In the midst of utter destruction caused by the Dec. 11 tornado outbreak, University of Kentucky employees continue to press on, offering help where and when their fellow Kentuckians need it the most.
The UK Research and Education Center in Princeton took a direct hit from the powerful tornado that began in northwestern Arkansas and carved a path of destruction across the western half of Kentucky. UKREC employees, led by director Carrie Knott, worked through the weekend, securing and caring for animals, assessing damage and offering support.
“Our hometown heroes of hope—our faculty, staff and Extension agents in our Western Kentucky communities have rallied to assist others even as we were dealing with damages to critical UK facilities in Western Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “As the University for Kentucky, we understand how important faculty and staff at the UK Research and Education Center and Cooperative Extension Service are to relaying educational information to their communities. We are committed to rebuilding, helping the area recover and emerging stronger than before.”
“The center is the home to a group of very dedicated UK employees, and I commend Dr. Knott and her staff for their heroic weekend recovery efforts,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and UK vice president for land-grant engagement. “While the center won’t be the same for some time, the college is committed to helping our employees and communities recover from these devastating events and serving the Western Kentucky agricultural community.”
While the physical structure that housed the UKREC is gone, the center has been, and always will be, vital to Kentucky agriculture. As a testament to the importance of the center to the state’s agriculture industry, two temporary office buildings and two temporary storage buildings will be placed on-site Dec. 14 for UKREC personnel.
“The outpouring of community support has been very humbling to us,” Knott said. “We are not closing our doors, but we will look a little different and be a little more fragmented at least for the near future.”
Due to the number of debris, officials ask that the public stay away from the center as the area is unsafe and structurally unsound.
The center was established in 1925 on nearly 1,300 acres about one mile from downtown Princeton. In 1980, the Rottgering-Kuegel Agricultural and Extension Building was added and housed the center’s nearly 50 staff and hosted countless extension and area meetings. That facility underwent a major renovation and addition to house the UK Grain and Forage Center of Excellence, which opened in 2019. Since its inception, numerous stakeholders have provided strong support to the center and critical funding for many of its improvements.
“The Kentucky agricultural community is a strong community. It is a kind community, and it is a generous community,” said Chad Lee, director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence. “We are going to rely heavily on them to help us get through this as we work to build anew. Our hearts are broken but not our spirits.”
Over the years, scientists at the center have spearheaded many important research endeavors including numerous no-till research projects, precision agriculture application studies and a soil fragipan research breakthrough. Center specialists have been the area farmers’ go-to resource for research-based information in agronomics, forages, beef management, disease control, pest control, precision agriculture, grain storage systems, soil fertility and grain marketing.