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State of Success: Oregon

Guest Author
Heidi Happonen, Oregon State University 

To celebrate National Oregon Day on March 8, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting the innovative NIFA-funded research conducted by Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.   

Apple pickers at Sherman Orchard in Hood River Valley. Photo from Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries.
Apple pickers at Sherman Orchard in Hood River Valley. Photo from Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries.

Historical Background 

Oregon is unmatched in the diversity of its agricultural and environmental landscape—from rugged coastlines to lush valleys across high deserts—and the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University is OUT THERE, connecting scientific discovery to communities and industries that rely on those insights. In addition to dozens of research labs and institutes on campus, the college has 14 agricultural experiment station locations across the state. 

This statewide system of research stations has a rich history. It began in 1887 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Hatch Act, which provided annual funds for agricultural research stations at Land-grant Colleges in each state and territory. The first Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station was built in Union, Oregon, in 1888. Since then, the system has grown with strategic locations around the state that support industry and communities, while addressing environmental issues specific to each region.  

Together, a network of more than 400 scientists in 28 academic disciplines strive to improve quality of life, environmental sustainability and economic development in rural and urban communities across Oregon and beyond. These stations are the engine of science working every day to make tomorrow better for everyone. 

The Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station is the research arm of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Successes and Innovations 

In 1868, the young state of Oregon was granted land to sell for its Land-grant College. Two years later, the first class graduated from Oregon's new Agricultural College. Meanwhile, the Oregon Trail was delivering thousands of newcomers to Oregon. 

The Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station was established to help newcomers farm these new lands. 

At first, professors from the Oregon Agricultural College reached far-flung rural communities by horseback or train. To meet the demand for locally specific research, the college-built branch experiment stations where researchers lived and worked on modern technologies for rural communities. 

These researchers were soon joined by agents of the new Oregon State Extension Service. 

Together, they helped to mobilize food and fiber production during World War One. After the war, Extension adopted wartime radio for peacetime broadcasts of farm reports and home economics. 

As farming diversified, the college established new branch Experiment stations to investigate sustainable agriculture from the desert to the sea.  

Here are a few highlights from over the years:  

In Newport, the Hatfield Marine Science Center housed the nation's first Marine Experiment Station, the first Marine Extension agent, and the nation's premier Marine Mammal Research Institute. 

OSU scientists were instrumental in developing science-based plans to restore biodiversity to federal forests and waterways as the global population reached six billion. 

When a stretch of the Portland Harbor was declared a Superfund site, OSU environmental toxicologists waded into the problems posed by industrial chemicals. Their work using zebrafish led to new discoveries, including the invention of a simple wristband to monitor a person's exposure to more than a thousand environmental toxins. 

OSU plant breeders continue to push quality foods and beverages into the future, from new hops and barley to a seaweed that tastes like bacon. Food science students, mentored by industry leaders, took on the world with award-winning, student-made beer and cheese. 

At Oregon State University, we're working to help the world feed itself, conserve the world's resources, protect human health, and create sustainable industries. It's a big job, and we've been doing it for more than one hundred and fifty years. 

NIFA-Funded Research 

NIFA-funded research is critical to meeting the diverse needs of Oregon and its agricultural commodities spanning 9 climactic zones, from the Pacific Ocean to the high desert. This is increasingly important as we strive to combat environmental, social and economic issues related to climate change including wildfires, drought, disease, and access to challenged food systems.  

Unique Agricultural Challenges 

As a densely diverse agricultural and natural resource-based economy, Oregon is home to more than 220 agricultural commodities. More than 531,000 jobs are associated with the agriculture, food and fiber industry with a total farmgate production of $5.5 billion and overall economic impact from the food system of $42 billion. It is a part of our culture and our values in Oregon. Ninety-five percent of our farmland is family held and 60 percent of all private land in Oregon is used for farming. In addition, the global reach of our agricultural system continues to grow, with exports up 25 percent since 2015. 

Future Research 

Without the partnership of NIFA, Oregon State University and the Agricultural Experiment station would not be able to meet the diverse needs of the state and all who live here. As our ag experiment stations are embedded in communities across the state, we meet the challenges of facing Oregonians every day as the engine of science that makes tomorrow better for everyone.  

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products
Agriculture systems and technology
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health
U.S. States and Territories

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