets.
Pig manure was used in the majority of the research efforts, but any livestock waste can be used. All of the animal waste from the swine, poultry, and dairy operations at Northewst's R.T. Wright Farm will now have a biomass use.
Northwest is a pioneer in the area of biomass energy. Timber waste, in the form of wood chips, has provided a source of energy to the campus for the past three decades. Northwest also recycles paper and uses paper pellets as another source of energy. The University has saved millions of dollars by burning alternative fuels instead of natural gas.
Now animal waste has been added to our list of biomass products, again demonstrating our commitment to protecting the environment of Northwest Missouri, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel.