Dryland roots: WSU Lind station looks back on century

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

LIND, Wash. – The Washington State University Dryland Research Station will celebrate its 100th anniversary at the annual Lind Field Day on Thursday, June 11.

With six faculty and staff, the Lind station is small. But as the driest state or federal dryland agriculture research facility in the United States – it averages 9.52 inches of annual precipitation – it has made many contributions to dryland farming in its first century.

Station’s roots established

Wheat farming began in the drylands of Washington in the early 1880s. Immigrants arrived from America’s Midwest, northern and central Europe, and Russia – notably Volga Germans leaving the czar’s empire with hopes of better lives in the United States.

Claiming 160 acres per adult under the Homestead Act, pioneers had much to learn about farming in the semiarid inland Pacific Northwest. Settlers found little rain in summer and soil prone to wind erosion.

“Some back-to-back drought years in the early 1900s were particularly tough,” said Bill Schillinger, WSU professor and director of the Lind station. “Crops were poor and zero-visibility dust storms were regularly reported in regional newspaper accounts.”

Farmers and landlords wanted research-based knowledge about how to survive in such a dry, harsh climate. An agriculture experimental station had been founded at State College of Washington in Pullman, but the need was clear for research in areas receiving less than 12 inches of annual precipitation.

When Adams County stepped up, deeding 320 acres to the college, the Lind Dryland Research Station was launched on April 1, 1915.

Research addresses problems

Over the century, WSU researchers have worked with farmers to solve the challenges of the drylands. Yield numbers tell the story of success.

Superintendent Walter Nelson uses a nursery combine to cut a row of wheat at the Dryland Experiment Station in 1958. (Photo from MASC, WSU Libraries)

In 1915, the average winter wheat yield after a year of fallow in Adams County was 10 bushels per acre. Today, it is 50 bushels. The increase is due to breeding, machinery, soil and residue management, fertilizer and weed and disease control practices – all driven by research.

“This region is truly unique. Farmers plant winter wheat deeper than anywhere else in the world,” said Schillinger, whose research program focuses on soil and residue management, wheat physiology and alternative crops. WSU wheat breeders developed varieties that can push through five inches of soil to make a healthy start.

Lind researchers addressed wind erosion with conservation tillage methods that result in equal or greater grain yields than traditional practices.

“The key is to leave ample year-round residue cover on the soil and do as little tillage as feasible during fallow periods,” said Schillinger.

Reality check

Farmers and Lind researchers have remained staunch allies as they promote priorities in the field, at WSU and in the legislative capitals of Olympia, Wash., and Washington, DC.

Agricultural research technician John Jacobsen and technical assistant Steve Schofstoll harvest wheat at the Lind station. (WSU photo)

“There are wheat varieties that look great at Pullman and pretty good at Dusty,” said Mark Schoesler, state senator and dryland wheat farmer. “But if you bring it to Lind, and it doesn’t die, you probably have a winner.

“Lind is the real-world test,” he said. “It’s a reality check.”

Schoesler’s family has farmed wheat in the Ritzville, Wash., area since the 1880s. Family members are strong supporters of the station and put up seed money in 1996 to create the Lind Dryland Research Station Endowment that permanently funds the center.

Attending Lind Field Day has always been part of being a dryland farmer, said Schoesler.

“We’ve survived for 100 years with local and state support,” he said. “That we’ve persevered is a real tribute to the wheat industry and WSU.”

Only volcano canceled field day

The Lind Field Day has been held every year since 1916 with one exception: 1980, following the Mount St. Helens eruption on May 18 that covered the area with 5 inches of heavy ash.

The 2015 field day will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 11, at the station, 781 E. Experiment Station Rd., Lind, Wash. Tours, presentations and lunch are included. Learn more at https://archive.news.wsu.edu/2015/05/13/wsu-research-station-centennial-to-be-celebrated-at-june-11-lind-field-day/#.VWS1t1VViko.

Visit http://lindstation for more information, including downloads of major publications from research conducted at Lind and in farmers’ fields during the past 100 years.


Bill Schillinger, WSU Dryland Research Station, 509-235-1933, william.schillinger@wsu.edu