Future Looks Bright

September 20, 2001 11:00 pm
100 YEARS OLD: A barbecue and open house will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Station at noon Saturday in Union. Even as ivy nearly covers the original sign on the station, workers are wrapping the historic building in a new addition tthat will house the growing staff of scientists and students. (The Observer/TINA PETERSEN).
100 YEARS OLD: A barbecue and open house will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Station at noon Saturday in Union. Even as ivy nearly covers the original sign on the station, workers are wrapping the historic building in a new addition tthat will house the growing staff of scientists and students. (The Observer/TINA PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer with information from Andy Duncan, OSU

UNION At the bottom of South Tenth Street in Union, old and new have found a comfortable, if cramped co-existence.

The walls of Tim DelCurtos office soar about 12 feet up, framing one-of-a-kind wood-framed windows and a wooden floor worn smooth over the years by boots and more modern tennis shoes.

Just outside DelCurtos office, a screen door tries to catch any stray breezes on a warm September afternoon but does a better job at letting in construction dust.

DelCurto, head of the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center Union Substation, studies the antique glass-windowed shelves and glances out at new construction and seems more than happy with the status of his post 100 years after the research station opened.

Right now weve got as bright a future as there was in 1901, DelCurto says, eager to talk about whats changing.

Saturday, DelCurto and other scientists and administrative folks from the OSU Department of Agriculture and its research stations will be on hand to welcome guests and visitors to the research stations centennial celebration.

There will be a barbecue at noon, followed by an open house until 4 p.m.

The Union research station started as something of a political compromise when Eastern Oregonians began agitating after Western Oregon was chosen as the site of what would become Oregon State University. The university was built with federal money set aside to operate an agricultural experiment station in each state.

By the turn of the century, Eastern Oregon wanted its own agricultural college.

Facing political pressure, Gov. T.T. Greer proposed setting up an industrial college at Union. Regents at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis opposed the idea but finally comprised.

The college set up an agricultural experiment station at Union, effectively a branch of the main campus.

But since its beginning, the Union research station has been researching the needs of growers and ranchers making a living in the high, dry and timbered forest lands east of the Cascades.

The stations scientists have taken on an amazing diversity of studies.

First, could sugarbeets grow here?

Then, over the decades, scientists and researchers studied swine, poultry, various forage grasses, fruits, berries and vegetables. Later studies turned to crops such as flax, soybeans, rice, artichokes, durum wheat, grapes, peanuts, potatoes, head lettuce and grass seed. And before the country mechanized, the Union station had studies on draft horses under way, too.

DelCurto can rattle off the projects from history, but takes more time to explain that todays research, and that planned for the future, will probably focus on non-traditional areas and be much more complex as knowledge about the interconnection of natural and man-made systems grows.

The scientists arriving at the Union station demonstrate the changing look of agricultural research.

DelCurto, an animal scientist, has been joined by Gary Pulsipher, a beef production systems researcher. His work, DelCurto explains, studies the sustainable management of cattle operations designed to help producers reduce costs and stay competitive in world markets.

While DelCurto has spent recent years trying to do a bit of everything at the station, he now plans to focus again on grazing systems and riparian issues while managing the administrative duties of the station.

Associate professor John Tanaka has joined the staff in a role DelCurto says is very non-traditional for the station staff.

Tanaka specializes in range economics and rural communities, an area of study that includes land policy, and, DelCurto says, opens research at the station to more cooperative efforts with other agencies and researchers.

John is a really good conduit to the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies working with land-use policies and research projects, DelCurto said.

The fourth scientist will start at the research station in January, and again will be expanding the definition of agricultural research.

She is Patricia Kennedy, a wildlife biologist with special interests in ornithology and landscape ecology. Kennedy was the scientist who wrote the management plan for the northern goshawk, which, while not as controversial as the spotted owl plan, did show that managed logging and resource management was beneficial for the species.

Both Tanaka and Kennedy have been at OSU for years, DelCurto said, and all three will be teaching two courses a year in the OSU ag program at Eastern Oregon University.

The added staff and needs of the station also mean that the laboratory, basically built from scratch by DelCurtos predecessor, Marty Vavra, has been redone inside and new and refurbished equipment is being added.

Around the original 1901 building, a new addition is being built by local subcontractors that will include three new offices, a staff break room, access for people with disabilities and a public meeting room that can hold 50 people. The addition will be brick-faced with an aged look to match the original building, and special windows are being made to match the historic architecture.

The three new scientists, DelCurto said, are looking forward to having more research opportunities while based at Union. This is one of the more interesting areas for research, DelCurto added.

And for Union and the research station itself, the news is an economic boost.

When the new funds were approved for the positions in 1999, they were set up as a reoccurring fund, not just a one-time boost, DelCurto said.

Translated, the station is growing from one scientist to four, from less than two support office staff to four and three-fourths positions, and from four technicians such as cattle handlers and irrigation technicians, to eight. And look for a busy-ness that hasnt been part of the research station for years up to 10 graduate students working on masters and doctoral degrees will be coming on board.

DelCurto says the new budget is about $500,000 a year, and that will grow as the scientists bring in grants for research and experiments.

With a new century starting at the research station, there are also some new directions that may make themselves ever more clear as time goes by.

Were looking at solutions, DelCurto said, not just research. That means research that comes up with definite ideas for better production systems, reduced costs, and land improvements.

And research station personnel will be ever more involved with partners, such as at the Starkey Project as scientists study elk, deer and cattle grazing the same land.

The changes, though, are actually true to the research stations original purpose.

The opportunities to work with partners, to be more involved with the public and other educational opportunities such as the Summer Ag Institute and Eastern Oregon University, are all, DelCurto said, sort of a reflection of agriculture today.