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Growing good ideas for 100 years

On Oct. 20 the College’s Spooner Agricultural Research Station will
celebrate its 100th birthday and commemorate a milestone in the
history of Wisconsin agriculture.

Founded in 1909, the Spooner station was the UW’s first
permanent branch research station — the beginning of a network of
stations established across Wisconsin to facilitate research under a
variety of growing conditions. By 1923 the university also had
stations at Ashland, Marshfield, Hancock and Sturgeon Bay. Today it
operates 11 off-campus stations, some in cooperation with USDA, on
about 8,000 acres across the state.

The public is invited to visit the Spooner station from 1–4 p.m. on
Tuesday, Oct. 20 to join in the celebration and learn about its
history and accomplishments.

When it established the Spooner operation, the university had been
operating an experimental farm on the Madison campus for 40 years. But
as farming took hold in the upper half of the state, it became
apparent that lessons learned on southern Wisconsin’s prairie soils
didn’t always apply up north, where the season was shorter and soils
ranged from light sand to heavy clay.

So, as directed by the state legislature, the university set out to
open branch stations on soils that were “materially different from
that which obtains at the central station in Madison,” noted Harry L.
Russell, Dean of the university’s College of Agriculture, in his 1910
annual report.

About 230 miles north of Madison, the Spooner site consisted of 80
acres of sandy soils and jack pine forest representative of more than
2 million acres of northern Wisconsin.

“An attempt will be made…to see if lands of this character cannot be
handled in such as way as to make them more productive…where present
methods of farming largely result in a quick depletion of the low
initial fertility of these soils,” Russell wrote.

A year later, the trees had been cut, the stumps cleared, the ground
broken, and “an 80-bushel corn crop produced on manured clover sod,”
Russell reported.

Since then the facility has grown to 383 acres and has been home to a
wide array of crop and livestock research, says Phil Holman, the
station’s superintendent. It also serves as a regional education
center. Both UW-Madison and UW-Extension educators are based there.

Early on Spooner researchers produced lines of open-pollinated corn,
oats and soybeans that were widely adopted. In 1923, they began work
that yielded 80- and 85-day hybrids that helped make corn an important
crop in northern Wisconsin and other areas with short growing seasons.
At the end of World War II, Spooner staff were overseeing the
production of hybrid foundation seed corn grown on up to 3,700 acres
in the area.

Today the agronomic program has been expanded to look at crops such as
canola, sunflowers, and switchgrass for biofuel

Sheep research began at Spooner in 1936 and has ranged from pasture
studies to introduction of the Targhee breed to Wisconsin. The station
has hosted an annual sheep field day for 57 years, and in 1995 it
began what quickly became the nation’s leading dairy sheep research
program.

The program on Oct. 20 will feature remarks by Molly Jahn, Dean of the
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, as well as
presentations by station staff on the milestones in the station’s
history, it’s current work and plans for the future.

The Spooner Station is located just east of Spooner on Highway 70. For
more information, contact the station at (715) 635-3735.

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