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August 30, 2002   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
August 30, 2002

Auburn University and Alfa Farmers leaders break ground on the new Alfa Agricultural Services Building. Present for the ceremony were, from left, AU Interim Provost John Pritchett, retired Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Doug Rigney, AU Trustee Charles Glover, AU President William Walker, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Interim Director Gaines Smith, Alfa President Jerry Newby and College of Agriculture Dean John Jensen.
"AUBURN, Ala." Ground was broken Aug. 29 at Auburn University on a new 24,000-square-foot facility for soil, plant and water testing that will serve all Alabama citizens. The building, to be called the Alfa Agricultural Services and Research Building, is happening thanks to a $5 million gift from Alfa Insurance Companies and the Alabama Farmers Federation and will be located on Donahue Drive in Auburn.

"We are delighted to be part of this building project," said Alfa President Jerry Newby. "This facility is something that will serve all Alabamians, from livestock producers and row crop farmers to homeowners and weekend gardeners."

According to John Jensen, dean of the AU College of Agriculture and director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES), the new building combines three separate laboratories that currently are scattered across the AU campus.

Auburn began offering agricultural diagnostic testing services in 1953 when it opened the AU Soil Testing Laboratory. The lab, a cooperative program of the AAES and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), originally provided objective and economical fertilizer and lime recommendations to Alabama farmers. Today the laboratory also does analyses on plants, waste products and water for a variety of elements or contaminants for farmers, homeowners and even industry representatives.

In 1967, AU broadened its services by opening the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, a facility designed to identify and resolve health problems in a wide range of crops and horticultural plants. And, in 1983, AU further increased its scope by establishing the Fescue Diagnostic Laboratory to help Alabama livestock producers better utilize tall fescue, the most widely grown cool-season perennial grass in the United States.

"For all these years, these laboratories provided vital services to the citizens of Alabama," Jensen said. "But they have been operating with only limited space and equipment and with little coordination."

"I understand these labs collectively run more than 55,000 samples each year and have been doing so under some challenging circumstances," said retired Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Doug Rigney, who helped coordinate the gift and the planning process. "A while back I challenged Auburn's leaders to make agriculture at Auburn University what medicine is to University of Alabama at Birmingham. This is a big step toward meeting that challenge."

Newby noted that this new facility came about as a way for Alfa and the Farmers Federation to commemorate their own history. "Six years ago, when we at Alfa and the Farmers Federation were celebrating our 75th anniversary, we wanted to do something to commemorate that event--something that would have a lasting impact on agriculture and Alabama," Newby said. "This building is the result of that vision by our county leaders."

The new building will provide much-needed office and laboratory space and state-of-the-art equipment to meet Alabama s plant, soil and water diagnostic needs. The goal is to bring all these testing and diagnostic services into one central location where scientists can work more efficiently and where clientele can easily access the building.

Jensen said the new facility helps fulfill Auburn s land-grant mission. "These labs provide invaluable information to homeowners, farmers and industry," he commented. "They are a vital resource for our faculty, who use them to solve the riddles that perturb agriculture, industry and consumers. And they are part of the education process, providing many undergraduate and graduate students their first chance to really use the skills they learn in the classroom.

"All these services are invaluable to our citizens, and for many Alabamians these labs may be the only direct contact they ever have with Auburn University. However, these services may also be among Auburn's best kept secrets because the labs have been located at scattered and inaccessible sites on campus," Jensen added.

"The impact of these laboratories lies far beyond this campus and far beyond traditional agriculture," said Gaines Smith, ACES director who was on hand for the ground breaking ceremony. "These laboratories combine research expertise with outreach activities to provide practical, applied tools that benefit every farmer, every home gardener, every cattle producer and everyone concerned about the environment. They are tools for our county agents and Extension specialists and they serve an important educational and teaching role for our students and visitors at Auburn University."

"The Soil Testing and Plant and Fescue Diagnostic labs at Auburn are evidence that AU's agricultural expertise is in great demand," said Charles Glover, an AU Trustee who also spoke at the ceremony. "These labs help identify the cause of problems and provide solutions to those problems through science-based recommendations. And these services are open to everyone--from home gardeners to farmers to environmental stewards."

"We've wanted for years to centralize these services in a high-profile location, but funding has not been available for such a project," said William Walker, AU president. "Fortunately, the leaders of Alfa Insurance Companies and the Alabama Farmers Federation recognized the importance of these services and the need for a centralized, high-tech facility.

"This new building will be such a facility," Walker continued, "and we are truly grateful to Alfa and the Farmers Federation for their generous contribution. Today's groundbreaking marks the beginning of a new era of service from Auburn University--an era where these vital services will be accessible to all Alabamians."

The new building is slated for completion in the summer of 2003.

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