Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research
Title: The history of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service in Nevada Authors
Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: April 14, 2014
Publication Date: May 5, 2014
Citation: Clements, C.D., Young, J.A., Blank, R.R. 2014. The history of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service in Nevada. The Progressive Rancher. 14(5):34-35. Technical Abstract: The severe winter of 1889-1890 nearly wiped out the range livestock industry in Nevada and resulted in livestock operators understanding that they needed irrigated hay production to carry their stock through the winter months. Congress funded the construction of irrigation in Nevada in which was named the Newlands Project. Initial attempts to grow crops largely failed due to the desert soils that contained soluble salts that are toxic to crops. The U. S. Department of Agriculture established a laboratory in Fallon, Nevada in 1913 to develop a management system for the newly irrigated soils. They determined that drainage to dispose the salts leached from the soil was just as necessary as the ditches that were bringing water for irrigation. The Newlands Irrigation District became famous for the production of very high quality alfalfa hay. Most of the hay was too expensive for range cattle operations and therefor was marketed to the dairy industry in California. In November 1942 there were numerous reports of serious death losses of domestic sheep bands in Nevada. After a great deal of research, Dr. Fleming of the University Nevada Reno, College of Agriculture identified the weed as Halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus) which was later determined to be native to the deserts of Central Asia where it is a relatively rare plant. The toxic compound was determined to be a water soluble oxalate. W. C. Robocker was assigned by ARS in Nevada in the late 1940’s and his research found that you could establish a long-lived perennial grass, crested wheatgrass, and successfully suppress Halogeton, following the use of 2,4-D herbicide to control it. However, crested wheatgrass cultivars at the time were not adapted to salt affected soils in the salt desert shrub environments. In the late 1950’s Dr. Robocker was replaced by R. A. Evans and R. E. Eckert and by 1965 were joined with the additional Range Scientist, J. A. Young. This team of range scientists worked on a variety of Great Basin rangeland issues that covered numerous weed species and the ecology of numerous native plant species. Their biggest challenge though was dealing with the highly invasive annual grass cheatgrass. R. A. Evans reported that as little as 4 cheatgrass plants/ft² can outcompete our most competitive perennial grasses. R. E. Eckert reported on the technologies of chemical and mechanical treatments to decrease the cheatgrass seed banks and competition from emerging cheatgrass seedlings to allow perennial grasses the opportunity to get established and suppress cheatgrass. J. A. Young reported on the ability of cheatgrass seed to acquire a dormancy, build persistent seed banks, and germinate at a wider range of constant and alternating temperatures than other more desirable plant materials. These researchers contributed so extensively to the management of Great Basin rangelands they became one of the leading range research units in the western United States. R. A. Evans and R. E. Eckert retired in 1986 and were replaced by R. R. Blank, soil scientist, to research the many soil questions limiting Great Basin environments including the affect of wildfire on soil properties. W. S. Longland, animal ecologist, was hired by to research the influence of granivorous rodents on seed and seedbed ecology in Great Basin environments. C. D. Clements was hired shortly thereafter and worked closely with J. A. Young on the rehabilitation of degraded Great Basin communities, continuing after Dr. Young’s retirement in 2007. The current Great Basin Rangelands Research Unit added K. A. Snyder, Eco-hydrologist, M. A. Weltz, Rangeland Management Specialist, and B. G. Rector, Entomologist, to the Research Unit during the time of Dr. Young’s retirement. The Great Basin Rangelands Research Unit has produced more than 1,200 publications addressing a variety of ecological issues throughout the Great Basin. The Great Basin Rangelands Research Unit is still directed to conduct research and provide applicable solutions to challenging issues confronting Great Basin rangeland ecosystems and to provide management guidelines, technologies, and practices for conserving and rehabilitating Great Basin rangelands as well as the development of tools and techniques to assess the effectiveness of these management actions.