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Feature   |  Fall 2007

A century of progress

Advances in technology and crop genetics mark 100 years of agronomy

There have been many landmark developments in the past century that reflect the agronomy department's contribution to agriculture, ranging from the expected—more bushels per acre—to the unexpected—advancing medical research.

20th-century evolution

In the first half of the 20th century, research taking place on the Purdue campus could seem light years away from the isolated farms around the state. Purdue Extension specialists had to find creative ways to get information to these farmers. An early solution was to use trains and mobile laboratories. Two Extension specialists traveled the state in trains, lecturing and demonstrating crop practices at each stop.

The trains carried passenger coaches, arranged for lectures to teach selection, testing and preparation
men in train
In the early 1900s, Purdue Extension trains traveled around Indiana so that specialists could tell farmers about new research findings. At this stop in Portland, Ind., W.F. Graham updates local farmers on the European corn borer.
of seed corn. Crowds of farmers flocked to the trains and filled the coaches, eager to see and hear the latest on farm technologies. The Extension trains traversed the state from 1905-1947. Later, a different team started traveling with a portable trailer to Indiana county fairs to do soil testing for local farmers.

In the second half of the century, Purdue researchers were among those who found ways to use outer space to benefit agricultural production on Earth. Scientists from the Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing (LARS), formed in 1966, helped develop methods to analyze satellite imagery, which assists in estimating crop production, soil mapping and watershed issues, such as drainage patterns, soil erosion, water contamination and flooding.

The Department of Agronomy has also been part of a NASA-funded research project to invent ways to make life on Mars possible. "One of the bigger challenges that will prevent human habitation on the moon or Mars is having a constant source of water," says Professor of Agronomy Jeff Volenec. "For four to six astronauts to go to Mars, water is precious stuff." Volenec has been testing plants to identify ones that can grow in processed waste. Water would then be reclaimed from the plants.



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