Costs of rootplowing and seeding rangeland, Rio Grande plain

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Costs of rootplowing and seeding rangeland, Rio Grande plain
Boykin, Calvin C.
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College Station, Texas
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Farming ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )


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Full Text


MARCH 1960

SCosts of Root Plowing and Seeding Rangeland,

o Rio Grande Plain

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Map of Texas showing the Rio Grande Plain and the four counties in which this study
was conducted.

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Invasion of woody plant species on the Rio
Grande Plain of Texas has so decreased forage
production that many ranchmen have bought addi-
tional rangeland or have invested in range improve-
ment to maintain or increase family income.

Rootplowing and seeding in the same operation
with the introduced species blue panic and buffel
grasses have, in many instances, produced phe-
nomenal results in brush kill, especially mesquite,
and in successful grass stands.

On the basis of personal interviews with 29
ranchmen in McMullen, LaSalle, Frio and Medina
counties, and additional information from the Soil
Conservation Service, Agricultural Stabilization and
Conservation offices and other sources, a determina-
tion of treatment cost was made.

Ranches in the study ranged from 163 to more
than 18,000 acres, and averaged 2,010 acres. Total
area rootplowed and seeded per ranch ranged from
10 to almost 1,200 acres, with an average of 241
acres. Up to 40 percent of the total acreage was
treated on the smaller ranches; 3 to 5 percent of the
total acreage was treated on the larger ranches.

A common sequence of operation was first to
chain the brush, then rootplow and seed, and defer
grazing on the treatment area. In most instances,
these operations were contracted by local equip-
ment operators. Chaining for the most part had
been done in previous years. The most frequent
contract prices quoted were $3 per acre for chain-
ing, and $10 per acre for rootplowing and seeding.
One dollar per acre was the assigned cost for non-
use of the land for 1 year. In cases of failures to
obtain adequate grass stands, retreatment by use
of a rootrake and attached grass seeder is becoming
widespread. A common contract price for this oper-
ation was $6 per acre plus an assigned cost of $1
per acre for an additional year's deferment.

Of 490 contract operations observed during
1953-58 by range technicians of the Soil Conserva-
tion Service on the six major range sites in the area,
166 grass stands resulted. This made an average
success of 33.9 percent, or a failure of 66.1 percent.
Using the 66.1 percent failure as a risk factor, the
determination was made that treatment, including
chaining, rootplowing and seeding, and range defer-

ment, resulted in a cost of $18.63 per acre. This
figure does not include additional costs of fencing,
water facilities, grubbing and weed control, which
may or may not be necessary. Cost-sharing assist-
ance through the agricultural conservation program
of up to 50 percent of the cost of treatment was
obtained by many of the ranchmen interviewed.

Benefits received from this method of range
improvement vary and many cannot be measured
at this time. Increases in livestock carrying capaci-
ty and in calf weights, fewer insects and reduced
handling costs were reported.

Numerous management problems confront the
ranchman because of the nature of the introduced
grass species and the often limited acreages on
which they occur. Indications are that the areas
rootplowed and seeded successfully can be handled
best as temporary pastures in a manner similar to


Sum m ary ......................... . .. 2
Introduction. ................... ......... .. 3

Purpose .........................
Method of Study .................

. . . . 3
. . . .3

Rootplowing and Seeding ........ .... ....... 3
Chaining ..................................... 4

Rootraking and Seeding ..............
Additional Costs .................
Weed Control ................... .
Deferment................... .....
Fencing and Water Development.
O their Costs .................

. . . 5
. . 5
. . 5
. . . 5
. . . 6
. . . 6

Risk Factor ...... ........................ 6
Cost of Treatment ................... ......... 7
Cost-Sharing Assistance............... .. .. 8
Returns from Treatment ................... ..... 8
Management Problems. ..................... 8
Acknowledgments .................. .. .... .8

. . . . 8

References .......

