Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATIONS

The Hatch Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in March 1887, set up a national network of agricultural experiment stations whose mission was to conduct research that would make America's farms more productive. Following suit, on December 24, 1890, Oklahoma Territory's legislature passed an act establishing the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College (later Oklahoma State University, OSU) and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES) in Stillwater. The "college farm" predated any classroom or administration facilities and was located on two hundred acres donated by Frank Duck, Alfred N. Jarrell, Charles Vreeland, and Oscar Morse. Locals turned out in the fall of 1891 to break the prairie sod for the first research plantings.

However, politics actually had led to the establishment of what would become Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. The Organic Act of May 2, 1890, had created Oklahoma Territory, and Gov. George W. Steele had designated August 5, 1890, to elect members of the first territorial legislature.

Before that election, farmers and business owners of County Six (which was to become Payne County) had met to discuss political "plums" that might enhance the growth of their community. Someone pointed out that no town in the territory had yet announced plans secure the land-grant college that would likely be established under the provisions of the pending Second Morrill Act (1890), which would broaden the land-grant program.

When the new legislature was formed, Republicans were the majority but were unable to organize leadership due to a rift along township lines. This left five Populists, the "radical agrarians" of the day, holding a crucial balance of power and four of them were from Payne County. Oklahoma A&M College and the experiment station were established in Stillwater.

J. C. Neal was the first experiment station director, and he hired A. C. Magruder as A&M's first teacher and researcher. Magruder seban planting hundreds of varieties of fruit, nut, and shade trees, and initiating varietal tests on oats, corn, and spring wheat. In the first OAES bulletin in 1892 he prevailed upon state farmers to "confer with us upon all matters pertaining to agriculture, and assistance will be rendered when possible." In 1892 he established his now-famous "Magruder Plots," the oldest continuous wheat plantings west of the Mississippi River. They were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 (NR 79002018).

In the first decades after 1900 A&M researchers tackled studies with sorghums and other feed grains, soil analyses and conservation, and the use of vaccines and management techniques to prevent cholera in hogs and Texas fever in cattle. Sorghum varieties were first bred to stand straight, then shortened in height, so that combines could make faster, cleaner harvests.

Cotton was king by the 1930s, and the release of Oklahoma Triumph 44, a variety capable of surviving drought conditions and boll weevils, was a major coup. The practice of terracing fields was initiated to hold moisture on fields and help break the grip of the Dust Bowl drought. OAES researchers fed cottonseed meal, thought to be poisonous to cattle, and introduced an inexpensive source of high quality feed.

By 1949 farmers were receiving $250 in added annual farm income for every $5 invested in OAES research. OSU researchers introduced the practice of topdressing nitrogen on wheat in 1958, permanently increasing yield by eleven bushels an acre. OAES veterinary researchers released the world's first vaccine against anaplasmosis in 1965 at a cost of $700,000. Savings to American cattlemen the first year were $35 million. Producing that vaccine involved using a living animal and, as a result, was quite expensive. In addition, many calves reacted negatively to it and died, but it was the best available. In 2000 OAES veterinary researchers successfully produced a vaccine from organisms grown in a test tube, reducing costs and eliminating the risk of reactions. OAES victories included the release of rust-resistant wheat, cattle ear tags that controlled ticks, and aerial spraying studies that resulted in national programs to safely and efficiently apply pesticides. The development of poloxalene lick blocks ended the threat of cattle deaths from bloat on wheat pastures. "Smart sprayers" that apply pesticide or herbicide on an "as needed" basis were developed by OAES, as were super-hot peppers, peanut butter by the slice, and a better food for pet turtles. Across large areas of eastern Oklahoma water quality studies were funded to determine the amounts of poultry litter that could be applied on pastures and fields without contributing to downstream and groundwater pollution.

Researchers in agricultural economics and animal science joined forces in the 1980s to develop the Oklahoma Gold and Oklahoma Silver programs, promoted rapidly by OSU Cooperative Extension to help cattlemen through hard times. The idea was to feed small amounts of cottonseed meal a pound per head per day to feed organisms in the bovine rumen that could break down stemmy pasture grasses and hay. The result was about twenty-five dollars added profit per head.

OAES projects always emphasized varietal development, and while the importance of that never changed, methods and technology changed somewhat. Basic plant breeding techniques remained key to varietal development, but researchers have included such things as cloning and gene gun techniques to "shoot" desired traits into plant materials.At the end of the twentieth century OAES maintained approximately 250 research projects at any given time. While technologies and goals may have changed, the effect has always been to promote the success of agricultural producers while benefitting consumers and protecting the environment.

Geographical diversity of the state of Oklahoma required diverse sites. The climate and topography ranges from five hundred feet in elevation in the southeast, with bayou-like conditions in some areas, to almost a mile in the northwest, where semiarid conditions prevail. Only ten inches of rain fall annually in the very northwesernt part of the Panhandle. Almost sixty inches of annual rainfall occur in far southeastern Oklahoma, and the topography changes almost from mile to mile in some areas. As a result, at the end of the twentieth century the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system comprised seventeen outlying stations designed to meet the agricultural needs of their localities. The main station remained at Stillwater.

The first outlying station was established in Heavener in 1930 to study pasture and forage grasses in that area. It was replaced by the Eastern Research Station near Haskell. Several stations were established for specific purposes, such as for the study of cotton at Tipton in 1938, for the study of vegetable and small fruit production at Bixby, Lane, and Perkins and for the study of wheat at Lahoma.

In 1951 a special legislative appropriation provided funds to establish Sandyland Research Station at Mangum to study the effects of wind and water erosion. It remained the only station established primarily to study the soil on which it is located. Researchers discovered that a layer of clay existed below the sandy terrain of the area. They developed deep plowing techniques that brought up the clay and mixed it with the sand, turning some five hundred thousand acres into productive farmland.

A new outlying research station site, the Marvin Klemme Range Research Station, located just northwest of Bessie, opened in 1990. Dedicated to improving range cattle production in western Oklahoma, the facility was made possible by a 1989 donation of one thousand acres and funding for facilities and operational expenses by Marvin Klemme.

By the end of the twentieth century research station sites had been involved in improving the production of wheat, cattle, pecans, vegetables, cotton, small fruits, peanuts, other crops, turf, and horticulture products. The system had been linked by the Oklahoma Mesonet, a network of 107 sites that provide real-time weather information twenty-four hours a day.

SEE ALSO: FARMING, LAND-GRANT COLLEGES, OKLAHOMA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICES, OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Agriculture at OSU 17 (Winter 1987). Centennial Issue, Agriculture at OSU 20 (1990). Donald E. Green, A History of Oklahoma State University Division of Agriculture (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1990). Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin Number 1 (1892).

Fred Causley

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