Valent U.S.A.'s Midwest Agricultural Research Center (MWARC) is a technologically advanced 160-acre research farm focused on sustainability and precision agriculture. Located near Champaign, Illinois, the MWARC includes a teaching and learning center, a seed protection unit, greenhouses with spray chambers, a commercial seed treater, a long-term soil health study and more.
“At MWARC, we can establish long-term research trials to see the implications and the benefits that a grower would see if he did a similar practice in his fields,” says Frank Carey, field research and development team leader for Valent U.S.A.
Real-world research by Valent scientists at MWARC helps both develop the crop protection products to fit tomorrow’s challenges and addresses the challenges growers are facing in the field today.
“We try to look at worst-case scenarios,” says Ron Estes, manager of the Midwest Agricultural Research Center. “If this disease or this pest shows up in your field and comes at you with a vengeance, how can our products take care of it?”
Those worst-case scenarios often involve fields weedy enough to make a grower cringe.
“Weed scientists will describe a bunch of Palmer amaranth or waterhemp as a beautiful stand,” Carey says. “But that's what helps our research be successful and gives us the best products to deliver to the grower.”
Technology is also an important component of MWARC research.
“Any time that we spray a product, or we harvest a crop, that record is geo-referenced,” Estes says. “We're able to put out multiple different seed treatments or hybrids and varieties within a small area. We have sprayers that can apply multiple products at once, and it's all driven by GPS.”
Even the research center’s irrigation system is GPS-driven, allowing for prescription watering of crops. “Not only is that good for the research, but it also conserves the water that we're using as well,” Estes says.
Drone imaging captures plant health data and other things that can't be easily seen with the naked eye on the farm, too.
“We also dedicate a portion of the farm every year to demo trials, and we can bring in groups to talk about our products, show them how those products compare to others and talk about best management practices regardless of the product applied,” Estes says. “We enjoy having guests visit.”
More than field research exists at MWARC.
At MWARC’s teaching and learning center, educational activities are held for growers, retailers and community members, including FFA and 4-H groups, as well as continuing education events for Valent employees. A commercial seed treater onsite helps showcase the application and efficacy of seed treatments, and cameras mounted in the high-tech machinery provide a close-up view of the process.
“We can actually send video across the street into our conference room and folks can see the process without actually having to be right next to the seed treater,” Estes says.
A 2018 expansion at the research center included the addition of greenhouses with spray chambers and the ability to perform year-round herbicide and nematicide trials and other studies.
“Everything that we do here ultimately is going to tie back to the grower,” Estes says.
At MWARC, Valent researchers help develop compounds and then continue to refine and test products from early-stage development through the pipeline until product launch and then continue to provide post-launch sales and tech support.