Costs of Rootplowing and Seeding Rangeland,

Rio Grande Plain

Calvin C. Boykin, Jr.*

15,000,000 acres of rangeland have been invaded
by brush species to the extent that once abundant
grass stands have been diminished significantly.
Common high-forage-producing grass species which
have decreased in this change of plant composition
are bluestems, plains bristlegrass, sideoats grama and
two and four-flowered trichloris.
With this change in plant composition, livestock
carrying capacities have been reduced greatly and
ranchmen have been forced to buy additional land
or to improve the land they now have to maintain
or improve family income. Most of their efforts have
been devoted to various means of brush control. Both
chemical and mechanical means have been used on
prevalent brush species such as mesquite, whitebrush,
acacia, cacti, spiny hackberry and others.
Within the past few years, a method of root-
plowing and seeding in the same operation has come
into rather wide use. Phenomenal results in terms of
brush kill and increases in forage production have
been obtained in many instances with the use of
introduced grasses such as blue panic, buffel and
other grasses.

Since rootplowing and seeding as a means of
improving range conditions has drawn the attention
of ranchmen in other areas of the State infested with
brush, the purpose of the study reported here was
to determine the costs of these operations, including
the costs of additional treatments needed to insure
the desired results.

McMullen, LaSalle and Frio counties, on the
Rio Grande Plain, plus the portion of Medina county
on the Rio Grande Plain, were selected for study.
This is an area in which rootplowing and seeding
have been carried on for some time.
Twenty-nine ranchmen who had rootplowed and
seeded a portion of their rangeland since the early

*Formerly assistant professor, Department of Agricultural Eco-
nomics and Sociology, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station,
-currently agricultural economist, Farm Economics Research
Division, Agricultural Research Service, U. S. Department of
Agriculture, New Mexico State University.

1950's were selected for interview from a list of 84
provided by research personnel of the Department
of Wildlife Management. This constituted a 34 per-
cent sub-sample from their study. Their list had been
developed from Soil Conservation Service records for
a study of the effects of brush control on vegetative
composition and on wildlife populations. The sample
of 84 was selected to represent proportionately the
various sizes of ownerships and their incidence in
the major types of vegetation.
By selecting for interview only those ranchmen
who had rootplowed and seeded prior to 1959 and
especially in the early 1950's, data were obtained con-
cerning projects where sufficient time had elapsed to
enable an evaluation of results with greater accuracy.
The 29 ranchmen in the area supplied informa-
tion by personal interview on methods of treatment,
costs, apparent results of treatment and special man-
agement problems encountered.
Additional information about methods, extent
and apparent success of treatment was obtained from
work unit conservationists and range specialists with
the Soil Conservation Service, the local Agricultural
Stabilization and Conservation office managers, county
agricultural agents, contractors and machinery com-
pany representatives.
The size of ranches in the sample on which
rootplowing and seeding were done ranged from 163
to more than 18,000 acres, and averaged 2,010 acres.
Total acres treated per ranch ranged from 10 to almost
1,200, with an average of 241 acres. On the average,
12 percent of the acreage was treated. Some of the
smaller ranches had almost 40 percent of the total
acreage treated, while on some of the larger ranches,
only 3 to 5 percent of the total acreage was treated.
Nearly all of the ranches were owner-operated
with a cow-calf system of livestock management.

A rootplow is a horizontal V-type blade with
attached fins mounted on or pulled by a large crawler-
type tractor, Figure 1. The blade cuts a 12-foot swath
10 to 20 inches below the surface of the soil. The
addition of fins to the blade assists in severing or
heaving roots and root crowns of brush species to the
surface. When brush roots are cut this way, many
of the plants die. Chances for a large percentage kill


Times Acres Cost
Treatment oes per 10-hour per
over day acre, $

Chaining (one direction) 1 200 2- 3
Chaining (two directions) 2 150 3- 4
Rootplowing and seeding 1 15-20 8-12
Rootraking and seeding 1 40-50 5- 7
Chemical weed control 1 2- 4

are increased if the soil is dry at the time of treat-
ment and remains dry for some time afterwards.
Brush kills up to 90 percent were reported by the
ranchmen interviewed. While rootplowing without
seeding was done in many instances a few years ago,
most of the work done since 1953 by those interviewed
has included reseeding at the time of rootplowing.

