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Center History

Present Overview

At the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation’s Annual Meeting on January 27, 2004, the Foundation celebrated its 30th anniversary by inducting three members as Lifetime Board Members: Bill Wright, Bernard Neill, and Dean Nichols, for 30 years of continuous service on the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation Board. They were presented with plaques that read, “from the beginning, to the present, through the future.”

The Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation is a growers association that supports agronomic research at the Plainsman Research Center. There are 18 elected board members that administer the funds generated from crops grown on Plainsman Agri-Search owned land. Currently, the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation owns 800 acres of land approximately 5 miles northwest of Walsh and leases 80 acres south of the Plainsman Office (1 mile west of Walsh on Hwy 160). There are three small wells (25 gpm to 120 gpm) used for irrigating four 30-acre center pivots and an 11-acre subsurface drip irrigation system on the Plainsman farm. This year we are converting an additional 35 acres into subsurface drip irrigation. The Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation owns the land, irrigation wells, and all farm-scale implements used by Plainsman Research Center personnel to farm and conduct farm-scale research studies. In addition to overseeing the farming finances, the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation Board provides advice and guidance on research and research needs of local farmers.

The Plainsman Research Center is one of Colorado State University Agricultural Experiment Station’s off-campus Research Centers. The Plainsman Research Center is located in Southeastern Colorado near the town of Walsh. All staff members at the Plainsman Research Center are Colorado State University employees, and all small plot equipment is owned and maintained by Colorado State University. Presently there are three employees headquartered at the Plainsman Office: Kevin Larson, Superintendent/ Research Scientist; Dennis Thompson, Technician III; and Deborah Harn, Research Associate. Research conducted by Plainsman staff includes: full and limited irrigation on grain sorghum, corn, and sunflowers using furrow, sprinkler, and subsurface drip irrigation; N, P, and Zn fertilization; tillage comparisons of no-till, ridge-till, conventional-till, and subsoiling; crop rotation sequencing of grain sorghum, millet, corn, sunflower, bean, and fallow; planting dates and seeding rates of dryland wheat, irrigated dual-purpose wheat, grain sorghum, and canola; grass and broadleaf weed control in grain sorghum; Corn Borer resistant and nonresistant corn hybrids; insect management of Russian Wheat Aphid in wheat and Sunflower Head Moth and Sunflower Stem Weevil in sunflower; and variety trials of wheat, grain sorghum, forage sorghum, corn, sunflower, canola, and alternative crops.

Research Center Origin

One of the original names of the Plainsman Research Center was the Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Walsh. As the name implies, the Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Walsh is an outgrowth of the Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Springfield. The Southeastern Colorado Branch Station – Springfield, as it was originally called, was established by the state legislature in 1954 as part of the Colorado State University Agricultural Experiment Station to address wind erosion and related problems. The state secured a 25-year lease from the US government on 3900 acres of Comanche National Grassland. The site was located eight miles southwest of Springfield and operation began as a dryland agronomic center in 1956. Herbert Mann was the first Superintendent assigned to this new branch station.

In the early 1960’s many new irrigation wells were drilled in eastern Baca County. These new irrigated growers were unfamiliar with irrigation and were not achieving high enough yields to keep them financially solvent. They voiced their concerns to local extension, research, and political leaders. On Herbert Mann’s request, Richard Patterson, manager at the Colorado State Bank at Walsh, sent out invitations to a January 26, 1963 meeting to formulate and establish a program for the Southeastern Colorado Branch Experiment Station on irrigation. Four CSU representatives and 38 growers met at the Baca County Courthouse and drafted a proposal for “New Experiments in the Area of Irrigation on Pump Irrigated High Plains in Southeastern Colorado” focusing on water, soil, and fertility management; variety testing; insect and weed control; irrigated pastures and stubble grazing; and economic return analysis. A formal proposal and budget was presented to S.S. Wheeler, Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, on February 5, 1963. This proposal was expanded to cover the justification and cost for additional personnel, capital equipment, and operating expense for research programs in (1) irrigated crop production in Southeastern Colorado and (2) soil testing service and laboratory. This irrigated crop production proposal was developed into an appropriation bill and presented by State Representative Forrest Burns. The irrigated crop production appropriation bill was defeated by the state legislature. Seeking immediate assistance for irrigated growers in Southeastern Colorado, 13 farmers and four CSU representatives met on September 11, 1963 and drafted a proposal for funding a research and extension agronomist to help solve irrigation problems in Southeastern Colorado. Again, Forrest Burns brought this bill to the state legislature and it, too, was defeated.

