HAYS, Kan. -- Kansas State University has hired a veteran researcher to head a trio of centers that conduct research vital to the agricultural economies in western Kansas and the Central Plains region.

Robert Gillen, formerly a professor at Oklahoma State University for 22 years and more recently a rangeland scientist with the USDA, was announced as the new director of the Western Kansas Agricultural Research Centers on Feb. 9. The WKARC has research facilities in Hays, Garden City and Colby.

Gillen will begin his new job on March 20.

The hiring, says K-State Research and Extension Director Fred Cholick, "further strengthens a research program" that supports agriculture in western Kansas and neighboring states.

"As far as Kansas State University is concerned, this is a very important position, not just for western Kansas farmers, but for agriculture throughout the region," Cholick said. "The research at these centers addresses current issues, and is an important part of sustaining the agricultural economies of numerous communities."

In general, research at the three centers addresses agricultural production needs in the 46 western-most Kansas counties, though research results are commonly applicable statewide and beyond the state's borders.

Cholick noted the importance of developing research, but complimented Gillen for his vision of delivering new findings to communities through Extension agents and other sources of information - generally through the state's Cooperative Extension System.

"That's the uniqueness of K-State Research and Extension; it gives us the opportunity to serve the agricultural industry and communities," he said. "I'm very happy to have Bob in this position. His experience and his leadership will greatly benefit farmers in Kansas and nearby states."

Since 1996, Gillen has worked for Usda Agricultural Research Service in Woodward, Okla. His specialty is rangeland management, but he has worked cooperatively with animal, plant and soil scientists. Much of that research, he says, has emphasized the economic implications to farmers and communities.

He worked at Oklahoma State University from 1983 to 1996 where, among other accomplishments, he helped establish a new rangeland research station for the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station.

Galen's research has earned him national distinction. He has been an invited speaker at local, regional, and national meetings of scientific and industry groups. He is recognized for his expertise in the ecology and management of forage-livestock production systems.

Gillen completed his undergraduate work in range ecology from Colorado State University, and earned a doctoral degree in rangeland resources from Oregon State University.

He notes that his vision for the WKARC is that it serves as "the primary source of information on crop and livestock production in western Kansas.

"The center should be respected by peer professionals for the rigor of its research; trusted by producers for its sound recommendations; and valued by administrators and the public as a peerless example of a public institution advancing the common good."

Gillen takes over for Pat Coyne, who has worked at the Hays research center since 1985. He was also one of the key figures in forming the three-pronged Western Kansas Agricultural Research Centers, and became the WKARC's first head in 1994.

Coyne said he will continue working for the WKARC; he has an interest in pursuing research in precision agriculture, particularly the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide on natural ecosystems.

SOURCE: News release from K-State Research and Extension.