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History from the ground up: Soils Lab to celebrate 60th

Copies of photos taken at the July 27, 1958, groundbreaking for the Soils Lab. Submitted photo

For about a half million dollars in 1959, the USDA North Centeral Soil and Water Conservation Research Labatory was built in on the outskirts of Morris.

The $489,989 investment has been spread over 60 years of research to help farmers and general agriculture industry improve farming techniques to conserve soil and improve water and soil health as well as provide alternative crops and resources to bolster the agriculture economy.

The Soils Lab will celebrate its 60th anniversary Thursday, Aug. 2, at the lab site.

An Oct. 16, 1959, story in the Morris Tribune, said the lab was built to do research on a 37-million acre area in western Minnesota, northwest Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. While the 37 million acres were the initial focus of the lab, clippings of news stories and research papers compiled by Kathy Eystad, anoffice automation specialist, show the lab's influence reaches much farther than those acres.

Clippings include discussions about research work done in collaboration with scientists around the U.S. Research on weed management, for example, was geared toward application for the entire Corn Belt, a March 18, 1998, story by scientist Frank Forcella, said. Other papers and stories cite collaborations in Texas and Kentucky.

Past scientists, retired scientists and current scientists have presented research projects at sites in the U.S. and internationally. Retired Soils Lab director, Ward Voorhees, is just one of the Soill Labs' staff to earn an honor for research and writing. Voorhees received the Crops and Soils Magazine Award from the American Society of Agronomy in 1977.

Former Soils Lab director Bob Holt cited research agriculture's influence on water quality done in the 1960s as one of the highlights of his career, according to news story published after he retired as director in 1980. Holt was the director from 1961 to 1980. The research drew praise and was the catalyst for a 1971 addition to the lab.

Information from the 50th anniversary of the lab in 2008 said the Soils Lab has adapted to emerging agriculture and environmental problems facing farmers. The 1960 and 1970s were a time of research primarily on covering tillage, soil erosion and compactiong, crop growth and production. During the 1980s and 1990s, there was increased emphasis on water aquality, weed ecology and related topics. The 2000s have been a time of research on biomass and bioenergy crops, alternative crops that provide a second cash crop and methods that help sustain agriculutre in gobal climate change.

While the research emphasis may have adjusted over the past 60 years to meet the changing needs in farming and agriculture, the Soils Lab continues to have a strong partnership with the Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Association. Without Barnes-Aastad, the lab wouldn't exist as it is today. Barnes-Aastad is an advocacy group that officially organized in 1959. Before that, it was a group of supporters who promoted the need for a soils lab in the Morris area. The effort by that group led to the construction of a the Soils Lab. Barnes-Aastad was formed to buy 80 acres of farm land for Soils Lab research. The group is named for the most common soil type on the 130 acre-farm it owns.

Barnes-Aastad continues to advocate for the Soils Lab and promote the lab's work. Members visit Washington, D.C. each year to meet with Senators and Representatives as well as advocating throughout the year.

The 60th anniversary celebration of the Soils Lab starts with registration at 9 a.m. followed by the keynote address at 9:30 a.m. Tours of the lab and research farms start at 10 a.m. and complimentary lunch will be served at noon at the lab. The lab is located at 803 Iowa Ave.