The 1964 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Branch Experiment Station brought a new approach to the irrigation problem. Instead of proposals to the state legislature, the attendees at this meeting sought grassroots support. They collected $895 for seed money and procured a single year option on 20 acres of rent-free irrigated land. Tom Doherty, Baca County Extension Leader, drafted a letter that Richard Patterson reviewed, signed, and sent to Lowell Watts, Director of Colorado Extension Service and Coordinator of Agricultural Programs, requesting research and extension specialist cooperation and time to be coordinated through Southeastern Colorado Branch Station. This April 10, 1964 letter further outlined the local support, seed money, and rent-free land available for irrigated research. Nearly a year later, April 21, 1965, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between Colorado State University, Colorado State Bank (Bowers Holt and Richard Patterson, land owners), and the newly established Southeast Colorado Irrigation Field Trials project. The site for the irrigation project was 20 acres of irrigated land just north of the Walsh airport (NW 1/4, NW 1/4, Section 32, Township 30S, Range 43W). There was no new hire for this project; therefore, Herbert Mann and Tom Doherty were given the responsibility to perform the irrigated research studies that began in the spring of 1965. On July 1, 1966, the state appropriated $15,000 to help fund the Southeastern Colorado Irrigation Field Trials project now called the Irrigation Water Efficiency (Project 17). An additional $10,000 was sought and granted in 1967. By 1967, 20 more irrigated acres of land adjacent to the original 20 acres was leased for five years from Richard Patterson for the Irrigation Water Efficiency Project. Edward Langin was hired in April 1967 as an Assistant Agronomist at the Southeastern Colorado Branch Experiment Station – Springfield. Ed Langin was in charge of the irrigation project at Walsh and research was expanded to include not only variety testing but also irrigation scheduling and fertility testing. During this period, construction of a metal office/shop building at the Walsh irrigation site was finished. Small plot irrigated research continued with Ed Langin as the Agronomist in charge until 1970 when Ed left to become the Superintendent of CSU’s Northern Colorado Research – Demonstration Center at Greely. Ed returned to his former position at the renamed Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Springfield a year later.

Land Characteristics

Research problems studied at the Center address soils, crops, and groundwater of the dryland and well-irrigated regions of southeastern Colorado. In Baca County, for example, about one-half of the area is cropland with 98% used for dryland and 2% for irrigated production.

The northern two-thirds of Baca County is dominated by Baca-Wiley association which are deep, nearly level to sloping clay loams and loams on loess uplands. A wheat-fallow rotation is the major cropping system for these soils. The southern one-third of the county is predominantly of the Vona- Manter-Dalhart association. This association consists of soils that are deep, nearly level to gently rolling sandy loams and loamy sands on uplands. Continuously cropped grain sorghum is the principal crop for these sandy soils.

Precipitation is the primary limiting factor affecting crop production in the area. The 98 year average (from 1897 to 1994) at west central Baca County was 15.8 inches of precipitation and, occasionally, less than 7 inches of moisture have been received.

Coupled with limited precipitation is an extremely high evaporative demand. The mean annual total evaporative demand (as measured by pan evaporation) is 72 inches. Over 50% of this evaporative demand occurs during three months: June, July, and August. During these three months, frequent winds and 90þ F average maximum monthly temperatures contribute to this high evaporative demand.

Compared to other crop production areas in Colorado, the growing season is quite long. The last frost typically occurs May 6th and the first frost normally falls on October 9th, resulting in an average of 157 frost free days.

Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation Origin

Two factors combined that changed the research environment at the Walsh irrigated research site. First, grower acceptance of irrigated small plot research was less than desired. Growers wanted farm-scale research to better evaluate research results. Second, CSU was expecting a cut in state appropriation for research. At the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station annual conference in February 1973, Patrick Jordan, Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, suggested that state appropriation shortfalls could, in part, be offset by increasing income at the research centers through expanding local support, land and crop sales.

