By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Already known as the beef state, some think Nebraska is positioned to truly be the epicenter of the cattle world. But many of the breeds common in the state may owe their popularity to a research lab celebrating a big anniversary.
Driving through on a rainy spring day, one can see thousands of cattle, all sorts of breeds.
But it’s not a typical feedlot or farm. It’s the Meat Animal Research Center, perhaps the largest cattle research facility in the world.
Director Dr. John Pollak said, "It is an amazing tract land, there's 34,000 acres that we got, USDA, from Naval Ammunition Depot ."
When the area east of Hastings had finished serving its purpose in World War II, Congress set aside land for cattle research.
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the center still plays a vital role.
Pollak said, "We were fortunate this year to have received a significant increase so we can expand our research efforts."
The biggest project has a fancy name, the germplasm evaluation program. Simply put, the MARC scientists have spent decades evaluating breeds. And many of the cattle we see were popularized because of research done at MARC.
"Our industry was predominantly British breeds," Pollak said of the cattle business before MARC. "Simmental, Charloais, Limosin, Gelbvieh, all found their way into the U.S. and were some of the first in the germplasm evaluation project."
Dr. Pollak came from Cornell, attracted by the genetic work. He leads a team of 100 scientists and technicians, who work with another 100 people from the University of Nebraska.
The goal is to improve sheep and hog production, and especially the cattle business. There’s little doubt that work has benefited the nation’s livestock producers, including those in Nebraska, where the goal is to be the epicenter of beef.
"It is a tremendous state for the production of beef cattle and it's growing and showing those are realistic objectives," Pollak said.
They have dozens of ongoing research projects, looking at things like E. coli and salmonella.
Officially, the center will celebrate its 50th anniversary in about a month.