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NMSU's Tucumcari science center to celebrate centennial at field day Aug. 2

In the last 100 years, New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari has transformed to keep up with changing technologies, unpredictable agricultural conditions and the needs of producers. But, one thing has not changed - the desire to perform innovative research to help agricultural producers be secure and profitable in a time when each passing day brings new challenges to farmers and ranchers.

B/W of field day
NMSU's Agricultural Science Center has been hosting field days for many years as a way to communicate to the public updates on agricultural research. Here, area producers take a hay ride during a 1954 field day. (NMSU photo by Courtesy photo)

To celebrate its centennial, NMSU is hosting a field day Aug. 2 at the Tucumcari science center at which time, New Mexico's Centennial also will be celebrated as an official New Mexico centennial event (http://nmcentennial.org). The theme is "Basking in the Past, Looking to the Future."

As NMSU's oldest continuously running off-campus research facility, the center's mission is to develop forage and grazing systems for irrigated lands in the Western U.S., and the evaluation of crops and cropping systems for local adaptation.

In 1908, the Quay County Commission established the Quay County Experiment Station by purchasing 160 acres of land one mile east of Tucumcari. Research work was done at this location for close to three years, but it was soon determined to be a poor site since the soil was mostly caliche, a hardened deposit of calcium carbonate that interferes with crop production.

It was at this time the U.S. Department of Agriculture established its Division of Dryland Agriculture in the Bureau of Plant Industry, and was planning to set up 25 experiment stations covering the Great Plains region from Montana to southern Texas to study the proper cultural methods to grow crops in semi-arid regions.

At the request of the New Mexico Experiment Station and local citizens, USDA officials visited Tucumcari and agreed to locate a station there for research. The community came together and bought 320 acres of land where the station now operates.

The land was deeded to the former New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and Tucumcari residents were later repaid for their investment.

Construction of the buildings at the station began in 1911 and field operations started in 1912.

The center has evolved over time. In the beginning, it concentrated on rainfed or dryland agricultural production, feeding of cattle, and tree and shrub plantings for landscape improvement and for windbreak purposes.

With the arrival of irrigation water from the Arch Hurley Conservancy District in 1952, the research emphasis shifted to irrigated crop production.

In 1961, the New Mexico Beef Cattle Performance Association began using the science center as home for its annual Tucumcari Bull Test.

Tucumcari established a reputation as an irrigated pastures research center in the 1970s and the 1980s saw research expand into the areas of horticulture and field crops. For the past 15 years, the center has had a strong emphasis on forage crops, primarily alfalfa, and has also focused on other crops, including cotton, sunflower, kenaf and legumes, for use as intercrops and forages. Research efforts have also included tillage systems for limited irrigated and rainfed crop production.

Because of limited inflow to the Conchas Reservoir, water for irrigation from the Arch Hurley Conservancy District has been limited or unavailable since 2002 and growers in the area have had to adjust and adapt their production practices accordingly.

Using a New Mexico Water Trust Board grant to the City of Tucumcari, the science center teamed with the city in 2011 to pipe reclaimed treated municipal wastewater from the city's wastewater treatment facility to the center, giving researchers the opportunity to conduct irrigated crop evaluations and valuable irrigation studies, even in drought conditions, as well as creating the opportunity to develop research on the use of reclaimed water for agricultural production.

"Our research is driven by the needs of the community with application throughout the state and even to other semiarid regions because when irrigation water is available, alfalfa and pastures are a significant component of production here as throughout New Mexico, and when irrigation water is not available, we are in the same predicament as producers in trying to find ways to continue production at some level," said Leonard Lauriault, forage agronomist and interim superintendent at the science center. "With this new more consistent source of irrigation water, we'll be able to continue our irrigated research program so that when the lake does fill up, our producers can have the latest information about irrigated production in the area."

Registration for the field day starts at 4:30 p.m. and dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. There will be a dinner program at 6 p.m. where Horace Wood will give a history of Tucumcari. Rex Kirksey, retired superintendent, will talk about the history of the science center.

A hay wagon tour of the center will start at 6:45 p.m.

During the tour, Tessa Grasswitz, NMSU integrated pest management specialist in Los Lunas, will discuss using plant species to attract pollinating insects. Presentations at one of the center's new irrigation pivots will include a talk by Lauriault on the historical benefits of agricultural research. John Mexal, assistant head of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, will talk on the use of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation, and there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center's new project, the treated wastewater irrigation system. After the tour, a reception will be held for Kirksey, who retired in June after serving 32 years with NMSU, 31 years of which he was superintendent at the Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari. Historical pictures, publications, and equipment will be on display.

The Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center is a major sponsor for the program, along with many other local businesses. Prior to the field day, beginning at 4 p.m., John Wenzel, state veterinarian will make a presentation on NM-ALIRT and Syndronic Surveillance, on behalf of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center, which will be of most interest to livestock producers.

If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service, contact Lauriault at 575-461-1620.