At the turn of the 19th century, a few people saw potential in the Imperial Valley region and secured a reliable source of water from the Colorado river. With its year-round growing season and rich alluvial soils deposited over thousands of years of Colorado River flooding, Imperial Valley quickly turned from a barren desert to an agricultural oasis.
Yet the region has its challenges as well. Like any other region in the west, water is a precious commodity that must be used with increasing efficiency. Salinity is also a significant issues. Not only are the soils highly saline (giving the area its nickname of the Salton Sink), but the irrigation water that is the region's lifeline brings with it one ton of salt per acre-foot.
It was this salinity that brought Imperial Valley's farmers together during the late 1940s to establish a research station. Much of the Valley's land was suffering from increasing salinity, and the local growers know that something had to be done. They worked together to raise enough funds to purchase 160 acres of land, which was then leased to the county and USDA for $1 per year for agricultural research.
On November 3, 1951, the Imperial Valley Conservation Research Center opened its doors as a USDA research station. The investment paid off, as the station's research on the use of tile drainage to manage soil salinity brought tens of thousands of acres of farmland back into viable production.
Over the next 60 years, research on salinity management continued, along with studies of irrigation, pest control, disease resistance, and salinity tolerance. The Imperial Star artichoke, developed primarily at the center, was one of the first artichoke cultivars that can be grown from seed. It is considered to be one of the most widely adapted of all artichokes. Irrigation efficiency studies have helped improve drip and sprinkler irrigation methods that can reduce overall water use while maintaining crop yield.
And when the Imperial Irrigation District was facing an infestation of hydrilla that was threatening to choke canals, the center worked closely with IID, USDA, and the California Department of Food & Agriculture to use triploid (sterile) carp to control the fast-growing grass in hundreds of miles of canals in the District.
Yet over the years federal funding dwindled until in 1999, the station was transferred out of the USDA system and into the Imperial Valley Conservation Research Committee, a non-profit organization. Once again, the local agriculture community rallied around the research center and worked to ensure that it continued its important work. The committee of local growers, which had existed in an advisory role, shifted to an operations and management role, making the decision to continue the work of the center by offering plots of land for lease for research purposes.
Under its new structure, the Imperial Valley Conservation Research Center can provide a variety of services, offering land, irrigation and basic cultivation work, full-service project management, or anything in between.
Over the last 60+ years the center has aided not only Imperial County's farmers, but helped the entire nation and beyond meet the challenges faced in agriculture by improving the efficiency of farming in terms of water use, average yield, salinity management, pest control, and much more.
With the ongoing local support that has been the hallmark of the center, the Imperial Valley Conservation Research Center fully expects to still be at the forefront of agricultural research for many decades to come.