Lonsinger donation makes new research farm possible
College receives largest-ever donation of land and endowment
Harold Lonsinger modestly describes himself as a “the janitor of the land” as he explains his vision for ensuring that his farm will be a model for both teaching and learning the best ways to grow food while preserving the health of the land for years to come. With that eye on the future, Lonsinger has donated 2,300 acres of farmland to Kansas State University.
The donation, the largest ever received by K-State’s College of Agriculture, makes possible the Kansas State University Harold and Olympia Lonsinger Sustainability Research Farm in Osbourne County in honor of Lonsinger and his wife, Olympia. The new farm was dedicated in a ceremony Sept. 20, 2017. It will be home to research projects focused on the best ways to manage water and nutrients most efficiently while also determining which crops use the available resources most efficiently.
Lonsinger, a 91-year-old U.S. Army veteran and engineer-turned-farmer said he has wants his interest in growing food while maintaining soil health to continue through university research. What’s learned on the farm will help train undergraduate and graduate students. The farm will also be a learning lab of sorts for farmers and a resource for extension professionals to educate elementary, middle and high school students about sustainable agriculture.
“I grew up on a farm. I was blessed with the idea that if you really work at something, you could learn it if you want to,” said Lonsinger, who worked with the Kansas State University Foundation to facilitate the gift. He grew up in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, and served in the U.S. Army, before completing a degree in mechanical engineering at K-State. He worked as an engineer for three major companies and retired in 1984 from Doskocil Food Service. He and Olympia then moved to Cawker City to farm and raise livestock.
“Harold is a very passionate man,” said John Floros, dean of K-State’s College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension. “He has a vision about the land. He has a vision about what he has done and what he can do. And he really understands what it takes to do research that will benefit generations to come.”
This is a large piece of land that will allow us to do things we couldn’t do before in the smaller pieces of land we were working in until now. Our hope is that it will help us do larger-scale research, while improving our ability to train students and produce the next generation of scientists and farmers who will take better care of the land.”
“This farm will be used by the students of agronomy not only for conducting quality research but also as a learning place for understanding principles of sustainability and their importance for the entire food system, from the soil all the way to the consumer,” said Gary Pierzynski, university distinguished professor and head of the agronomy department.
Ancient wisdom says we are caretakers of the land, and we should pass it on to the next generation in better shape than we received it. "Harold is a true believer of that, and it is clear from the way he managed the land at this farm," said Vara Prasad, K-State distinguished professor of agronomy and director of Feed the Future Innovation Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. “We are happy and pleased that he has passed that responsibility to Kansas State University.”
Prasad will lead the initial research projects, including studies in crop diversity which may mean cereals, legumes, perennial grain crops, trees or other crops, to determine which available resources can be used the most efficiently and what improves the health of the soil and the quality of the water.
Because water resources in much of Kansas are limited, research will also focus on what uses water the most efficiently.
“We will use concepts of the four R's,” Prasad said. “We will identify the right crop for the available water; the right amount of water; the right time to apply water; and the right method of water application.
A similar approach will study nutrients and fertilizers with right source, right rate, right place and right time. The focus will be on both micronutrients and macronutrients, as the balance of these nutrients is critical for enhancing productivity of crops.
“The ultimate goal,” Prasad said, “will be to find efficient ways to increase the productivity of farming systems and provide food for the anticipated 9 billion people that experts believe the world will have by the year 2050, while protecting our environment and enhancing our natural resources.”