NEVADA AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION

The History of Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station


The Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) have long been a part of Nevada’s tradition. Extending back to the very beginning of the University of Nevada, Reno, CABNR, initially the College of Agriculture, was one of the University’s first schools. The formation of the Experiment Station was an early effort at the University as well.

The need for agricultural programs in Nevada was not clear-cut to many at first. With desert topography, low humidity and short growing seasons, Nevada’s landscapes were considered sub-marginal. Land grant institutions like the University of Nevada were enabled by Congress to set up agricultural experiment stations with the passing of the Hatch Act in 1887. Agricultural experiment stations undertook research that helped form the basis of scientific education in horticulture, forestry and other agriculture-related fields, thereby promoting and supporting Nevada agriculture.

Morill Hall (1887)
 

In 1888, UNR’s Agricultural Experiment Station began to grow. Money arrived from Washington D.C. as well as bulbs, roots and plants sent by U.S. Senator William Stewart. These roots created a legacy of agricultural research, education and outreach in Nevada.

After building Morrill Hall, the first building on campus, Congress funded a building for the Agricultural Experiment Station. A 60-acre farm on Valley Road was deeded to the University by Washoe County in 1899. This farm, the Valley Road Field Laboratory, allowed for the College’s first opportunity in experimentation. A fire destroyed the first Experiment Station building in 1900, and money was granted for a new one because the importance of the agricultural program to the University had been established.

The relationship between the College and the Experiment Station, however, had not always been one of shared goals and values. It soon became clear that the merger of the two would be very difficult and would have to withstand some opposition. Some felt that agricultural research and instruction should remain separate, not realizing how both the College and the Experiment Station could benefit from one another.
UNR Campus (1930)
 

Growing a Legacy

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 provided federal support for land-grant institutions to offer educational programs to enhance the application of useful and practical information beyond their campuses through extension efforts. The Smith-Lever Act therefore gave life to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) in 1914. UNCE was created to connect the University with rural Nevada and to aid farmers and ranchers. Within its first five years, extension clubs were developed throughout Nevada to encourage young people to start home projects such as gardening, garment making and livestock raising. By 1920, UNCE had 20 staff members and UNCE agents in seven out of 17 counties.

The Depression era deeply affected the University’s agricultural programs. The administrative division between teaching and research along with hard financial times led to an increased need for a university farm for instructional purposes. Food-industry mogul Max Fleischmann stepped in to help. Fleischmann gave UNR a 258-acre dairy farm, one of many gifts he would give to the University. This gift, along with other properties given to the University, allowed field research to benefit farmers and ranchers throughout the state.

Max C. Fleischmann
 

Between 1954 and 1956 Dean John Bertrand and his administration generated significant changes. The Nevada Legislature commissioned a study to look at the administrative structure of the College, Experiment Station and UNCE. Maurice Kelso, then Dean of Agriculture at Montana State University, conducted the study that paved the way for the administrative integration of these three units. Also during Bertrand’s administration, the College received $2.5 million from the Max Fleischmann Foundation of Nevada for the construction and furnishing of an agriculture building as well as a home economics building. Later named for its founder, the Max C. Fleischmann Agriculture Building played a significant role in bringing together the College, Experiment Station and UNCE

Dale Bohmont joined the College in 1963 as the new dean. His challenge was to find a way to integrate the functioning of the College, the Experiment Station and UNCE. Bohmont and his administration worked effectively from 1963 to 1981 to make this transition as smooth as possible, both in terms of funding and faculty assignments.

Federal funding through the Hatch and Smith-Lever Acts was allocated for research and extension service, so it was crucial to keep these funds separate in terms of fiscal accountability—because federal funds could not be commingled with state-appropriated funding. At this time, 90 percent of funds were going to research and extension and only 10 percent toward instruction.

To support the rapid growth in student enrollment, Bohmont made it so that faculty and staff would have joint appointments with the College, Experiment Station and UNCE. This allowed a larger pool of faculty with more diverse expertise to be available for instruction, research and extension programs. Each of the three entities would benefit from the other’s expertise and would be able to collaborate on how to better serve Nevada’s agricultural needs.

Bohmont’s vision proved to be a success. “In an academic setting, instruction is king, but in the fiscal accountability of agriculture, the key connection is the federal resources which historically made the College possible,” Bohmont wrote in his book, Golden Years of Agriculture in Nevada.

Dale W. Bohmont
 
Book Cover

Bernard Jones was hired in 1982 and served as the leader for the College, Experiment Station and UNCE for the next 16 years. During the first 10 years of his term Jones worked on changing the College’s curriculum. Like deans before and after him, Jones considered it important to cater to ever-changing student needs. His administration also saw an increase of nationally competitive grants awarded to faculty.

As one of his biggest accomplishments, Jones developed a strategic plan to concentrate the College’s resources and establish four major areas of emphasis: agribusiness, natural resources and environment, cell and molecular biology and human learning and development. By establishing excellence in these four areas, the College could better grow in academic leadership, national stature and student enrollment.

Bernard Jones, Ph.D.
 

It was vital to expand student curricula with a greater focus on issues agriculture students faced. The College sought to increase enrollment of non-traditional students by adjusting schedules and developing new courses. Students were encouraged to take courses in communications, interpersonal relations, problem solving, critical thinking and other cultures and languages. Jones also wanted to increase the diversity of teaching methods among faculty and put forth opportunities for more student-faculty interaction. These new priority areas were also necessary to address decreasing enrollment the College was experiencing at the time and to train students to be better prepared for the job market.

UNR Fall Registration (1974)
 

The strategic plan played a large role in another area of change with the ever-growing urban population in the state, particularly in Clark County; UNCE began to serve the demands of this urban area. UNCE’s mission became broader than that of the College and Experiment Station in serving Clark County’s educational needs. This helped lay the groundwork for splitting the College and UNCE into two separate units.

A New Era

The Board of Regents of the University and Community College System of Northern Nevada approved Jones’ strategic plan in 1993. It was decided at this meeting that the organizational structure of the College would be consolidated, with the number of its departmental units reduced from seven to four. This followed the strategic plan’s call for a more modern curriculum, efficient use of resources and enhanced national stature of the College.

When Jones stepped down in 1998, then UNR President Joe Crowley appointed two separate deans. David Thawley was hired as the new dean for the College and director of the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station and Karen Hinton was hired as the new dean and director of UNCE. Both were hired to focus on the missions of their separate entities

Soon after Thawley’s arrival, the College of Agriculture changed its name to the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.

“The new name accurately reflects the College’s curriculum and what students of the 21st Century hope to learn from the college,” Thawley said at the time. Thawley felt it was important to have the name of the College reflect a change of the times as well as the ever-changing student body, which expanded to include many biochemistry and pre-veterinary students.

David Thawley, Ph.D., DVM
 

Under the same leadership, the Experiment Station continued to play an integral role with CABNR. Its focus was directed toward the advancement of agriculture through biotechnological development, the preservation and management of natural resources, and the nutritional and social aspects of urban life.