Seeder boxes are mounted on the rootplow, and
the seed are broadcast by the tractor exhaust far
enough back to prevent them from falling into deep
cracks opened by the blade as it is pulled through the
soil. Blue panicgrass and buffelgrass, both introduced,
tall-growing, bunch-type summer grasses, have been
used separately and in mixtures in most of the opera-
tions to date. Usually a seeding rate of approximately
2 pounds per acre of each grass, either separately or
in a mixture, was used. Cost of seed varied from
$.60 to $1.25 per pound for blue panic seed and from
$.75 to $2.00 for buffelgrass seed. Two of the ranch-
men in the sample used home-grown seed. Native

grasses were used in a few instances, and sorghum
almum was used by three ranchmen on abandoned
Most of the rootplowing and seeding on ranches
in the sample was done under contract by local equip-
ment operators. Cost per acre ranged from $8 to $12
including the cost of seed, Table 1. The most com-
mon contract price reported by the 29 ranchmen inter-
viewed was $10 an acre. The time required and result-
ing costs varied according to the range site treated,
density and types of brush present, acreage in the
treatment area and the distance the machinery had
to be moved for use. Fifteen to 20 acres per 10-hour
day were common treatment rates. While dates of
treatment ranged from early spring to late summer,
March to May is the period generally recommended
to obtain the best results from reseeding.

While rootplowing and seeding frequently are the
only treatment performed, the contractors interviewed
indicated chaining is required sometimes for efficient
operation of the tractor and rootplow. This is
especially true on bottomland and on some hardland
sites where tree-type brush, principally mesquite, is
common. Among the ranchmen interviewed, more
than half reported that the land which was root-
plowed and seeded had been chained several years
Chaining involves the use of a large anchor chain
dragged over the area by two large crawler-type

Figure 1. Crawler-type tractor equipped with rootplow and dozer blade rootplowing thick mesquite and brushland.
Photo courtesy of the Soil Conservation Service.

Figure 2. Rootrake with attached seeder, pulled by a crawler type tractor. Photo courtesy of the Soil Conservation

tractors traveling parallel. Each end of the chain is
attached to a tractor. The chain as it is dragged over
the area uproots or breaks the large brush. Frequently
brush-infested areas are chained in two directions to
pull out trees which are only partially uprooted from
the ground.
Rates of chaining in a 10-hour day varied from
150 acres for chaining in two directions, to 200 acres
for chaining in one direction, Table 1. Reported
contract prices were $2 to $3 an acre.

Not all rootplowing and seeding treatments have
resulted in grass stands, according to Soil Conservation
Service technicians. When failures occur, the question
of retreatment arises if grass stands are to be estab-
lished. A method of rootraking following rootplow-
ing or bulldozing on brush is commonly used when
putting raw land into cultivation. By attaching a
grass seeder to the rootrake, a method of retreatment
of many of these failures has been devised. Several
ranchmen in the sample tried and generally recom-
mended that this method be used to salvage earlier
failures. The rootrake pulls out much of the remain-
ing stumps and branches, stacks them and smooths
over the roughed-up surface left by the rootplow. A
finer seedbed results, chances of seed germination are
increased and the greater expense of retreatment with
the heavier rootplow is partially eliminated.
The rootrake is approximately 20 feet wide, has
variably spaced teeth and is pulled by a large crawler-
type tractor. It was reported by those interviewed

that 40 to 50 acres could be rootraked and seeded in
a 10-hour day, Table 1. Reported contract prices
were $5 to $7 an acre including the cost of seed.

Weed Control
Depending on climatic conditions, some degree
of weed control is often needed to keep down com-
petition with grass seedings. This may be done more
readily by spraying with air or ground equipment
rather than by mowing. It is difficult to mow weeds
since the ground is roughed up by the rootplow.
Ranchmen in the sample reported that several
successful grass stands apparently were lost because
of heavy competition from weeds. Many earlier treat-
ments during the drouth period on which sufficient
moisture fell to bring up the seed, but not enough
moisture to bring on much weed competition, were
Only three of the ranchmen interviewed said
that they had actually practiced weed control. Others
stated that additional control must be carried out
in the future if successful grass stands are to be
obtained. Cost estimates for weed spraying were $2
to $4 an acre.

