The general public is blissfully unaware of how much science is involved in agriculture and how science defines the industry. With the essential importance of agriculture in almost every economic system in the world, science began to drive the industry using genetics and chemistry to increase productivity. With the Hatch Act of 1887, U.S. government investment in agricultural science soon was greater than privately funded research.
One of the most important agricultural science initiatives in the United States was the development of the Shafter Cotton Research Station founded in 1922 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The station was originally created to establish California’s cotton industry by creating specialized high-quality cotton varieties and then developing new markets. Nearly 100 years later the station is still in operation and providing important data and information to farmers in our region and all over the world.
The most important part of thecotton story in Kern County though,was the arrival of W. B. Camp to California. Originally from South Carolina, Camp attended Clemson University where he studied agronomy and worked in the USDA Cotton Breeding Office. As luck would have it, Camp transferred to California in 1917 with the USDA to develop a long-staple cotton supply for the wing coverings of airplanes for the war effort. Soon Camp developed a reputation for hard work, determination and innovation.
Camp’s initial work at the Shafter Cotton Research Station started with nearly 100 different varieties of cotton from around the world. Camp initially settled on the long-staple Egyptian Pima Cotton and went into production actually creating successful crops during World War I. With the end of the war, Camp advocated for expanding the cotton industry in California with his leadership role within the USDA.
Camp’s research in Shafter soon created a switch from Pima cotton to the Acala #8 variety. Camp also pushed for mechanized ginning and brought in specialists from around the country to adapt ginning to the new cotton strain. Camp also advocated for “one variety” legislation that made Acala cotton the only cotton grown in California. He was fearful of cross contamination and felt that the single strain would boost the new industry. Under Camp’s leadership, the Shafter Station would dominant cotton research for years to come and created a successful cotton industry in the Western United States.
In June of 2012, the USDA withdrew their support for the Shafter Cotton Research Station. Knowing the value of the ongoing research to the industry, the San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton Growers Association took over the operation of the facility. This change helped move the station from single focused research to diversified research in several different areas, including orchard crops.
If you visit the Shafter Research Station today, you will find a 20 acre highly organized campus with more than 20 buildings and 60 acres of experimental plot land. The land is equipped with permanent underground irrigation with a dedicated well and surface water from the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District. The station is offering short term licenses and multi-year subleases including green house space and laboratory space to universities and private ag corporations.
One other big plus that W. B. Camp would have appreciated are the college interns from C.S.U. Bakersfield and the Kern Community College District. These interns receive hands on field training and conduct important research that directly benefits international agriculture. The California FARMS Foundation is based at the Shafter Station and helps to connect the dots with major universities and major agricultural firms. The foundation does accept members who support the goals of the Shafter Station and the foundation’s mission. Visit www.calfarms.org/how-to-help for more information. If you would like to visit the Shafter Station, call 661-237-0900 in advance…it is a secure facility. And thank you to Station staff for all of the information on this critically important institution in our very own county!