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Education focus big part of new rice research station

New research center is designed to be grade-school-kid friendly and includes a "Dirty Classroom."

With 600 acres of rice soils within its boundaries, the new Northeast Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center will have ample space for research on new rice varieties, hybrids and production practices.

But educational activities will also be a focus for the new center in Poinsett County, according to Tim Burcham, who has been named director of the NERREC after serving six years as dean of the College of Agriculture and Technology at Arkansas State University.

“One of the things I wanted to point out here is the yellow rectangles in the parking lot,” said Burcham, who gave a presentation on the new facility at the Arkansas Soil and Water Education Conference. “Those are for school buses so even the parking lot is being designed so that we can bring young people in and help them understand the science and production of rice.”

The NERREC, a joint project of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board, is located in Poinsett County, 14 miles from Jonesboro and within a relatively short drive of numerous other cities in northeast Arkansas.

Besides being designed to be grade-school-kid friendly, the center will have such features as a “DirtyClassroom,” where school kids can pot rice plants; a greenhouse where they can see rice at different growth stages year round; and an elevated nature walk running from the center headquarters into an area of hardwood trees.

Burcham said he is excited about the “silo effect” in the design provided by the SCM Architecture Firm in Little Rock. Visitors will see a row of grain-bin-like structures as they drive into the parking lot. The structures will have lighting which can change colors.

“This gives us some unique opportunities and something that will be talked about,” said Burcham. “I think you’ll either love it or hate it, and that’s what happens when you deal with architects. I happen to love it.”

The back side of the center’s public space will be glass from floor to ceiling. “Basically, we will have our own rice variety viewing portal that will come right up to the back side of this,” he said.

“You’ll be able to stand there with your wine and cheese (“depending on the liquor laws in Poinsett County”) in the air conditioning confines and see variety trials.”

To receive updates, follow the NERREC on Twitter @NEArkRice.

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