Deferment of grazing on the treated area for at
least 1 year and sometimes 2 has long been advocated
by range technicians and others to increase the chances
of obtaining adequate stands of grass. More than

RANGE SITES, HONDO (1955-58), PEARSALL (1955-58),

Number Number Percent-
Range site of Acres of age of
range contract treated grass grass
operations stands' stands
Hardland 230 37.152 75 32.6
Sandy loam 190 30,298 53 27.9
Gravelly ridge 12 1,457 6 50.0
Bottomland 38 3,258 25 65.8
Shallow upland 19 1,453 7 36.8
Deep Sand 1 320 0 0.0

Total 490 76,818 166
Average percent success 33.9
Average percent failure (risk factor) 66.1
Total 100.0

'A grass stand is an area on which sufficient seeded species
have been established and constitute a major percentage
of the plant composition.

half of the ranchmen contacted reported that they
had deferred grazing for periods ranging from a few
months to 1 year. Only two reported deferment for
a period longer than 1 year. This period of non-use
represents an immediate cost to the ranchman since
he foregoes the opportunity to add to his income by
grazing the range during this time. Therefore, a cost
which may be approximately the lease value of the
land for the period is included. If the ranchman pays
$1.00 an acre lease, or if he owns the land and could
lease it out for $1.00 an acre, this charge enters into
the cost of treatment. If deferment is carried out for
2 years, then the cost is $2.00.

Fencing and Water Development
Another item which may vary considerably is
the cost of additional fencing and water development.
Deferment is cited by range technicians as being a
prerequisite for successful establishment of a grass
stand, and livestock must be fenced away from the
treated area for the desired results. With the addition
of a fence, livestock may be cut off from previously
developed water facilities. This creates the need for
a new water well, stock pond or pipeline and trough.
Several of the ranchmen interviewed treated
whole pastures at one time, or at least treated a
sufficient area in a pasture that they felt the need
to preclude the use of the entire pasture for some
time. Ten of the ranchmen said they had constructed
additional fence. Three reported that they used a
temporary electric fence. Most of those who fenced
had to build or renovate a stock pond or develop
other means of supplying water to livestock. Cost of
fencing varied considerably; $50 to $90 a mile for
electric fences, and $225 to $500 a mile for barbed
wire fences, depending on the cost of labor.

Other Costs
Other practices of minor importance among the
ranchmen interviewed were: burning-brush, costing
around $2 an acre; grubbing white-brush and brush
sprouts, around $5 an acre; and raking and piling
brush, approximately $6 an acre. These treatments
increase the percentage of brush kill, but are expen-
sive because of the hand labor required. Many of
the ranchmen felt that with progress in the use of
chemicals, spraying over rootplowed and seeded areas
after resprouting will become a cheaper method. This
is the case especially with mesquite sprouts and white-

The possibility of failure becomes an important
factor when a sizable investment is made in range
improvement by rootplowing and seeding. In this
particular practice, there have been spectacular suc-
cesses and sometimes failures. During the drouth,
when rootplowing and seeding were first used on a
large scale, the ranchmen reported high percentage
brush kills and excellent stands of blue panicgrass,
buffelgrass, or mixtures of the two grasses. Later,
when moisture became more plentiful, fewer suc-
cessful stands of grass resulted, although brush kills
continued to be adequate. Several good stands of
grass, especially buffelgrass, were winter-killed, and in
some areas rats were so prevalent that grass stands
were virtually wiped out.
In many instances, native grass species were com-
ing back into treated areas and, in the opinions of
many ranchmen and range technicians, range condi-
tions would continue to improve with conservative
stocking and provision for some deferment.
Among the ranchmen interviewed, there was a
commonly held opinion, on past experience, that the
seeded grasses had a 50-50 chance of germinating and
surviving. In an attempt to determine more accu-
rately what these chances might be, a record of treat-
ments, acreages, successes and failures was obtained
from the Soil Conservation Service work unit offices,
and from the range specialist in the study area,
Table 2.
While the observations were not complete, suffi-
cient evidence was available to assign a risk factor to
guide ranchmen in their figuring of possible costs and
assist them in their decision of whether to invest in
rootplowing and seeding.
The number of treatments, acres treated and
number of resulting stands of grass were recorded by
the principal range sites in the area during 1953-58
for the Cotulla work unit, 1957-58 for the Tilden
work unit and 1955-58 for the Hondo and Pearsall
work units. These work units service the Medina
Valley, Frio and Dos Rios Soil Conservation Districts.

