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NMSU Clovis Science Center Celebrates 50 Years of Agricultural Research

LAS CRUCES - The 50th anniversary celebration at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Clovis last month was not your typical cake and ice cream affair.

But the evening field day complete with experimental plot tours, soil treatment demonstrations and a chuck wagon dinner suited the 140 revelers -- including farmers from Curry and Roosevelt counties -- just fine.

Touring the center's two-acre community garden project was a highlight, said Darrell Baker, the center's acting superintendent. The garden, tended by people sentenced to either the county jail or community service, yields thousands of pounds of produce each year for local missions, senior citizen centers and retirement homes each year.

Dryland crops, not vegetables, were the original focus of research at the center, located 14 miles north of Clovis on Highway 18. "The center got started at the request of local producers who were interested in all phases of agricultural research that would help them with their farming operations," Baker said.

The first researcher, John Carter, arrived 50 years ago in May 1949. Sorghum was the only crop planted that year. But soon more variety trials and fertility studies were underway for crops like wheat and broomcorn.

Later, research on irrigated crops was added. "As irrigation was the big thing in the community in the late '50s and '60s, a well was drilled in 1960, and irrigated experiments were started in 1961," wrote Mary Anne Brummett in a 1971 history of the center.

Baker said research highlights over the years have included development and release of several grain sorghum varieties and two New Mexico Valencia peanut varieties -- Valencia A and Valencia C.

The peanut varieties were both released in the 1970s by David Hsi, emeritus professor and peanut breeder/plant pathologist. Today, they still are the primary varieties grown in New Mexico. Sold mostly roasted and in-the-shell, the nuts are an economic mainstay of the High Plains, bringing in about $11 million annually in production value alone.

Brummett wrote about how the peanut research first got underway: "In 1963, the peanut growers in the Portales Valley decided to do something about their blackhull disease problem. They formed a Peanut Commission, charged each grower $1 per acre, and gave a grant to New Mexico State University, Plains Branch Station, in the amount of $5,000, with the understanding that Dr. Hsi would head the project and work on the disease that was causing such a financial loss to the grower."

The new peanut researcher, Naveen Puppala, took over the position in February 1999. At a recent peanut field day, growers got a look at his research plots that compare 200 different Valencia peanut breeding lines from around the world.

Puppala also is studying if adding calcium increases the peanut crop's yield and the best combination of rotation crops for growing peanuts under subsurface drip irrigation.

Baker said research at the center today includes variety trials for alfalfa, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, potatoes and pumpkins.

"We also have a lot of things going with transgenic crops this year, particularly with corn," he said. "The transgenic crops are engineered and designed to withstand different herbicide applications that would normally kill the crop. We're looking to make weed control a little bit easier for the farmers."

Baker said he hopes for another successful 50 years of research at the center. He would like to add more staff to work on forage research in support of the area's growing dairy industry and on water conservation issues associated with depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground water deposit that feeds the area's irrigated fields.

"We will be going to the New Mexico Legislature for an enhancement package for new personnel here at the center, and we hope to use funds to hire at least two new researchers," he said.