With a stroke of his pen in 1972, the late Dr. G. Leon Holland signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that forever changed the stature and outlook of Angelo State’s Agriculture Department.
The former department chair had negotiated a 25-year lease for 6,000 acres of rangeland just north of San Angelo that would become ASU’s Management, Instruction and Research (MIR) Center, more commonly called the ASU Ranch, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Dr. Cody Scott, interim chair of the Agriculture Department, came to ASU as a student in 1986, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and later returned to join the faculty in 1995. He has both studied the ranch’s history and been a driving force behind its continued growth and development.
“Signing that original lease gave ASU the opportunity to manipulate the infrastructure and build the facilities that were needed for classes and research,” Scott said. “There were also about 20 miles of fences that were constructed. They were also able to undertake intensive range and habitat improvements, including lots of brushwork, brush strips, re-seeding and other efforts.”
The original MIR Center building complex opened in 1974. Its evolution has been marked by additional structures, including expanded livestock facilities, a feed mill added around 1997, the Food Safety and Product Development Lab added in 2005 and the Mayer-Rousselot Agricultural Education Training Center added in 2013.
“[The ranch] is a great tool for both recruiting and retaining our students.”
- Dr. Cody Scott
The enhancements to the ranch have also been mirrored by the academic growth of the Agriculture Department. When the first lease was signed, ASU offered a bachelor’s degree in animal science, and the first graduating class in 1975 had 13 students. Today, the Agriculture Department offers five bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees, with over 400 students enrolled. As the department has grown, so has the importance of the experiences offered at the ranch.
“When I started school here in 1986, probably 60-70% of my class came from a traditional agriculture farming or ranching background,” Scott said. “Now, probably 70-80% of our students don’t, so they have no practical experience at all. They get that at our ranch.”
“Also, since we don’t have the notoriety of some of the state’s larger universities, we have to promote what is unique about our program, and that’s the ranch,” he added. “It’s a great tool for both recruiting and retaining our students.”
The ranch’s benefits also extend beyond ASU students. Faculty and staff annually host numerous training events for area ranchers, professional organization meetings and U.S. Department of Agriculture training courses, as well as over 4,000 4-H and FFA students for events and contests.
“Those efforts are important to keep the support of the community and of the ranching industry,” Scott said. “Plus, most of our faculty and staff grew up either in 4-H or FFA or both, and what we experienced in those leadership organizations was life changing and career changing. So, it’s important to us to help pass that on to the current 4-H and FFA students and foster future agriculture leaders.”
In 1997, Scott helped secure a second 25-year lease that led up to the ranch’s 50th anniversary, and he was the primary facilitator for a third lease that began this year and secures the ranch’s status through 2047.
“I didn’t know I would still be here to work on another lease,” Scott said. “But I’m glad I got to see it through and secure another 25 years. It means we will continue to offer the same outdoor classroom, research opportunities and outreach the ranch is known for. It’s a great feeling and something I’m very proud of.”
Another proud patron of the ranch is Dr. Gil Engdahl, who spent 37 years on the agriculture faculty, including 14 as department chair. He came to ASU in 1976 when the ranch was still in its infancy and was part of the ranch development efforts until his retirement in 2013.
“If we hadn’t been able to lease the land and build up the ranch, I believe it would’ve ruined our agriculture program,” Engdahl said. “It would’ve hampered our labs, research and hands-on learning, as well as our ability to add master’s degree programs. I don’t see how we could’ve done a good job of giving our students practical experience without the ranch. It has been and remains a real asset for the students and the department.”
And with the ranch’s future secure, the Ram Family celebrates its 50th anniversary as a unique aspect of the ASU Agriculture Department.
“We don’t own it, but we feel like we do, like it’s ours,” Scott said. “Seeing the growth in students that is related to the ranch, seeing all the changes and improvements we’ve made, it’s very rewarding.”
“When professors retire, the legacy they leave is their students,” he added. “But I’m in a unique situation because part of my legacy will be the ASU Ranch.”