One cannot chronicle the history of an institution that has provided its constituency with significant achievements for 100 years without paying homage to the dedicated people who invested their time, intellect and more than a little bit of sweat to effect needed change.
Jaroy Moore, director, Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Lubbock, honored many of the scientists who contributed substantial advancements in agricultural science during the center’s Centennial Celebration.
The center was made possible by the 1887 Hatch Act — legislation that established agricultural research centers across the country. The center at Lubbock came online in 1909, following appropriations by the Texas Legislature and donation of 160 acres of land by the Commercial Club and citizens of Lubbock. The acreage came with a 5-room cottage.
Moore, director since 1998, recognized his predecessors. W.S. Hotchkiss was the center’s first director; followed by A.L. Paschall, who took over in 1909 and served until 1912. He was succeeded by E.C. Souther, who served in 1912. V.L. Cory was director from 1912 through 1915; R.E. Karper followed from 1915 through 1925. D.L. Jones served from 1926 through 1957. Charles Fisher was director from 1957 through 1969; George McBee from 1969 through 1975; Bill Ott from 1975 through 1985; John Abernathy from 1985 through 1997; and Art Onken from 1997 through 1998.
The center has expanded considerably since the beginnings with the research station on 4th Street in 1909. Headquarters moved to its current location in 1959 and includes both AgriLife Extension and USDA-ARS. In 1975, the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Lubbock became affiliated with the High Plain Research Foundation at Halfway.
In 1990, the center joined forces with the Ag-CARES Farm in Lamesa and added the Helms Farm at Halfway in 1999.
Grain sorghum and cotton breeding and production efforts have been critical areas of research since the early days. Moore said R.E. Karper, director from 1915 through 1925, focused on grain sorghum. But work began earlier.
In 1910 the station began a sorghum improvement effort and released Dwarf Yellow Milo. In the 1920s a Kafir mutant was used to develop combine-height varieties. The station released five varieties that year.
The first combine-height sorghum came out in the 1930s. Station scientists identified the waxy grain mutant and released seven varieties during the 1930s.
Eight more varieties came on in the 1940s. “A winter nursery was developed in Mexico with the Rockefeller Foundation,” Moore said, “to speed progress in the breeding program and to exchange germplasm.”
The station also aided the war effort with waxy sorghum that helped starch demand for General Foods.
The station released 26 varieties in the 1950s, along with 18 parental lines and a hybrid sorghum in conjunction with the Chillicothe Station.
“Varieties developed at Lubbock (in the 1950s) were the parents in the first sorghum hybrids,” Moore said. “Station researchers also began work on lodging resistance and yellow endosperm grain.”
In the 1960s the station released 82 parental lines and the first yellow endosperm line. Scientists initiated studies into greenbug resistance.
In the 1970s, the center released 86 parental lines of germplasm, 183 converted sorghum lines, the first greenbug resistant germplasm, the first midge resistant germplasm, and developed a program for resistance to drought stress.
In the 1980s, 62 parental lines were released along with 240 converted sorghum lines. Another three parental lines came out in the 1990s, with 207 converted sorghum lines. Researchers also “mapped genes for resistance to post-flowering drought stress and for resistance to greenbug biotypes. We also introduced 3,000 sorghums from The Sudan and 1,800 sorghums from Mali,” Moore said.
In the new century, 98 parental lines have come from the sorghum research program so far, along with 49 converted sorghum lines. “We also initiated research on specialty sorghum,” Moore said.
Currently, 85 percent of the sorghum produced on the High Plains is hybrid. Hybrid Sudan sorghum for forage accounts for 65 percent of the amount produced on the High Plains. And 60 percent of the hybrids sold have one parent from AgriLife research. Domestically, 40 percent of hybrid sorghums sold have both parents from AgriLife Research. Internationally, that percentage is 50.
Along with Karper, Moore said J.C. Stephens, Roy Quinby, D.T. Rosenow, G.L. Teetes, J.W. Johnson, and current sorghum breeder Gary Peterson have contributed to the improvements in grain sorghum production on the High Plains.
Cotton work began early, too. “Early years at the Research Center were spent evaluating different cotton varieties and production practices,” Moore said.
The importance of identifying storm proof varieties became evident when a dust storm hit on Thanksgiving Day, 1926, and blew un-harvested cotton out of the bur. Moore said the beginning for storm proof cotton came when H.A. Macha, of Tahoka, “noticed a single plant of Half and Half variety that had remained intact and undamaged (from the storm). “Macha tried to perfect this strain for storm proof cotton for several years before giving the seed to D.L. Jones in 1934. Many storm proof varieties were developed from Macha’s original seed.”
