Aspen Institute sells land to Wye REC
QUEENSTOWN, Md. — The University of Maryland’s agricultural research facility in Queen Anne’s County will soon own several hundred acres it has leased for years, and the price is a bargain.
The Aspen Institute, a well-known international nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., has agreed to sell 234 acres to the university’s Wye Research and Education Center for $936,000 or about $4,000 an acre — much less than the county’s average ag-land value of roughly $7,300 per acre.
“We’re very appreciative that the land we’re purchasing is going to be purchased at the price that it is,” said Kate Everts, the center’s director.
The institute is giving an additional 330 acres of pastureland to the university to be used by the center’s Wye Angus cattle herd.
“We are extremely appreciative to the Aspen Institute for being so forward thinking in supporting our Angus herd and our agronomic research,” Everts said.
The sale and the donation have not been finalized. The state’s Board of Public Works has signed off on the University System of Maryland’s plans to purchase the land, and the sale may take several months, including the transfer of a conservation easement, Everts said.
Because the university has been leasing the land, the transfer should not greatly change the center’s operations, she said. Much of the 234-acre parcel is used as pastureland for the Angus herd and to grow their feed. The center also expects to use the land to continue its agronomic research, which is dedicated to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and boosting the bottom line of farmers statewide, she said.
The land deal will allow the center to continue its array of research projects from wheat genetics to crop pathology and grape production.
“It’s going to be a tremendous benefit for (farmers) as well,” Everts said. “We are very well-used by the faculty at the university. Having additional land is going to mean that those programs have better resources, better infrastructure, just more access to that whole portfolio of research that benefits our agriculture producers.”
The Aspen Institute sold the land as part of a consolidation into its Washington and Colorado offices. Two buildings on the property, however, are not part of the sale.
The land was given to the institute by Arthur and Nina Houghton in 1978 under an agreement that it be used for educational purposes and preserved. The Houghtons also established the Wye Angus herd. Because it’s been a closed breeding population since the 1950s, it is more attractive to researchers. There is less variation between animals due to their protected genetics, which improves the interpretation of research results. Projects have included examining how finishing cattle on an alfalfa and orchard-grass diet affects beef quality and its fatty acid profile. The center also sells excess animals to the public as well as semen.
The Wye Research and Education Center rests on 1,000 acres and houses several regional Extension specialists, research scientists and additional university faculty who collaborate with the USDA, the U.S. Geological Survey and Johns Hopkins University, among others.