Sharing Success With Morrill Agriculture Education Complex

Located in the western panhandle of Nebraska, the Morril Public School serves approximately 450 pre-elementary, elementary and high school students. Agriculture is the primary industry and vocation in Morrill and, unsurprisingly, the school offers a strong ag education program.

Since 2010, Morrill has been exploring ways to expand its ag education and to offer more hands-on learning to participants. In 2020, the effort gained new life when the city of Morrill donated 10 acres from a disused baseball complex.

CEO David Briggs is proud of WESTCO’s support of FFA programs throughout the cooperative’s territory.

“Agriculture is incredibly important to our community and for more than 10 years we’ve been exploring ways to bring our ag education programs out of the classroom and offer hands-on learning opportunities to our students,” said Joe Sherwood, superintendent of Morrill Public Schools.

“With the donation of the brownfield baseball complex, we finally had the space we needed, but we still needed to raise significant funding for construction.”

WESTCO and CoBank's investment inspired other ag companies in the region to step up and do more.

Plans were developed for a $700,000, 4,800-square-foot facility that would support plant and animal sciences and ag business education. The school system received funding from the State Department of Education and federal stimulus programs. It also reached out to the local business community for help.

“We received tremendous support from our local bank, John Deere, our Farm Credit association, the Rotary Club and others,” continued Sherwood. “We’d gotten to approximately $600,000, but then our fundraising stalled out. We launched another round of requests to local businesses and that’s when I reached out to WESTCO.”

Western Cooperative Company (WESTCO) is a producers’ cooperative based out of Alliance, Nebraska, and has an agronomy location in Morrill. WESTCO’s CEO, David Briggs, grew up just 15 miles from Morrill and has always felt a strong connection to the community.

“WESTCO works hard to do our best by our members and our communities and one of the ways we do that is by supporting FFA,” said Briggs. “Morrill is a really important location for us and they have a great ag education and FFA program. Many of the young people who attend school in Morrill will choose to work in agriculture and, even if they don’t, it’s important to educate them about where their food comes from.”

WESTCO, a CoBank customer for more than 10 years, donated $10,000 to the Morrill Ag Education Complex and then reached out to CoBank in the hopes of doubling its own contribution through a Sharing Success matching grant.

Joe Sherwood, superintendent of Morrill Public Schools, joins teacher Shane Buchholz and the students of Morrill’s “Intro to Agriculture” class.

“We’ve had a strong relationship with CoBank for years and have taken advantage of the Sharing Success program before,” continued Briggs. “We try to take advantage of every opportunity to bring money into our communities and we’re thankful that CoBank recognizes this and is willing to help. We like the idea of the matching program, too. It makes us think about what projects we really want to support and allows us to provide meaningful dollars.”

CoBank matched WESTCO’s donation dollar for dollar, bringing the total combined gift to $20,000.

“The donation from WESTCO and CoBank was huge for us,” said Superintendent Sherwood. “It was $20,000—a significant amount—but it was more than that. WESTCO and CoBank’s investment inspired other ag companies in the region to donate their own funds, or to increase donations they had already planned. They really spurred others to step up and do more.”

Completion of the Morrill Ag Education Complex is expected in April 2022 and the school plans to offer year-round programming beginning later in the year.

“We’re so excited to take our ag education out of the classroom and the textbook and offer real hands-on learning to our students,” said Sherwood. “Thanks to so many partners and donors like WESTCO and CoBank, we’ll be able to do a much better job of preparing our students for real life experiences.”

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.