For more than 125 years, the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES) has provided scientific research to support Alabama's agricultural industries and businesses and to benefit Alabama citizens. AAES is headquartered at Auburn University, one of Alabama's three land-grant universities; it includes units of the Colleges of Agriculture, Sciences and Mathematics, Human Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences as well as several outlying research units. Historically, these outside facilities, located in 16 counties throughout the state, have hosted the majority of AAES research. In recent decades, AAES has added a number of research laboratories at both Auburn University and the outlying units.
The agricultural experiment station that would become AAES was created on February 23, 1883, by an act of the Alabama State Legislature that called for the establishment of an agricultural farm, or station, where experiments in "scientific agriculture" could be conducted. The Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Alabama Polytechnic Institute and now Auburn University) campus had operated a small demonstration farm as a teaching laboratory for agricultural classes since the land-grant college was established in 1872. In 1883 the college purchased land for additional farm research plots with funds from fertilizer testing, also mandated by the act. In 1887, when the U.S. Congress passed the Hatch Act to provide annual funding to each state for an agricultural research station, AAES expanded to include cooperating farms in a program created to test different mixes of fertilizers and crop cultivation practices on the variety of soils found across the state.
AAES's main focus during its early years was to find practical aids to cotton cultivation. The research carried out on cotton included experiments on fertilizers, cotton varieties, diseases, insects, and, to a limited extent, economics and marketing. In 1896 AAES initiated a study of long-term, sustainable cotton-cropping systems. It was the first experiment in the nation to demonstrate the benefits of rotating cotton with other crops. Known as the Old Rotation, this project continues to be carried out on the same plots on the Auburn University campus. (The Old Rotation fields were placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1988.) At the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, an exhibit of the AAES's program on cotton research earned a silver medal. In 1916, another notable accomplishment occurred when agricultural engineering gained national attention with the development of the widely adopted, erosion-controlling "Nichols" terrace design.
AAES faced a host of new challenges during the first half of the twentieth century: the boll weevil invasion of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, and the special demands of World War II in the 1940s. During this period, AAES created a system of outlying research units throughout the state to link research more directly to unique local conditions in specific areas of Alabama.
AAES researchers made several significant connections between vitamins and human health during the 1940s. They isolated vitamin G, which later became known as vitamin B2 or riboflavin and which is a key nutrient in the pellagra complex; determined that a deficiency in choline, a vitaminlike compound, played a role in the development of cancerous tumors; and showed that a deficiency of B vitamins increased the risk of developing cataracts.
The Great Depression brought marketing and consumer concerns to the forefront and fostered research into ways to expand markets by diversifying crops. Agricultural engineering, fisheries, forestry, and livestock research helped promote diversification, and by 1950 more than half of farm income in Alabama was from enterprises other than cotton.
In the last half of the twentieth century, AAES expanded research on cotton, peanuts, pest prevention, beef cattle, poultry, and wildlife conservation. In 1953, AAES researchers released "Auburn 56," a variety of cotton that is resistant to destructive worms called nematodes and a number of different damaging fungal diseases. Auburn 56 was the top cotton variety in the nation for almost a decade after its release and remains a variety standard that plant breeders use as a baseline for their research.
During the 1960s, AAES helped establish the South's catfish industry through its research on production methods, feeds, fish-waste management, fish breeding, and processing technology. Today, the catfish industries in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana account for 95 percent of domestic catfish production.
In 1978, AAES opened the E. V. Smith Agricultural Research Facility, a 3,200-acre tract near Shorter in Macon County, to host agronomic and horticultural research and to serve as a center for beef and dairy cattle field work. The facility was named in honor of E. V. Smith, director of AAES from 1951 to 1972 and former dean of the Auburn University College of Agriculture. Cost efficiency became increasingly important for the survival of farms, and in response AAES produced studies on multi-cropping, reduced tillage, proper timing of fertilizer and pesticide applications, and more efficient methods of feeding livestock, poultry, and fish.
In the 1980s and 1990s, AAES research programs broadened to recognize the need for research on problems closer to the consumer and of major concern to the general public. Non-farming AAES research projects included such widely varying topics as clothing and textiles, biology and cell systems, wildlife and fisheries management, housing and equipment, social and political organization, environmental protection, and human nutrition.
During the early years of the twenty-first century, AAES has continued research on cultivation practices, management of pests
and diseases, and variety selection. In addition, AAES is engaged in research related to food, food safety and security, and
nutrition; agricultural biosecurity, bioenergy, and bioproducts; the environment and climate change; and water and other natural resources. Working closely with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, AAES is developing and disseminating
technologies to make Alabama's agribusinesses sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace.
Highlights of Agricultural Research 30 (Spring 1988).
Kerr, Norwood Allen. A History of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, 1883-1983. Auburn: Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, 1985.
Yeager, Joe, and Gene Stevenson. Inside Ag Hill: The People and Events that Shaped Auburn's Agricultural History from 1872 through 1999. Auburn: Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, 2000.
Published June 13, 2009
Last updated December 8, 2011