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Jim Beaty saw tech unfold at Purdue Agronomic Research Center

Courtesy Jim Beaty Jim Beaty ‘drives’ this restored Farmall tractor
HISTORIC DRIVE: Jim Beaty “drives” this restored Farmall tractor, used in wheat breeding at the Purdue Agronomy Farm, to its destination atop the loft inside the Beck’s Ag Center.
Longtime ag center superintendent recalls advances in technology over his career.

Anyone who has visited the former Purdue Agronomy Farm over the past 35 years has likely met Jim Beaty. He served as superintendent of the Purdue Departmental Farm near West Lafayette until he retired at the end of 2020.

To say that the Purdue Agronomy Farm changed during his tenure is an understatement. It was nothing short of a transformation, starting with name changes. “It was the Purdue Agronomy Farm, then it became the Purdue Agronomy Research Center,” Beaty says. Later, it was changed to its current name, the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education, commonly referred to as Purdue ACRE.

Jim BeatyJim Beaty explains how timberland met the prairie during a tour in 2013

STANDING AT THE ROCK: Jim Beaty explains how timberland met the prairie during a tour in 2013, standing at a recreated prairie at the Purdue Agricultural Research Center.

The size of ACRE has roughly doubled since Beaty began his tenure. It covers 1,600 acres today. “Some researchers do large, field-scale research today, and it takes more room,” Beaty says. “We utilize all of our space.”

Key advances

Here are some major changes that occurred during Beaty’s time at the helm:

Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center. The roughly $25 million complex has been up and operating for just a few seasons. It’s home for state-of-the-art phenotyping research, including collection and study of untold millions of data points on crops through use of drones and other techniques. “It was also important because it gave our plant geneticists state-of-the-art equipment and one central location for threshing their small-plot breeding material and collecting and storing seed,” Beaty says. “We have a tradition of excellent plant breeders and geneticists, and it continues today.”

One of them, Mitch Tuinstra, is a geneticist who works on corn, popcorn and sorghum. “Purdue has had a strong sorghum research program for a long time, and I used to wonder why we devoted so much space to it since it’s not a large crop in Indiana,” Beaty says. “I’ve come to realize it’s an important crop for feeding people around the world. Plus, techniques learned working with sorghum help advance breeding in other crops. And if climate change results in warmer, drier weather, it may become more important in Indiana.”

Beck’s Agricultural Center. Beaty welcomed the $5 million Beck’s Ag Center to ACRE a couple decades ago. Besides becoming a destination for many ag groups to hold meetings, bringing more people to ACRE, research and educational facilities included with the center gave plant breeders and other Purdue ag researchers a better place to work and train students.

Prairie Rock. The prairie and timber soils intersect on the ACRE property, not far from the main buildings. “We put a large rock in place to mark the transition, and developed a small, natural prairie area to show people what an undisturbed prairie looks like,” Beaty says. “I believe it’s critical to educate non-ag people about agriculture, and I’ve given thousands of talks over the years, showing off ACRE. Many of them include a stop by the prairie and the rock so I can explain the heritage of the area.

“We’ve had everyone here from kindergartners to people from the Environmental Protection Agency. It was a key part of what I did.”   

Purdue Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center. This hands-on training area, where agronomists make mistakes on purpose to help train agronomists, farmers and retailers, blossomed during Beaty’s tenure as well. Headed today by Corey Gerber, it’s the group that also produces the Purdue Corn & Soybean Field Guide and associated apps.

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