Bernie Havlovic's 40-year career with research farms

A 40-year career opening and managing farms for Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms will be celebrated Feb. 17 at a reception for Bernie Havlovic.

“Bernie’s career has been remarkable and unprecedented,” said Mark Honeyman, coordinator of the university’s research farms. “No one has opened, organized and led more research farms than he has. He supervised five research farms, organizing and inaugurating four of them.”

Havlovic retired last October as superintendent of the Armstrong Research Farm near Lewis. An event honoring his service will be from 12:45 to 2 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Cardinal Room, Memorial Union. A program will begin at 1:15 p.m.

“My favorite part of being a research farm superintendent is meeting people, visiting with them and hopefully answering their questions. It’s all about touching people’s lives,” Havlovic said.

He joined the university in 1975 working on research sites for the agronomy department. In 1980, he and his wife Maureen, moved to Kanawha to manage the Northern Research Farm. In 1987, he opened the Southeast Research Farm near Crawfordsville.

Their last move was in 1993 when he became the first superintendent of a series of new farms managed by ISU and owned by the Wallace Foundation for Rural Research and Development. Havlovic was responsible for the Armstrong Research Farm near Lewis, the Neely-Kinyon Research Farm at Greenfield (a satellite research site of the Armstrong Farm) and the Lauren Christian Swine Farm at Atlantic from 1996 to 2003.

Opening farms a challenge

Opening a new research farm on a limited budget is challenging, Honeyman said. The conversion of farmland to research plots is a complex task. Soils must be carefully mapped on a grid basis. Water movement must be considered, field drainage tiles installed and waterways established. Fields, sub-fields and plots must be laid out.

“Bernie achieved all of this in the era before GPS, so it was done with steel measuring tapes, stakes, benchmarks and transits,” he said.

Havlovic speaks at a field day in 1998.

Havlovic was especially interested in horticulture. He expanded the demonstration home gardens at the farms to include All-American Variety Selections testing, as well as perennial fruits, flowers and shrubs. Based in part on his work, many Iowa fruit and vegetable growers invested in high tunnels to extend their marketing season.

Honeyman said part of the credibility of a research farm is its appearance. “Bernie’s farms looked impeccable. The roadways, road ditches and grass alleys mown. The gardens stunning. The buildings painted. The farms sparkled because of his meticulous care,” he said.

Several researchers credited Havlovic’s attention to detail for the success of their experiments.

“Without Bernie’s initiative and direct participation, I could not have developed several very complicated research studies,” said Antonio Mallarino, professor of agronomy.

Paul Domoto, professor emeritus of horticulture, said one of the biggest challenges for conducting research at a distant site is not being able to see and respond to changes occurring with the crop.

“Havlovic took the extra step to become more knowledgeable about the crops, spent time in the plots and was very observant,” he said.

Posted 2/12/16