Celebrating Legacy: Leading the way for Agriculture

October 04, 2023

In 1908, a bill was introduced into the United States Congress to transfer property, land and buildings to the State of Minnesota for the purpose of establishing a school of agriculture and experiment station. The bill was passed and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. A similar bill was introduced and passed by the Minnesota Legislature, and in 1910, the West Central School of Agriculture (WCSA) began alongside the West Central Experiment Station (later renamed the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC)).

WCSA Students were educated in agriculture, gardening, livestock management, carpentry, homemaking methods, and core academic instruction. Experimental research took place in the areas of agronomy, horticulture, and animal husbandry. Several of the WCSA class instructors also served as lead WCROC researchers as they explored horticultural and agronomic crops, improving poultry breeding, dairy and beef crossbreeding, swine nutrition, and sheep management.  

Even as early as 1922, WCROC researchers were evaluating various fertilizers for maximum crop performance and improving swine litter size by carefully selecting sires. Evaluation of fruiting trees helped in the development of Minnesota’s favorite apple, the Honeycrisp.

“In the early days of the WCROC, we all had the desire to find ways to improve production for area farmers. A big part of utilizing knowledge was to work side-by-side with farmers so they could learn from us, and us from them,” reported Harley Hanke, WCROC Animal Scientist from 1956-1986. “There was never a time that I thought ‘that’s as good as we can do’, we always seemed to think there should be something better.”

While the agricultural landscape looks a lot different now than it did in 1910, the spirit of discovery and the pursuit of agricultural innovation remains, thanks to the time and talents of those who paved the way for us: Sam Evans, Wes Gray, Harley Hanke, Dennis Johnson, Les Lindor, Dennis Warnes, and numerous others. Their ambition, passion and desire to aid farmers remain at the core of our work today.  

Sam Evans was the soil scientist from 1963-1995. Wes Gray led the horticulture program from 1948-1988. Harley Hanke was an animal scientist from 1956-1986. Dennis Johnson served as the dairy scientist from 1968-2010. Les Lindor was an agricultural engineer from 1949-1986, and Dennis Warnes lead the agronomic research from 1969-1995. Combined, these outstanding leaders provided over 200 years of dedicated service to advancing innovation in agriculture, which we proudly embody in our current work.

Today, research at the WCROC focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural production while enhancing productivity. This includes innovations such as installing biofilters that improve air quality, developing “green” anhydrous ammonia from renewable sources, and using agrivoltaics to harvest the sun twice. Our livestock research examines various housing systems for both indoor and outdoor living, nutrition for improved herd performance, and the use of precision technologies. 

Agriculture in Minnesota is diverse, creating complex challenges that require innovative solutions. We approach these challenges from multiple angles – economic, social, environmental, and beyond. We look toward the future to solve tomorrow’s problems and bring that knowledge directly to the people of Minnesota. These dedicated agricultural researchers and educators have all left us but their impact on WCROC staff and facilities is still very much alive, not to mention the lasting impression they made within alumni of the WCSA, the community, and greater agricultural region. The pioneer legends of our past guide us and give us inspiration for the future!