ABERDEEN R&E CENTER CELEBRATES CENTENNIAL

Published online: Aug 03, 2011 Potato Harvesting, Herbicide, Irrigation, Fertilizer, Insecticide, Fungicide, Seed Potatoes
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One of Idaho's oldest agricultural research centers celebrates its centennial this summer.

The University of Idaho Aberdeen Research and Extension Center was established in 1911.

The center got its start when local groups in the newly incorporated community of Aberdeen pooled $4,500 in contributions to fund a 15-year lease on 80 acres.

The first research plots were planted in 1912. The fledgling center had four buildings and one scientist, superintendent L.C. Aicher.

It has since grown to include 460 acres and 22 scientists.

From the beginning, the center's primary focus has been on cereal grains and potatoes.

Every potato variety developed in the Pacific Northwest undergoes field testing here.

"It's our key research institution for potatoes," said Jeff Harper, a farmer from Mountain Home, Idaho, who is also chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission's research and education committee.

During the 1980s, the Tri-state Potato Variety Development program was started at Aberdeen in cooperation with Oregon State University, Washington State University and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. The move created the largest potato breeding program in the world.

Several of the top potato varieties grown in the Northwest were developed at the Aberdeen station.

Among them is the Ranger Russet, one of the processing industry's preferred varieties for french fries. It's now the second most widely grown potato in Idaho behind the Russet Burbank.

Other varieties developed at Aberdeen include the Western Russet, Premier Russet, Frontier Russet, Umatilla Russet, Gem Russet, Alturas, Idarose and IvoryCrisp.

The center has also produced dozens of wheat, barley and oat varieties over the years.

"Cereal grains and potatoes have been continuously in development here since that first year," said Stephen Love, superintendent of the station.

Aberdeen's early leaders had the foresight to recognize the area's potential for agricultural production, he said.

"They knew that this was going to be a burgeoning agricultural area."

That early vision, coupled with the arrival of irrigation through the newly constructed Aberdeen-Springfield Canal Co. system, paved the way for the research center, Love said.

For nearly 100 years, the Aberdeen center experienced continual growth. But the past few years have brought significant funding challenges with state budget reductions.

The station has five fewer scientists than it did a few years ago before the economic downturn started.

"We have adjusted the way we do things," Love said. "The things that we are doing that depend on state funding allocations have shrunk dramatically."

Yet, the Aberdeen center has fared better than some other UI research and extension centers, due partly to its close association with the USDA-ARS.

Its future seems secure, industry leaders said.

"I think the Snake River would have to dry up before they closed the Aberdeen research center," Harper said.

To learn more about the history of the Aberdeen station visit
www.cals.uidaho.edu/aberdeen.

-Source, Dave Wilkins, Capital Press

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