Chronology of the center’s cotton breeding program:
• 1910s – Evaluation of diverse germplasm
• 1920s – Discovery of mutants significant to High Plains adaptation
• 1930s – Storm proof lines
• 1940s – Collaboration with Texas Tech on fiber and spinning
• 1950s – Bacterial blight resistant lines and Blightmaster release
• 1960s – Drought tolerant and early maturing lines: CA 491
• 1970s – Abiotic stress resistant lines: Ca 1012
• 1980s – Plains cotton Improvement Program and focus on fiber quality improvement: 116 germplasm releases for high fiber strength
• 1990s – 161 releases for fiber quality, 47 releases for Verticillium wilt tolerance, three releases with cold tolerance, three releases with drought tolerance
• 2002 – Super fiber quality nursery and 15 releases with minimum 1.25 inch length and 36 grams per tex
• 2003 – Greenhouse complex for wild cotton screening; thrips, drought, salt aphids, nematodes, Verticillium wilt, and seedling diseases; 11 releases for yield component and 10 for cold tolerance
• 2005-2009 – Discovery of new resistance sources for Verticillium wilt, thrips, salt and black root rot; 10 releases for super fiber quality and two for nematode resistance.
Moore said 356 Upland and 11 Pima cultivars were released from 1970 through 1995.
John Gannaway oversaw the Plains Cotton Improvement Program, which began in 1982 as a renewed focus on fiber quality in adapted germplasm. Moore said the effort was crucial for the High Plains because of the perceived low quality of cotton from the region, adoption of rotor-type spinning, and new premiums for fiber properties.
“The effort was producer-initiated with a regional check-off to address fiber quality issues in the High Plains,” Moore said. Check-off is voluntary and administered by Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. The program funds breeding, systems variety trials, disease and spinning research and allows for a long-term, focused research effort.
Gannaway retired in 2009 and turned the program over to Jane Dever. Extension agronomist Randy Boman conducts the systems variety trials, which help farmers identify good varieties for specific growing conditions.
Cotton research has included crop residue disposal, planting, cultivation and harvest.
“Refinement of harvest research conducted by Alan Brashears at USDA-ARS led to improved efficiency and quality, especially bark reduction,” Moore said. “Ginning research at USDA-ARS allowed preservation of improved quality developed in breeding.”
Moore said Roy Baker, Gary Barker and Weldon Laird were instrumental in ginning research.
He said improving cotton genetics and production techniques is crucial not only for the region but for the U.S. cotton industry. “High Plains production accounts for more than 30 percent of all U.S. cotton,” he said. “And today, the High Plains is recognized as a source of high quality fiber.”
He said collaboration has been key with cooperative research from “breeding to spinning” from AgriLife, Texas Tech, Fiber and Biopolymer Institute, Cotton Incorporated, and USDA-ARS.
But efforts have not been directed just on sorghum and cotton. One of the first research efforts targeted grape production. The first grapes were bearing by 1911 and Thompson’s seedless grapes were available in 1915.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Bill Lipe initiated viticulture research, evaluating varieties and rootstocks, vine spacing effects on vigor and quality, cold hardiness and evaporative cooling to delay budburst for frost avoidance.
Ed Hellman worked from 2001 through 2005 to evaluate deficit irrigation and budburst delay. Currently, Hellman, David Montague and Brent Trela are working on adaptation to climate, rootstock effects on scion physiology, evaluation of hot climate varieties, and rootstock evaluations. A statewide viticulture Extension team has been established.
The center has a long history with vegetable research, too. Tomato research was in progress as early as 1917 and continues today with high tech evaluations of varieties and production systems.
Potatoes have been an important target as well. Irish potato varieties were being evaluated in 1914 and sweet potato research was in place by 1917.
Creighton Miller is the current project leader for potato variety development and the program has 12 improved varieties. Research efforts have paid off. In 1973, average yield was 200 hundredweight per acre. In 2006 that average had more than doubled to 440 hundredweight. The Texas yield was the highest in the nation with summer production.
Moore said the farm gate value of potatoes grew from less than $20 million to around $117 million with an annual impact on the Texas economy around $350 million.
“Texas ranks third nationally for seed certification, a significant mark since Texas does not have a potato seed industry to promote Texas varieties,” Moore said.
The Texas High Plains has its share of crop-damaging pests and much of the station’s efforts have been focused on finding efficient ways to manage insects, weeds and diseases.
“W.L. Owen was the first Lubbock-based research entomologist,” Moore said. The first cotton pest target was the fleahopper.
In the 1950s, the station began to establish elements of an integrated pest management system. In the 1960s, the center directed efforts at developing control strategies for sorghum midge and greenbugs.