To further explore the idea of a locally supported research foundation, Ed Langin gathered a few local growers at the Colorado State Bank in Walsh in early March 1973. Attending this meeting were Dick Patterson, Bernard Neill (Springfield farmer), Lawrence “Bud” Bitner (Walsh farmer), Jack Butler (Walsh farmer), and Ed Langin. They collectively decided that a research foundation was feasible. They presented their research foundation idea at the annual meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Southeastern Colorado Research Center on March 23, 1973. The Advisory Committee approved the idea for a nonprofit research foundation. A steering committee was formed to explore funding for the research foundation, these members were: John Swenson, Prowers; Arthur Blooding, Kiowa; Ken Steinford, Las Animas; John Ebright, Bent; and Bernard Neill, Baca. Before they adjourned, the Advisory Committee members collected $355 as seed money for the establishment of a research foundation. At a meeting on August 2, 1973 at the Colorado State Bank at Walsh of a few farmers and businessmen interested in the research foundation, it was announced that an anonymous donor (later identified as Bernard Neill) had made a $10,000 matching fund donation for the funding of a research foundation. To address formation of a research foundation, they invited Donal Johnson, Dean of the College of Agricultural Science, to the upcoming Southeastern Colorado Research Center Field Day in September. Donal Johnson spoke at the September 11, 1973 Southeastern Colorado Research Center field day supporting the idea of a research foundation.

To solidify the idea of a research foundation and the roles of the research foundation and CSU, Ed Langin sent Robert Whitney, Head of the Department of Agronomy, a proposal for the Establishment of Research Foundation on November 9, 1973. This proposal outlined the responsibilities of the Research Foundation as:

  1. financially responsible for operating cost with farming income to remain with the Foundation, and
  2. leadership in research recommendation and advisory.

The responsibilities of Colorado State University were:

  1. to continue to provide salaries and administration costs, and
  2. to continue to maintain control of the Irrigation Water Efficiency Project not otherwise delegated to the Research Foundation.

Donal Johnson called Ed Langin on January 21 to arrange a meeting with farmers to discuss the formation of a research foundation. Ed Langin set up a pre-meeting with farmers on January 31, 1974 at the City Hall at Walsh. The 29 farmers and businessmen attending gave formal approval for the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation, elected 15 members as Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and appointed a steering committee to forge the Foundation. The first Board Members were: Bill Wright (President), Bernard Neill (Vice President), John Clark, Larry Forgey, Terry Cournkamp, Greg Lohrey, Dean Nichols, Greg Thompson, Lynn Bitner, Jr., Dick Patterson (Secretary-Treasurer), Lawrence Bitner, Andy Harper, Howard Schmidt, Herbert Mann, and Ed Langin. The first nine members listed comprised the steering committee. The two main objectives for forming the Foundation were:

  1. To improve the credibility of Colorado State University applied research to the people in the area by conducting research and demonstrations on a farm scale using commercial equipment and methods.
  2. To promote the involvement of the area people by placing the responsibility for determining the kinds of research to be conducted and the responsibility for financing this research directly on the people in the area as represented by the members of the Foundation.

One week later, February 7, 1974, they met with Donal Johnson and Robert Whitney in the Blue Building at the Baca County Fairground in Springfield, and Donal Johnson approved the Foundation and authorized Ed Langin as manager for the Foundation. The Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation was officially sanctioned on March 22, 1974 with the State of Colorado accepting their Articles of Incorporation, which the Foundation modeled from the constitution and bylaws of the High Plains Research Foundation of Halfway, Texas. The Articles of Incorporation stated the purpose for forming the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation as:

The purpose or purposes for which the corporation is organized is a non-profit organization for the encouragement and advancement of agriculture and horticulture by research with seeds, plants and trees, together with soil and water conservation, and to purchase and lease all lands and equipment necessary for that purpose; to support a scientific and education project of greater efficiency and production with the use of natural resources.

In order to have an operating budget for the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation, the steering committee actively sought contributions from farmers and businessmen to meet Bernard Neill’s $10,000 matching pledge challenge. They actually exceeded the matching pledge by $3000 with some individual farmers giving up to $500. With over $23,000 in cash and an additional $7,800 pledged in goods and services, the Foundation was ready for operation. In the spring of 1974, they leased 210 acres (T30S, R43W, Section 31, NW ¼ and NE ¼) from Laramie Burson across the road from the 40 acres that Colorado State University had leased for irrigated research since 1967. Their first farm-scale studies included: manure and commercial fertilizer comparison on corn and grain sorghum, corn date of planting study, and irrigation scheduling. The Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation held its first official Annual Meeting in April 1975. By their first Annual Meeting, the Foundation’s membership had grown to 100 members. With a fully functional Foundation, the Walsh irrigation project was recognized by CSU as the Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Walsh.

