Ag 450 Farm to celebrate 80 years of progress

Aerial view of Iowa State University's Ag 450 Farm, surrounded by fields of corn. A hog barn, house and several storage sheds and grain bins can be seen.
Aerial view of Iowa State University's Ag 450 Farm, located south of Ames. The ISU Dairy Farm and Compost Facility can be seen toward the top of the image.

By Amber Friedrichsen

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Ag 450 Farm at Iowa State University.

To celebrate, Iowa State students, alumni and friends of the farm are invited to join the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies at the Ag 450 Farm, 52097 260th St., Ames, on Sept. 23, from 8-11 a.m. Tours of the farm will be offered, as well as a light breakfast. RSVP’s are appreciated ahead of time.

Humble beginnings

What started out as a small model farm has evolved into a student-run diversified crop and livestock operation, and it all began with an idea from William Murray.

In 1938, Murray, professor of economics, conceptualized a learning environment where students could take classroom knowledge and apply it to real-life situations. In 1942, the Ag 450 Farm was established on 187 acres of farmland, purchased for $150 per acre. The farm is located just east of the intersection of 520th and 260th streets south of Ames. Murray became the first instructor of the then-named AG 450 course in the winter quarter of 1943. 

The Ag 450 Farm encountered several “firsts” after its establishment. The first crop was planted in the spring of 1943. A few years later, the first livestock included a drove of breeding gilts, a flock of chickens and a few mules. The first tractor was purchased in 1950, and the first beef production program began in the 1960s. 

Over time, students purchased more acres, rented local cropland, entered crop-share agreements and performed custom farming work in the area. They also made several upgrades to their machinery lineup and prioritized swine production. Many course instructors and farm operators oversaw and supported these decisions, including Greg Vogel. 

From the eyes of the farm manager

Vogel was the farm operator at the Ag 450 Farm from 1991 to 2019, making him the longest serving farm operator in the farm’s history. In this role, he completed daily chores and was a mentor to students.

“I presented myself like their employee because they were the ones managing the farm,” Vogel said. “My job was to bring forth students’ ideas and help them understand what it takes to put those ideas into reality.”

One of these ideas was to build a new swine barn, which was proposed in 1997. Vogel said this project required ample consideration because it changed the dynamic of swine production on the farm. The transition from outdoor facilities to indoor housing reduced labor demands of bedding animals and hauling manure, but students had to shift their focus to swine genetics and growth characteristics. 

Vogel also guided students in purchasing new machinery during his time as the farm operator. As a result, he witnessed a tremendous change in farming technology through the years. Students ran a John Deere 4020 tractor when he started his job, and by 2019, they were sitting in the driver’s seat of self-steering equipment.

Aside from the accomplishment of a successful renovation or a smart investment, Vogel’s favorite part of being the farm operator at the Ag 450 Farm was watching students grow. 

“I loved their enthusiasm, I loved their energy, and I loved their ability to evaluate their ideas,” he recalled. 

Collaboration is key

Several male students working on a planter inside a shop.
Students in the spring 2023 AGEDS 450: Farm Management and Operation class worked together to install a performance update kit on the Ag 450 Farm's 20-year-old planter. A benefit of the class and the farm is both provide many hands-on learning opportunities for students.

New ideas continue to advance operations on the Ag 450 Farm. It currently comprises about 600 acres of owned and rented cropland students use to grow corn and soybeans, and they perform custom planting, harvesting and tillage on roughly 800 acres annually. Students also raise custom-fed hogs in the farm’s 1,250-head wean-to-finish barn that was constructed last year. 

Skyler Rinker, assistant teaching professor in agricultural education and studies and holder of the James and Clare Frevert Ag 450 Professorship, said the curriculum for AGEDS 450 is anchored in these three enterprises. It is the capstone course for students majoring agricultural studies — production and management option, but the class is open to any major. Roughly 80 to 100 students enroll in the course each year.

AGEDS 450 has a lecture component and a laboratory. Every semester, students divide into six committees: buildings and grounds, customs and swine, financing and marketing, crops, machinery, and public relations. Members collaborate during lecture and carry out their respective committee work during lab times.

“This structure helps bring focus to what needs to be done and allows students to take ownership in the projects on the farm,” Rinker said. “There is a lot of inter-committee work, and that fosters great relationships among the class.”

Students also form small groups to conduct team-based learning activities. This way, members from different committees can work together and offer their expertise to complete assignments and exams. This also helps students strengthen their interpersonal skills, which Rinker said is one of the main objectives of AGEDS 450.

“Students can apply the technical skills they’ve learned and see how those play into decision-making, but this course also focuses on professional development,” he said. “Communication and teamwork are highly valued by industry employers, and finding that balance is very important.”