History of USDA Pecan Breeding Program
Tommy E. Thompson
The pecan research activities of the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA, formerly the Bureau of Plant Industry, in Texas date back to July 1, 1930, when an appropriation for this work was obtained through the efforts of Congressman J. P. Buchanan of Brenham.
The original headquarters for this new U.S. Pecan Research Laboratory was located on the "Little Campus" of the University of Texas in Austin. An orchard developed from native trees and owned by Dr. J. E. Pearce of the University was leased for experimentation. This orchard was poorly suited for research projects, and Dr. Traub, who was in charge of this research, soon began looking for something better. He found a desirable site along the Pecan Bayou which could be irrigated from Lake Brownwood, and was owned by the City of Brownwood. A contract was arranged with the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Brownwood by which this property became available for long-term use as a pecan experiment station. This contract was revised several times in later years.
The first buildings on the Station were a small office and laboratory, a machine shed, and a residence for the technician. They were erected in the summer of 193l. About 35 acres were planted to pecan trees in the spring of 1932 and 30 acres more in 1933. At several times, in later years, additional trees were planted.
After the orchard at Brownwood had become well established, plans were made to move the headquarters from Austin to Brownwood. At this time, another branch of the Bureau of Plant Industry wished to do work at Brownwood. To accommodate both Pecan Research and Deciduous Fruit Investigations, the acreage to be used was increased and the present office and laboratory building was put in, as well as another machine shed. Transfer of equipment and personnel from Austin to the new headquarters was in August 1938.
Although the Brownwood Station was established primarily for pecan research, there was a period of years following 1938 during which considerable work was done in Deciduous Fruit Investigation under the direction of Dr. Lee Hutchins, and following him Dr. L. C. Cochran. However, because of the Second World War, the death of the man in local charge of the work, and other reasons, that work was tapered off and finally discontinued.
It should be mentioned also that the Division of Entomology of the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a Pecan Insect Laboratory in Brownwood around 1920. Presence of this Laboratory was probably a factor in getting the Field Station to Brownwood. In 1950 this Insect Laboratory, the personnel and several buildings were moved to the Field Station. Because of the disability retirement of the man in charge, this work was discontinued in 1952.
The City of Brownwood donated 4.79 acres of land and all buildings to the USDA pecan program in 1973. This was accepted by the USDA in 1976.
The Brownwood site was designated as the permanent site for the National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Pecan, Hickories, and Chestnuts in 1978. Also at this time, 79.1 acres adjacent to the station was purchased by USDA for this permanent repository site. This repository originally consisted of pecan cultivars collected from throughout the U.S. that had been used as parents in the breeding program. Currently, this collection is the largest and most complete in the world, containing over 250 cultivars, from 25 states as well as Mexico. The repository also maintains the most complete collection of pecan nut samples in the world for use in cultivar identification. Collections from native pecan populations representing the native range of North America are also maintained and characterized.
In 1987, at the invitation of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas A&M University, an additional work-site was established at College Station on land owned by the Experiment Station. This site was needed to more adequately screen material for disease resistance and more effectively breed for the eastern U.S. pecan industry. Currently, five of the USDA breeding personnel are at this location, with six located at the Brownwood field station.
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