Agronomic Services — Agronomic Division History (1973–1994)
In 1969, director Donald W. Eaddy identified a number of gaps in the agronomic services available to state farmers. To close those gaps and improve land-use efficiency, Eaddy proposed that the Soil Testing Division be expanded into a more comprehensive Agronomic Division. Along with its established duties, the new division would also provide
- soil analyses for micronutrients and toxic elements,
- plant tissue analyses,
- a pilot program on waste and solution services and
- nematode assays.
In 1971, the North Carolina legislature approved Eaddy's proposal, along with his request for a new building capable of supporting the division's expanded role. These changes became effective in 1973.
As the range of division services broadened, NCDA officials recognized the need for regionally based agronomists who could help growers implement management recommendations in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. These agronomists would also help maintain two-way communication between growers and the division's central offices, thus ensuring that the various laboratories remained responsive to field level problems. By the time the division moved into its new Ballentine Building in 1974, the first regional agronomist was already in the field, and by the end of the decade, three additional positions had been added.
Among the more important events of the 1970s was the decision to hire, as a consultant, the world-renowned soil chemist Dr. Adolf Mehlich. During his 13 years with the division, Mehlich developed the soil testing procedure Mehlich-3, which provides information on all essential soil nutrients. Working in the division's new Cooperative Greenhouse Facility, Mehlich also developed an improved method for measuring humic-matter levels, thus allowing growers to determine lime requirements and herbicide needs more accurately. For its broad impact on improving land management practices in both developed and developing countries, Mehlich's research stands as a source of pride to all those associated with the Agronomic Division.
Throughout this period, the division was also refining its nematode assay and plant/waste/solution sections so that they could provide users with the most scientifically up-to-date information possible. The utility of these services, as measured by rising workloads, called for steady increases in staff size. Additional lab technicians and regional agronomists were hired.
As public concern about environmental issues increased, the division was called upon to play a larger role in three areas:
- protecting long-term productive capacity of the agricultural resource base,
- safeguarding water from contamination by nutrients and pesticides and
- protecting food from contamination by nitrates, heavy metals and other chemicals.
Not only was the division asked to evaluate more samples, but also the number of determinations per sample was rising dramatically (i.e., the division was deriving more and more information from each sample). The workload in the plant/waste/solution section, for example, increased by 158 percent from 1982 to 1992. Such increases severely taxed the division's laboratory resources and personnel.
By the close of the 1980s, state policy makers recognized that, in order to fulfill its expanded agricultural and environmental responsibilities, the division would require a larger facility with state-of-the-art equipment. In 1990, funds for a new agronomic building were approved. At that time, the soil testing section purchased instruments with the capability of evaluating 19 elements simultaneously, including heavy metals that may pose an environmental threat.
Before moving into the new building in May 1994, the division expanded its staff to include additional agronomists and technicians, along with a computer analyst and a communications specialist. By 1995, all data generated in the new laboratories were being collected and transferred electronically.