By 1976, the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation had increased its leased farmland to 800 acres (T30S, R43W, Section 31 and T30S, R43W, Section 30, SE ¼), which they again leased from Laramie Burson. Nearly all of the 800 acres was irrigated and one quarter-section had a center pivot sprinkler on it. In the winter of 1976, Colorado State University purchased a two-acre site and began construction of a 40 ft. by 60 ft. office/shop building. This office (1 mile west of Walsh on Hwy 160) is the current headquarters of the Plainsman Research Center/Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation. In 1977, the Foundation rented 80 acres (T31S, R43W, Section 6, NW ¼) of dryland south of the new office from Robert Hume.

One of the original goals of the Foundation charter members was to purchase land and become self-supporting. The income generated from crop sales was sufficient to meet operating expenses; therefore, by 1977 donations were no longer actively pursued. In 1981, the Foundation purchased 480 acres of land (T30S, R44W, Section 13, NE ¼, NW ¼, and SW ¼) from Wade Myers. The Foundation was able to procure a loan for the land purchase from the Farmers Home Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, by having the Colorado State University Research Foundation (CSURF) countersign the loan. If the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation defaults on the loan, CSURF guarantees loan payment and the property is transferred to CSURF. The Foundation did not renew the lease on the 800 acres of irrigated Burson land, and the newly purchased 480 acres of land had only one small well, therefore, out of pragmatism, research was refocused from irrigation to dryland and limited irrigation.

Personnel Changes

Dennis Thompson was hired as Researcher I at the Southeastern Colorado Research Center in April 1981 the last year that the Foundation farmed the 800 irrigated acres of Burson land and prior to the purchase of the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation Farm. Ed Langin became the Southeast Area Cooperative Extension and Research Director at Lamar, while still retaining his position as Superintendent at the Southeastern Colorado Research Center at Walsh. Two new research scientists were hired in 1982 to conduct research at Walsh: Lorenze Sutherland, Research Agronomist and Jim Long, Irrigation Specialist. The following year, 1983, Jim Long left for a similar position at Kansas State University. In 1987, Lorenze Sutherland joined the Soil Conservation Service as Area Agronomist in La Junta. Kevin Larson was hired as Superintendent/Research Scientist for the Southeastern Colorado Research Center at Walsh in July 1988. The introduction of Russian Wheat Aphid (RWA), a new area-wide pest on wheat and barley, created a burgeoning research workload. To assist with this research work, Deborah Harn was hired at the Southeastern Colorado Research Center in October 1989 as a Research Associate for the RWA Project.

Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation Growth

To prevent equipment from weathering, the Foundation constructed a 40 ft. by 80 ft. building at the Plainsman Farm in 1988. One income generating enterprise that provided operating capital for Plainsman was certified wheat seed sales. In 1990 to accommodate seed sales, the Foundation moved two 3,500 bushel, flat-bottom, grain bins onto the Plainsman Farm (the original bins were subsequently replace with four 4,500 bushel, cone-bottom, grain bins). In recognition of the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation’s research support, the Southeastern Colorado Research Center – Walsh was renamed the Plainsman Research Center in 1990. To research the emerging irrigation technology of Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA), the Foundation bought a used, three tower, center pivot sprinkler at the Southwest Kansas Research and Extension Center at Garden City, Kansas in 1991. Foundation members disassembled and transported the sprinkler to the Plainsman Farm. After reassembling it, they converted it to a LEPA sprinkler by welding and fitting nozzle drops every five feet along the sprinkler. Many research comparisons between limited sprinkler and furrow irrigation on corn and grain sorghum were performed since the acquisition and remodeling of this LEPA sprinkler.

In 1997, the Foundation bought the SE ¼ of Section 13 from Lucile Clark, giving them ownership to all 640 acres of Section 13. They had been farming and conducting research, some even long-term studies, on this dryland quarter for a few years before purchasing the land. A year later, 1998, the Foundation bought at auction an adjoining 160 acres (T30S, R43W, Section 18, SW ¼) from the Nance Family. With the addition of this land, the Foundation owned a total of 800 acres of farmland. One rationale for purchasing this quarter of land was the possibility of expanding irrigation with an unused well on this new land. The pumping capacity of this well proved to be quite small, but adequate for subsurface drip irrigation, another emerging irrigation technology that the Foundation wanted investigated. In 2000, the Colorado State University Agricultural Experiment Station funded the installation of 11 acres of subsurface drip irrigation on the newly purchased Foundation land.

The history of the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation illustrates their desire to be on the leading edge of agronomic technology transfer. The Foundation’s current plan to convert an additional 35 acres to subsurface drip irrigation exemplifies their commitment to remain supporters and leaders of agronomic research.

Read more about the Plainsman Agri-Search Foundation

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