WILBARGER COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — The tornado that devastated the town of Lockett on Wednesday, May 4, also left behind extensive damage to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center, destroying valuable research and dozens of plant samples.

Rubble, dirt and debris is all that’s left of the Texas A&M AgriLife research center’s greenhouses – a place that performs research that is critical to the success of local agriculture.

“We also are very big on plant breeding here,” Center Director Rick Vierling said. “We do wheat breeding, hibiscus breeding, cow peas, speciality crops, and we are the home to the world’s leading hibiscus breeder.”

After the EF3 tornado hit near the town of Lockett right outside of Vernon, Vierling said he knew the AgriLife Center had taken a hit, a hit that displaced valued research and most of their plants.

“At first, we were very worried about the hisbiscus, as you can see, because a lot of these are unique plants and unique breeding material that’s not availble anywhere else in the world,” Vierling said.

It’s been the community of Vernon and Lockett that have stepped up and made all the difference in helping the AgriLife Center save what they could and start to rebuild.

“The Vernon High School is allowing us to use their greenhouse, so we were able to quickly move the materials from our damaged greenhouses to the Vernon High school Greenhouse,” Vierling said. “Also, just everyday Vernon citizens came down and took plants and are planting them in their backyard for the summer until we are able to take them back and continue the breeding effort.”

Though it’ll be a while before they completely rebuild, Vierling said with the help of this community, he knows they’ll be in good shape.

“We are solving problems for farmers and ranchers, and we’re important to them, so when we needed help, they came and helped, and I didn’t have to ask,” Vierling said.

For now, the focus will be on working together to come back stronger than ever.

For more information on how to help and where to donate, contact the Wilbarger County Sheriffs’ Office at (940) 552-6205.