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Agricultural Research Amongst the Igloos

Thursday, November 1, 2012
filed under: Research and Development

Located about six miles northwest of Sidney, in southwestern Nebraska’s Cheyenne County, the University of Nebraska’s High Plains Agricultural Laboratory (HPAL) contains some 2,400 acres. One-third of that is used for dryland crop research; the other two-thirds is in pasture. The majority of the research is under the direction of five UN faculty, including a dryland systems specialist, alternative crops breeder, entomologist, soil fertility specialist and cow-calf/range management specialist. Sunflower, proso millet and corn are currently grown as part of the crop rotation on a significant number of dryland acres that previously produced only wheat in a winter wheat/fallow rotation.

Aside from the agricultural research being conducted at HPAL, it attracts attention for another reason: the hundreds of “igloos” that sit adjacent to the ag research plots in this isolated corner of Cheyenne County.

Those igloos — thick concrete bunkers covered by soil and grass — owe their existence to the Sioux Army Ordnance Depot. Established in 1942, the depot’s mission was to receive, store and issue all types of ammunition — from small arms to 10,000-pound bombs. It also handled general supplies for the Army, ranging from automobile parts to jeeps, as well as various strategic and critical materials, according to the Nebraska State Historical Society.

“The depot occupied 19,771 acres and included 801 ammunition storage igloos, 22 general supply warehouses, 392 support buildings, 225 family living quarters, 51 miles of railroad tracks and 203 miles of roads,” the historical society notes. “Depot personnel assigned ranged from 625 to 2,161 civilian employees and from four to 57 military personnel, depending on Army activity.”

The ordnance depot served its purpose during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. It was deactivated on June 30, 1967 — about the same time the government made 2,410 of its acres available to the University of Nebraska for agricultural research and education. This research began in the early 1970s and continues today.

For years after the deactivation, many of the depot’s igloos were utilized by area farmers for grain and/or equipment storage. Today, though, the stretching complex sits largely empty.

As of early October 2012, a fund-raising effort to build a modern office and laboratory at the University of Nebraska’s High Plains Agricultural Lab had reached about $400,000 of its goal of between $500,000-550,000. The new building will replace a 1940s-era structure that was part of the Sioux Army Ordnance Depot. Backers hope construction of the new facility can begin in 2013, depending upon completion of the fund raising.

— Don Lilleboe
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