UNION - On Saturday, Sept. 22, Oregonians in this northeastern Oregon town will celebrate a political squabble between eastern and western Oregon a century ago that changed the face of the entire state.
A noon barbecue and an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center's Union Station will observe the centennial of the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station's branch station network.
The Union station, established in 1901, was the first facility in what has grown into a web of 11 branch experiment stations that conduct research linked to localized economic, geographic and climatic conditions around the state.
Facilities in the network are located at Aurora, Portland, Hermiston, Medford, Hood River, Pendleton, Klamath Falls, Ontario, Madras, Burns and Newport. There also are divisions of some of those branch stations at Moro, Powell Butte, Astoria and Union, which in 1982 became part of the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, headquartered at Burns.
Many of the crops produced in Oregon during the 20th century, and many of the methods used to grow them, came from collaboration among scientists at the branch stations, farmers, ranchers and extension agents, according to Thayne Dutson, director of the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station and dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The Agricultural Experiment Station, operated with state, federal and grant funds, is the primary research organization supporting Oregon's $3.5 billion-a-year agriculture industry. It also operates a branch on the coast for the fishing and seafood industry and a "Food Innovation Center" in downtown Portland that helps Oregonians add value to their crops with product development.
Tim DelCurto, an animal scientist who is the superintendent of OSU's Union station, explained how the first branch station was created: In 1887, said DelCurto, the U.S. Congress decided to give each state and territory $15,000 a year to operate an agricultural experiment station. The strategy was modeled after a much-admired European research system.
Oregon's experiment station emerged at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis (which later became OSU). By 1889, citizens of eastern Oregon were pushing for their own agricultural college. Western Oregon resisted.
The bickering continued through the turn of the century. Then in 1901 Oregon Gov. T.T. Geer proposed that the legislature set up an industrial college at Union, a thriving community near the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains. Regents of Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis opposed the idea.
Later that year the factions compromised. With $10,000 from the legislature, Oregon Agricultural College set up a facility at Union. They called it the "state experiment station," but for all practical purposes it was a branch of the main experiment station in Corvallis, according to DelCurto.
During the 20th century the network of branch research stations churned out a steady stream of new crops and farming methods, according to Thayne Dutson, OSU's dean of agriculture.
Challenges in the 21st century, he speculated, will link to issues such as increasing global competition, shifting markets, water quality and quantity, demands for more effective and environmentally friendly pest and disease control, concern about threatened plants and animals, and steeply rising farming, processing and transportation costs linked to skyrocketing energy prices.
"I stand in awe of what has been accomplished by the branch stations in the first century for the benefit of Oregon citizens," said Dutson, "and I believe these accomplishments will be magnified in the next 100 years."