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History of Spillman Agronomy Farm


The Spillman Agronomy Farm is located on 382 acres five miles southeast of Pullman, WA in the midst of the rich Palouse soils. In the fall of 1955, an initial 222 acres of land were acquired from Mr. and Mrs. Bill Mennet at the arbitrated price of $420 per acre. The money for the original purchase came as the result of a fund drive which raised $85,000 from industry and wheat growers. In addition, $35,000 came from the Washington State University building fund, $11,000 from the State Department of Agriculture, and another $10,000 from the 1955-57 operating budget. A headquarters building, which is 140 feet long and 40 feet wide, was completed in 1956 followed in 1957 by a well that produced 340 gallons per minute. The dedication of the farm and new facilities took place at the Cereal Field Day July 10, 1957.

In 1961, the Agronomy Farm was named Spillman Farm after Dr. William Jasper Spillman (1863-1931), the distinguished geneticist and plant breeder at Washington State University that independently rediscovered Mendel’s Law of Recombination in 1901.

Through the initiative of Dr. Orville Vogel, USDA Wheat Breeder at WSU, and the dedicated efforts of many local people, arrangements were made to acquire an additional 160 acres north of the headquarters building in the fall of 1961. This purchase was financed jointly by the Washington Wheat Commission and Washington State University. The newly acquired 160 acres was contiguous with the original 222 acres and became an integral part of the Spillman Agronomy Farm.

Facility updates to Spillman Agronomy Farm include: (1) a 100- by 40 foot machine storage addition built in 1981, (2) in 1968, the Washington Wheat Commission provided funds for a sheaf storage facility and at the same time (3) the Washington Dry Pea and Lentil Commission provided $25,000 to build a similar facility for the pea and lentil materials. The facilities of the Spillman Agronomy Farm now range in value well over a half million dollars.

Development of Spillman Agronomy Farm was always focused with proper land use in mind. A conservation farm plan which includes roads, terraces, steep slope plantings, and roadside seedings has been in use since the farm was purchased. In addition, current breeders are utilizing the acreage to develop cropping systems that will include opportunities to include organic, perennial and biotechnological components in cereal and legume breeding programs.

On July 7, 2005, over 330 people attended a special 50th Anniversary Field Day at Spillman Agronomy Farm that included three faculty/staff that were present at the July 10, 1957 dedication: Dr. Robert Nilan (WSU Barley Breeder), Dr. Cal Konzak (WSU Wheat Breeder), Dr. Robert Allan (USDA/ARS Wheat Geneticist) and Carl Muir (Tech Supervisor, WSU Barley Breeding Program). Dr. Allan also presented the keynote luncheon address at the 50th Anniversary Field Day and reaffirmed the significance of Spillman Agronomy Farm in his opening remarks:  “The importance of Spillman Farm will not diminish as time passes. Multimillion dollar structures on campus will not replace its (Spillman Agronomy Farm) vital role in crop development.”

The Spillman Agronomy Farm continues to exemplify the vision of public and private cooperation that has become the ‘home’ for cereal and pulse crop research and development at Washington State University for over 50 years.