Established by legislative mandate in 1919 to service research needs, the Prosser Irrigated Research & Extension Center (IAREC) grew with the region as an arm of the Washington Agriculture Experiment Station network. From its original staff of two, an animal scientist and an agronomist, IAREC has led the way in pioneering research that continues today. There are now 18 research and extension scientists and faculty associated with Washington State University at IAREC.
In many respects, IAREC functions like a large academic department, but one that includes faculty and staff trained in a variety of disciplines. Seven academic departments from WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences have faculty members or important programs located at the Center. Interdisciplinary research develops rapidly in this environment, as does interagency work among representatives of the USDA-ARS, WSDA, EPA, and the WSU Agricultural Research Center and Extension. This focus on cooperation in developing solutions, a valued characteristic of IAREC researchers, extends to work with their colleagues on college campuses, at other experimental stations, and within national and international organizations, agencies, and programs.
With the demands of a growing population, especially in the Pacific Northwest, there will be an ever increasing need for greater productivity from the land, diversity in disease resistant crops, and efficiency in the use and conservation of chemical and water resources. As such, the role of IAREC will be significant as the agricultural research arm of the developing WSU presence in the region.
Prior to the start of the 20th century, sage brush and bunch grass along with other drought-tolerant, albeit commercially unviable, plants prevailed in the Yakima Valley when Washington State University (WSU) placed its signature on 200 acres of desert north of the city of Prosser. At the time, using “piped-in” water to grow crops was not yet established, as even the most experienced farmers struggled to master the intricacies of irrigated agriculture.
The Washington State legislature established the Irrigation Branch Experimental Station, in 1917 because of such challenges; however, there was no funding until 1919. Later renamed the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC), it was to assist the state’s then fledging agriculture industry. The first researchers who came to work in this arid environment faced many challenges. The soil lacked such basic nutrients as zinc and nitrogen. Daylong dust storms blanketed crops and topsoil. Weeds not only aggressively competed with newly planted crops, but choked irrigation canals that delivered the region’s most vital resource – water.
Today, more than 75 years later, cooperative research among WSU, USDA-ARS, and WSDA conducted at IAREC is still pioneering unique and innovative developments in irrigated agriculture. Farmers have taken advantage of the results of this work and transformed the arid basin of the southeastern part of Washington State into one of the most fertile and productive regions in the world. The state’s economy benefits from more than $3,000,000,000 of annual revenue generated by more than 60 irrigated crops.