C. H. Pearson, H.M. Golus, and R.W. Hammon
The Fruita Research Center is operated under the direction of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) and is one of ten such research centers located throughout Colorado. Research centers are located in major geographic regions of the State and conduct research on topics and issues that are of agricultural interest in the region. Personnel at these centers have a wide range of agriculturally-related experience and expertise. The Fruita Research Center conducts agronomic and entomological research throughout west central and northwest Colorado. Research results are intended for this region; however, some of the results are applicable to other regions, states, and countries.
The mountains and valleys of western Colorado create unique environments that permit farming in many locations. Because of the unique conditions in these locations, farming practices must be suited to these environments. Site- and situation-specific agronomic research is essential to develop technologies that are appropriate for these unique environments. The mission of the CAES is to focus and support research leading to an agriculture that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable. The central focus of the research at the Fruita Research Center is to plan, implement, and conduct agronomic research programs that address the broad needs of agriculture in western Colorado.
Educational meetings and events are sponsored by the University and other agencies and organizations in which CAES personnel have the opportunity to inform people about the latest developments in crop production and alert them to production problems and current management situations. Biennial field days are conducted at the Research Center in which growers, agribusiness representatives, government agencies, colleagues, and friends can tour research in-progress, ask questions, and learn about new techniques for agriculture. Special tours, both at the Research Center and at off-station locations where farmer-cooperator research is situated, are conducted for growers, clubs, students and faculty, agribusiness representatives, industry groups, college/high school classes, and others. These tours are organized to meet their particular needs and interests. Community events, such as farm and ranch days, are popular attractions for the public and provide Research Center personnel with unique opportunities to interact with non-agricultural peoples. Publications, phone calls, and personal conversations also serve to relay information to interested persons.
Over the years at the Fruita Research Center, research has been conducted on a wide range of agronomic topics including: development and evaluation of various crops, soil fertility, salinity management, conservation tillage, integrated pest management, weed control and herbicide use, new and alternative crops, specialty crops, crop production efficiency, and evaluation of agricultural products and inputs. The regional advisory/outreach committee, which consists of farmers, agribusiness, and other interested individuals helps to identify needs, problems, and opportunities, and the committee offers direction for conducting research to obtain the desired information.
The Fruita Research Center is located in the Grand Valley of Mesa County, two miles northeast of the City of Fruita, Colorado. At an elevation of about 4500 feet, the area receives from 8 to 12 inches of annual rainfall with an annual frost-free season of up to 175 days. The average annual daily minimum and maximum temperatures are 41°F and 64°F, respectively. Many soils in the area formed in residuum that weathered from sandstone or shale. Some soils formed in alluvium that was derived from sandstone and shale deposited in the major valleys and on bordering uplands.
The CAES and the Fruita Research Center, along with support from local governments, agencies, private companies, and other organizations, have sought to be responsive to the agricultural needs in western and northwest Colorado by conducting agronomic research that provides answers to related problems and identifies new opportunities for growers, while at the same time making agriculture more profitable and sustainable.
The proposed objectives of the research were to establish drainage to lower the 2-4 foot water table and to evaluate subsequent leaching, irrigation, and cultural cropping treatments designed to restore productivity to the land. The Grand Junction Drainage District, the Lower Valley Soil Conservation District, and Mesa County actively participated in project costs as well as installation of a 52-foot deep well at the intersection of the two sites. Mesa County became the first county in the state to actively support local research with supplemental funding.
Following preliminary work dating to 1945, plans for agronomic/salinity management research in western Colorado were initiated in 1949 by the CAES and the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Soil Conservation Service. Two side-by-side research sites at Bethel Corners, located approximately four miles northwest of Grand Junction, were selected to represent local moderate and severe saline/sodic soil conditions.
The expanded scope of the research now included the addition of a resident CSU agronomist to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the project and resources were allocated to establish both the leaching/forage production plots and a crop rotation/fertility study. This formal administrative structure provided the basis for the current Fruita Research Center. New research proposals from the CSU Department of Agricultural Engineering were initiated to deal with the unique Grand Valley hydrological problems related to seepage, drainage, and salt loading into the Colorado River, and at the same time the CAES launched new research into other agronomic areas.
In 1964, the Fruita Unit was established near Fruita in an area representing mainstream irrigated Grand Valley agriculture. An arrangement utilizing 40 acres of leased land from the farmer, Leslie Gosnell, provided researchers with field-lab facilities and additional farming resources. The research emphasis now included crop variety testing of corn, alfalfa, small grains, sorghum, dry beans, and tomatoes, soil fertility studies, and evaluation of sugarbeet cultural practices. To better serve the larger segment of western Colorado agriculture, similar research was expanded to grower fields at Delta, Olathe, and Montrose and to dryland sites at Rifle, Meeker, Craig, and Hayden for small grain and alfalfa variety trials. These off-station projects allowed Research Center staff greater opportunity to interact directly with CSU Cooperative Extension personnel and growers throughout the region.