The criterion for evaluating the results of root-
plowing and seeding, as used by the range technicians,
was that any area needing another seeding to obtain
an adequate stand of blue panic or buffelgrass was
declared a failure. An adequate stand for these evalu-
ations constituted areas with sufficient seeded species
established so that they made up a major percentage
of the plant composition. Reasons given for lack of
adequate stands were: long wet winters in 1957-58,
heavy weed infestations, failure to defer treated areas
and rat damage.
The largest percentage of grass stands was ob-
tained on the bottomland sites, with 65.8 percent.
Fifty percent success was recorded on the gravelly
ridge sites, 32.6 percent success on the hardland sites
and 36.8 percent on the shallow upland sites. The
sandy loam sites were next with 27.9 percent success,
and the one trial on the deep sand site was unsuc-
cessful. Overall success, or the attainment of adequate
grass stand treatments under observation, was 33.9
percent, or 66.1 percent failure. This failure figure
of .661 represents the risk factor used in the determi-
nation of costs.

A common sequence of operations, Table 3, used
in rootplowing and seeding was to chain, rootplow
and seed, and defer use. Chaining in most instances
was done several years prior to rootplowing and seed-
ing. The total per-acre cost of treatment usually was
$3 for chaining, $10 for rootplowing and seeding and
$1.00 for a 1-year deferment.
If, after a lapse of time varying from a few months
to a year or more, it was determined that the seeding
was a failure, then rootraking and seeding may be
used and followed by another period of deferment.
This secondary treatment was reported commonly to
cost $6 per acre and $1.00 for another year of defer-
Since the future results to be expected are un-
known, one can estimate results only from past experi-
ences. It is practically assured that the brush kill will

be favorable. If the seeding fails, which may happen,
Table 2, then it often is necessary to rootrake and
seed. It may be necessary to do this 66.1 percent of
the time.
Thus in assigning a cost for rootraking and seed-
ing, it is necessary to enter only $6.00 x .661, which
equals $3.97 an acre. The same holds true for the
deferment cost. In this instance it would be $1.00 x
.661, which equals $.66 an acre. Added to the $1.00
cost already incurred, the total cost for deferment
would be $1.66. The assumption is made here that
the rootraking and seeding will result in an adequate
stand of grass. While chances for obtaining an ade-
quate stand of grass are increased considerably, fail-
ures may be expected. There were insufficient trials
to assign a risk factor to this treatment.
Cost of the first treatment including chaining is
$14. Cost of the second or follow-up treatment, which
includes only rootraking and seeding and deferment,
equals $7. The latter treatment is needed .661 of the
time, thus making an expected cost of $4.63. The
total cost with .661 failure is estimated to be $18.63
an acre. With a follow-up treatment needed 100 per-
cent of the time, the total cost is estimated to be $21.
These costs assume that the treatments would be a
series made on approximately the same range sites
and over a period of time with soil and moisture
conditions similar to those during the period under

Another method to state these costs is to say that
the ranchman knows he will have a cost of $14 as
a minimum. Given this cost, he stands to pay an
additional $7 with a probability of .661, or he has
a probability of no additional cost of .339. Thus, he
has the probability of paying $14 approximately .339
of the time, and a probability of paying $21 approxi-
mately .661 of the time. When chaining is not re-
quired, the cost could be reduced by $3 per acre.
When extra fencing and water facilities are needed,
these costs should be added. Similarly, such further
expenses as grubbing, spraying weeds and other associ-
ated costs should be added.


