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Program History

A great deal of time during the first ten to fifteen years was spent testing crops and varieties to determine whether they could be successfully grown and marketed from this area. Over 100 “crop species”, including shade trees and shrubs, and many times that in varieties, were planted at the Center. Special emphasis was given to tree fruits, sugar beets and cantaloupes. The turn of the century saw a number of orchards, mostly apple, established in the area; two beet sugar factories built in 1900 and the Rocky Ford cantaloupe industry recognized throughout the U.S.

Research efforts, in the years between 1900 and 1932, were scaled back to accommodate reduced land area and the title of Superintendent was changed to Field Agent, with responsibility for working directly with growers to solve production problems. However, considerable research effort was continued on the Center and directed towards cantaloupe disease, alfalfa forage and seed production, sugar beet production and investigation into sod. In 1922 a soils laboratory was set up and a chemist hired to study the effect of soil nitrates on crop production. It was the contention of some that high soil nitrates were adversely affecting alfalfa seed production and purity of sugar in beet production. This study culminated in 1930. It was during the twenties that efforts to develop a better onion variety began. The cantaloupe industry started to decline and the onion began to take its place as the premier vegetable crop in the area.

Breeding projects, cultural practices and variety tests became the research focus in the years between 1930 and 1945. These included work on onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, soybeans, peas, spring and fall grains, hybrid corn and sorghum, small fruits and, as always, alfalfa. It was during this time the research effort began to seriously emphasize the management of pest problems in the various crops in the Valley. Bindweed had become a major pest and significant effort was directed towards this problem.

Due to increased crop losses caused by pests and increased labor costs, particularly related to weed control, the major part of the research effort between 1945 and the early 1980’s was directed towards managing the pest problems in crop production. In the late 1940’s a plant pathologist was hired at the University whose primary responsibility was to carry out research on the onion disease problems in the Arkansas Valley. In 1961 an entomologist was hired and assigned to the Center to work on insect problems of the Valley. These positions were instigated and supported by grower groups in the area.

The research outlined above continues to some extent in the present but emphasis during the last ten years has turned to production efficiency and environmental protection as evidenced by projects on tillage practices and fertilizer, irrigation and pest management. The 1991 addition of a vegetable crop scientist to the staff has enhanced this research.

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