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History of the Noble Research Institute Agricultural Division

Posted Oct. 1, 2007

The Ag News and Views newsletter is marking its 25th anniversary during 2007. What was once a mailed, regional paper publication sent to a few hundred farmers and ranchers is now a trusted agricultural news source distributed to tens of thousands in print and electronic editions. With such an expanded readership, and with some readers having no prior contact with Noble Research Institute, this is an excellent opportunity to tell more about the Noble Research Institute Agricultural Division, the group responsible for this publication.

Beginnings of a Great Institution
Lloyd Noble, a successful Oklahoma oilman, had witnessed the early 20th century decline of his state's agricultural resources as once-fertile grasslands had been devastated through poor farming practices. Failure to rotate crops or control erosion had depleted the soil and culminated in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Noble established the Noble Research Institute in 1945 with a mission to benefit mankind and a priority on improvements to production agriculture and conservation of natural resources.

Ray Dyer, a county extension agent, became the first full-time Noble Research Institute employee in 1946 when he was hired to head the Soil Branch - a group that would later become known as the Agricultural Division. At a downtown Ardmore, Okla., office, area farmers could receive free soil testing and fertilization recommendations, and learn about new farming techniques.

The Early Years
To quickly spread awareness of soil fertility and conservation practices, the new foundation established a series of agricultural contests open to residents of Oklahoma's Carter and Love counties beginning in 1947. The first competitions in cropland improvement and pasture establishment carried top prizes of $250- about $2,900 in today's dollars. The contests proved to be a popular educational tool, drawing hundreds of entrants within the first three years.

Desiring to conduct more original research, the Agricultural Division established an agricultural experiment station agreement in 1951 with Oklahoma A&M University (today's Oklahoma State University). To fulfill this agreement, the Noble Research Institute established a series of research farms, including one on the east side of Ardmore, which would become the organization's permanent headquarters later that year. Research and demonstration on these farms allowed the Agricultural Division to further their educational goals through frequent field days, which hosted more than 2,000 participants each year.

The research arrangement with Oklahoma A&M demonstrated tangible results when the Noble Research Institute released Elbon rye in 1956. This improved grain variety was quickly adopted by many in the cattle industry for its ability to grow in winter when other annual forages would not.

Ray Dyer was the first full-time employee of the Noble Research Institute. He became director of the Agricultural Division in 1958 and was instrumental in the design and implementation of the consultation program.

Agricultural research has remained an important part of the division's activities and today takes place on seven farms with more than 12,000 acres. Research is conducted in conjunction with regional universities, cooperative extension, government agencies and the Noble Research Institute's two scientific divisions - the Plant Biology Division and the Forage Improvement Division.

A New Consultation Program
In 1957, frustrated by the slow pace at which farmers were adopting modern agricultural technology, the Agricultural Division laid the groundwork for a direct farm and ranch consultation program. The program was implemented in 1958, which also corresponded to the Noble Research Institute assuming responsibility for the operations of the organization rather than sharing these with Oklahoma A&M. Originally open only to farmers in eight southern Oklahoma counties, a single four-man consulting team made 180 farm visits, handled 327 office visits from farmers and wrote detailed plans for 12 farms during the first full year of the program.

Although it has evolved over time, the consultation program instituted in 1958 was very similar to the program of today. Participating farmers and ranchers receive ongoing advice from a team of agricultural specialists along with support services such as soil testing and property mapping. The Noble Research Institute has never charged a fee to participating farmers and ranchers for consulting services.

When starting the program, the division had an initial goal of completing 26 farm plans within the eight-county area. Today, the program has more than 1,400 participating property managers in a service area that has expanded to include 47 counties in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas. Much more information about the program, including how to participate, is available at www.noble.org or in the fall 2007 edition of the Noble Research Institute's Legacy magazine.