University of Maryland: Major Land Donation Bolsters Livestock Research at Unique UMD Facility

A national nonprofit organization has donated 330 acres along with existing buildings to the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown, Md., home to a heavily studied herd of Angus cattle that is used for breeding nationwide and occasionally appears on UMD dining hall menus.

In addition to the gift valued at $2.8 million by the Aspen Institute, which for 40 years has maintained a center near the farm operated by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UMD bought an adjacent 233 acres from the organization for about $937,000, bringing the total land acquisition to 563 acres.

The Wye Angus program is a research and education program built around a carefully bred herd of cattle gifted to UMD in 1979 by the late Arthur A. Houghton Jr., CEO of Steuben Glass Works, and his wife, Nina Houghton.

Since establishing the Wye Angus program, the university has leased the land from the Aspen Institute, which originally received it from the Houghtons. As part of the new agreement, the land will remain in a conservation easement held by the Maryland Environmental Trust and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, which preserves the agricultural and environmental attributes of the property in perpetuity.

“We have appreciated the partnership with the Aspen Institute as the owners and stewards of this land for 40 years, and their generous gift, along with the purchase of additional acres allows us to continue and expand our research excellence in genetics and sustainable food production,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “We have a responsibility to address grand challenges and serve the public good for all of humanity, and we look forward to using this as an opportunity to find new ways to improve food security for the world’s growing population.”

The Wye Angus herd is highly desired for the hearty, low-maintenance traits Houghton bred into the cattle using bulls imported from the British Isles, but its greatest value is that no new bloodlines have been introduced to the gene pool since 1958. The genetic similarity of individuals in the closed herd reduces variability and enables research studies that would be more difficult to interpret in a genetically diverse herd. The herd also serves as a training tool for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in beef science and production.

“This acquisition is a strong signal of the commitment of AGNR and UMD,” said AGNR Dean Craig Beyrouty, “not only to agriculture on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but to the unique resources of the cattle herd and natural surroundings that allow us to continue our role as leaders in environmental stewardship and solving food security issues locally and globally.”

The gift includes a pole barn and two buildings, which will provide new office and meeting space to better serve College Park campus programs. One of the first new offerings will be a class on farm equipment safety and maintenance in Spring 2023.

“Since 1979, the Wye River campus has played an important role in the Aspen Institute’s history,” said Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “This beautiful and protected site has hosted countless seminars and convenings, including some of international significance. We are delighted that a significant portion of the land will now fall under the stewardship of the University of Maryland.”

Houghton’s stepson, Jeff Horstman, who lives nearby, said the family is pleased that the spirit and intent of the original gift will be maintained in this recent transfer.

“The cattle are very important to us as a reminder of my stepfather and the people who were here before us,” he said. “Aspen Institute has been a great steward of the land, and the University of Maryland cowboys who manage the herd are like family to us, so it’s important to know that the cattle will remain here and an environmentally sensitive peninsula will remain protected along the Chesapeake Bay.”

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