By TIM ALEXANDER
LEXINGTON, Ill. — The Illinois State University Research Farm is rebuilding following a devastating fire last November that destroyed its primary cattle barn and displaced hundreds of head of livestock.
On November 18, 2022, a McLean County sheriff’s deputy spotted the 1,000-foot-long barn on fire at around 12:40 a.m., according to a Facebook post from the Lexington Fire Department.
At the time, the fire department reported that the north half of the building appeared to have been saved. The south half, used for storing straw, eventually collapsed. There were no injuries to humans and no animals were harmed, an ISU spokesperson said.
Fire departments from Lexington, Towanda, Chenoa, Gridley, Hudson, El Paso, Colfax, Cooksville and Normal responded to the blaze, which was likely set by an arsonist. Recently, the ISU Board of Trustees approved funding and authorized repairs to the structure. The cost of the repairs to the barn, which houses around 150 head of beef cattle, 120 sows and 50 ewes, is estimated at around $2.5 million.
“ISU was able to get a climate controlled calving room up in a short time before calving began. The facility is really nice,” said Jason Lindbom, ISU Research Farm manager. “The rest of the building rebuild is still being discussed as to what the insurance and ISU will pay. Our hope is to have the building back up before December.”
Dr. Rob Rhykerd of the ISU Department of Agriculture said work is coming along nicely at the farm. “They removed all of the damaged parts of the barn. One of the immediate needs was a calving barn, and we were able to start calving in early February. The university was able to get that prepared really quickly,” said Rhykerd.
“They’re working on plans for what they are going to do with that southern half of the barn. Right now they’re in the design process, but they’re making progress. They were able to meet the immediate needs for classes and for production in the spring. All of the animals are back after being moved to area farms following the fire,” he added.
The 440-acre ISU Research Farm is located around 18 miles west of the Bloomington-Normal campus of ISU near Interstate 55 and Lexington. It has been managed by Lindbom, who was raised on a diversified row crop and livestock farm near Galva, Illinois, and graduated from ISU’s College of Agriculture in 1993, since 2017.
“The crops that we raise here are your corn and soybeans, and we’re doing a lot of work with cover crops like cereal rye, a lot of clovers and rye grass, and a lot of forage weeds for our animal feed. Our professors have also been studying pennycress,” Lindbom told Farm World in July 2022.
Compost from the farm is sold to surrounding communities for $40 per ton and $25 for smaller loads, as part of a student-led work project. The students who are employed by the farm come from a wide variety of agriculture-related academic disciplines and backgrounds, according to Lindbom.
“They come from Ag Business, Ag Communication, Ag Leadership, Ag Education, Animal Industry Management, Animal Science, Crop and Soil Sciences, Food Industry Management, Horticulture and Landscape Management and also our Pre-Veterinary Medicine program,” he said. “These students are filling in wherever we are needing them to work, in all aspects of the farm as well as the composting site.”
The ISU Research Farm will host a free public Field Day on Friday, April 21. To reserve a spot for the event, contact Lindbom at (309) 438-0288 or via email at email@example.com.
To learn more about the ISU Research Farm, visit www.agriculture.illinoisstate.edu/facilities/farm/.