Cost of treatment per acre, $
Treatment First Follow-up Follow-up Total cost Total cost
ttm t with 100 per- with .661 with .661 with 100 per
reament cent failure failure failure cent failure

Chain 3.00 0.00 0.00 3.00 3.00
Rootplow and seed 10.00 0.00 0.00 10.00 10.00
Rootrake and seed 0.00 6.00 3.97 3.97' 6.00
Deferment 1.00 1.00 .66 1.66' 2.00

Total 14.00 7.00 4.63 18.63 21.00
'0.00 + 6.00 (.661) = 3.97
21.00 + 1.00 (.661) = 1.66

With no treatment and a lease rate of $1.00 per
acre and a stocking rate of 20 acres per cow, cost per
cow is $20 per year. Assuming that rootplowing and
seeding would last 10 years and using the cost of
$18.63 an acre, the annual cost of treatment would
be near $1.86. Using the same lease rate of $1.00 per
acre and adding the $1.86 per year treatment cost,
results in a cost of $2.86 per acre. If the carrying
capacity could be doubled, as some reported, to a
rate of 10 acres per cow, the cost would be $28.60
per cow per year.

Financial assistance has been available to ranch-
men for rootplowing and seeding and other associated
practices through the agricultural conservation pro-
gram administered by the County Agricultural Stabili-
zation and Conservation offices. A common cost-
sharing rate for rootplowing is 50 percent of the cost
not to exceed $5 an acre. Cost-sharing for blue panic-
grass seed has amounted to around $.75 per pound,
and $1.25 per pound for buffelgrass. In some cases,
cost-sharing on grass seed has been reduced with a
decrease in price of seed to ranchmen.
Cost-sharing for chaining in two directions
amounts to 50 percent of the cost not to exceed $1.25
per acre. Cost-sharing for root-raking has been carried
out on the basis of 50 percent of the cost not to exceed
$2.50 per acre.
A ranchman is limited in the total amount he
can earn through cost-sharing. Several years may be
required to treat a significant portion of the average-
size ranch if the ranchman is to receive help for all
work done. However, a number of ranchmen treated
more land than the acres for which they received cost-
sharing payments.

Little information concerning returns from root-
plowing and seeding were obtained from the ranch-
men interviewed. Most ranchmen answered that an
increase in carrying capacity was obtained on acreages
treated successfully. Three reported that carrying
capacity had been increased from a rate of 20 acres
per cow yearlong to 10 acres per cow yearlong. Bene-
fits from rootplowing and seeding were received,
according to the ranchmen who had acreages on which
grass stands were established, not only from an in-
creased carrying capacity, but also from an increase
in calf weights, a lesser incidence of insects, a reduc-

tion of handling costs and the establishment of condi-
tions whereby livestock could be supervised better.
Both ranchmen and range technicians reported
that on many acreages where the reseeded species of
blue panic and buffelgrass failed to make an adequate
stand, native grasses had increased in composition.
Further observations would be necessary before
satisfactory returns information could be determined
to compare with the cost data presented here.

As mentioned earlier, several years are required
for a significant acreage of the total rangeland in a
ranch to be rootplowed and seeded. This means that
small areas of successfully treated land pose a grazing
management problem seldom faced by the ranchmen
previously. Seasons and intensities for grazing blue
panic and buffelgrass are different from the native
grasses. What appears to be proper use may actually
be overuse to these introduced species. Periods of
deferment also are required and it often may be that
these grasses can be managed better as temporary
pastures similar to Sudangrass. It may well be that
these treated areas should be grazed heavily for short
periods during the summer and rested in other seasons.
Biologic effects of rootplowing are largely un-
known, although the harvest game species of wildlife,
particularly white-tailed deer, represents reliable in-
come to ranchmen in many parts of the Rio Grande
Plain, according to hunting preserve records kept in
compliance with state game regulations.

Assistance was obtained from Richard Davis and
Bob Spicer of the Department of Wildlife Manage-
ment, and R. A. Darrow and W. E. McCully of the
Department of Range and Forestry, Texas Agricul-
tural Experiment Station. Additional assistance was
obtained from the work unit conservationists in the
study area and Durwood E. Ball, range specialist; all
with the Soil Conservation Service.

Allison, D. V. and Rechenthin, C. A. "Rootplowing Proved
Best Method of Brush Control in South Texas," Journal of
Range Management, Vol 9, No. 3, May 1956.
Carter, M. G. "Reclaiming Texas Brushland Range,"
Journal of Range Management, Vol. 11, No. 1, January 1958.
Rogers, R. H. and Campbell, J. R. "An Economic Analysis
of Land Clearing and Subsequent Crop Production in the Corpus
Christi Area," PR 1628, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station,
November 1953.