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Several men congregate by a tractor-pulled one-way production plow in a partially tilled field.
1907: A one-way production plow is used to break the virgin sod at the new USDA research station in Akron, Colo. Although dryland plowing was a common practice 100 years ago, it has been replaced by more sustainable soil management methods. The photo was taken by noted USDA scientist Homer Leroy Shantz.

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USDA Station in Colorado Celebrates Centennial

By Linda Tokarz
June 6, 2007

AKRON, Colo., June 6––A U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility that has helped farmers thrive in the harsh climate of the Central Great Plains celebrated its 100th anniversary here today. The Central Great Plains Research Station is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

"The Akron station has played a vital role in helping farmers adapt to the challenges they face in this part of the country," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "Over the last century, Akron has been a great example of how scientists and farmers can work together to improve production while protecting the environment."

The first settlers to cross into the region were ill-prepared for the dry and windy climate, variable temperatures and occasionally damaging precipitation. The land wasn't suited to the crops and management practices that worked on farmland to the east. Thus, early attempts at cultivating the Central Great Plains met with poor results.

In 1907, the "Akron Field Station" was established by the USDA in cooperation with Colorado State University to identify optimal agricultural management techniques for the region, an area of about 55 million acres comprising parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and Colorado. The community donated land for research and raised $3,000 to construct the buildings. The investment proved to be a wise one.

During the past century, the station's experiments have identified the crops best suited to the region, such as winter wheat, sorghum, millet, corn, triticale and sunflower. In addition, researchers found that ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain juniper made the best shelterbelts to reduce erosion. Akron scientists also have helped improve yields of several crops, including winter wheat, by as much as 50 percent and have developed water-management techniques for maximizing crop growth.

Scientists at Akron have released new cereal varieties and developed water-harvesting techniques for reducing soil damage. They were also influential in pioneering conservation management techniques such as no-till, eco-fallow and stubble-mulch. The research station joined the then newly formed ARS in 1953. Researchers are currently developing sustainable crop-rotation systems for cultivated drylands, semiarid croplands, rangelands and irrigated lands.