Then came the boll weevil in the 1960s. “We discovered that the weevil would overwinter in the High Plains,” Moore said. In the 1970s, the station implemented a two-phased control program for maximum boll weevil suppression. During that time, scientists developed pheromone formulations and determined overwintering patterns and habitat for boll weevils.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, researchers continued building on science based strategies for integrated control.
Those efforts have paid off with a more efficient and more effective insect control program, Moore said. “Insecticide use on cotton in the High Plains has dropped more than 70 percent due to ecological approaches to cotton pest management, boll weevil eradication and adoption of Bt cotton.”
Moore said entomologist Jim Leser was instrumental in much of the cotton insect management work. Today, Megha Parajulee, David Kerns, Pat Porter, and Christian Nansen continue the efforts.
Early weed control efforts, from 1910 into the 1950s, focused on evaluating tillage equipment. Allen Wiese, Bushland, and Elmer Hudspeth, USDA-ARS, Lubbock, began work with selective herbicide activity (Karmex) in the 1950s.They worked with plot sprayer design and construction. They began evaluating incorporation methods when Treflan came online and also worked with post-directed herbicide applications and weed control in narrow-row cotton.
Dudley Smith worked with weed control at the station from 1968 through 1972, particularly with controlling problem annual and perennial weeds unique to the area. He also studied weed biology and herbicide carryover in rotational crops.
John Abernathy, from 1973 through 1985, focused on selective application of Roundup with recirculating sprayers, rope wick applicators and spot sprayers. He also developed strategies for lakeweed control and studied the effect of repeated applications of cotton herbicides.
Abernathy also worked on post-plant incorporation of yellow herbicides in sorghum and corn for annual grass control and evaluated Post grass herbicide for cotton.
Wayne Keeling came on board in 1986 and Pete Dotray in 1993, and both continue to work with various weed control management strategies including conservation tillage/cover crop systems. Their work includes chemigation of herbicides, evaluation of Staple herbicide to control perennial weeds and evaluation of weed management systems for Roundup Ready, BXN and Liberty Link cotton.
Calvin Orr, USDA-ARS, began working on cotton pathology in the 1970s and Texas AgriLife Extension had outreach programs for nematode control strategies. Terry Wheeler initiated a plant pathology research effort at the experiment station in 1994 and continues to study disease and nematode control. Targets include Verticillium wilt, Pythium, bacterial blight, seedling disease black root rot and nematodes. She works in cooperation with seed variety developers to screen methodology to develop resistant varieties. She also works on control and containment strategies for disease and nematodes.
Jason Woodward has worked as an Extension pathologist in cotton and peanuts since 2006.
Soil fertility research began with evaluating green manure and other organic fertilizer sources and has expanded to include highly technical, variable rates application methods.
“Soil fertility and nutrient management Research and Extension at Texas AgriLife in Lubbock dates back to the early days,” Moore said. “Nutrients are second in importance to water in crop production.”
By the 1940s the fertility program was working on recommendations for cotton and sorghum on sandy, loamy and clay soils. Arthur Onken oversaw the program from 1964 through 1998, when Kevin Bronson took over.
In the 1970s and 1980s, efforts included soil test correlation, calibration of soil test extracts for Texas and updating Texas fertilizer recommendations.
In the 1990s, efforts turned to nutrient management for conservation tillage and Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) irrigation. In the 2000s, research has focused on deep soil test nitrate development, fertigation management for subsurface drip irrigation, and remote sensing-based fertilizer management.
Raymond Brigham worked with soybeans, sunflowers and castor from 1962 through 1982. Mike Schubert took over in 1993, followed by Mark Burrow in 2003. Moore said the center collaborates with John Burke and Paxton Payton at USDA-ARS.
Results have included identification of 75 percent evapotranspiration replacement as the best yield and use of water. The station also released Tamrun OL01 and Tamrun OL02, the first high-oleic peanut cultivars in Texas.
The station has had only two corn breeders, Tom Archer, who served from 1977 through 1997, and the present corn breeder Wenwei Xu, who came on in 1998. Key efforts include evaluating material for stress tolerance and adaptation to Texas and field screening corn genotypes for drought tolerance.
Results have included discovery that hydraulic lift is a drought tolerant mechanism in corn, a mite resistant and drought tolerant inbred line, a high-yield inbred line, and aflatoxin resistant inbred lines.
In 2007, a state silage corn performance test was initiated for the High Plains and in 2009 four new inbred lines were licensed to a seed company for commercialization.
Moore said he’s overwhelmed at what hundreds of dedicated people have accomplished at the center for the past 100 years. “I’m amazed at what continues to go on here as people work together. Folks from commodity associations, producers and scientists work together,” he said.
He also pointed to Texas Tech and USDA as essential partners in the achievements the center has made. The goal, he said, remains the same as it was 100 years ago.
“Working for people is what we’re all about.”