Borrowing an idea from Germany
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is the oldest
in the nation. It was really a vision of a Yale analytical
chemist by the name of Samuel Johnson. He traveled to Germany
in the mid 1800s and saw the Agricultural Experiment Station
system and decided that Connecticut should have one to assist
the farmers. For a number of years he worked with the
Connecticut state legislature and after about 20 years,
convinced them to start the Experiment Station, which was
founded in 1875.
In the late 1800s, there were many more small family farms
than we have today, and the Agricultural Experiment Station
assisted farmers mainly by analyzing fertilizer. But there were
some major problems that occurred in the state. One was an
insect problem of fruit trees called San Jose Scale in which
fungal organisms were attacking vegetable crops. So, the
program for the Experiment Station expanded from the analytical
methods of testing fertilizer and branched out and began to
investigate many other problems in agriculture. Plant pathology
and entomology, the study of plant pathogens and the study of
insects, played a very important role in the research program
that we have here.
The work of the station had a tremendous impact in terms of
supporting agriculture. There are letters in which farmers tell
of saving hundreds of dollars on fertilizers. The key thing
there was that fertilizers were being analyzed to make sure they
contained the materials that were supposed to be in them, and
that there wasn’t any tampering with the product. So it was
really an early form of consumer protection.
The Experiment Station has had some major achievements over
the decades. I would say the invention of the Double-Cross
Hybrid Corn Method by Dr. Donald Jones was a magnificent
discovery that led to greater productivity per acre of corn.
This had a tremendous impact on national agriculture, as well as
throughout the world. The pioneering work that led to the
discovery Vitamin A also was extremely important. These are two
major achievements that occurred at the beginning of the 1900s.
Our mission remains research on agricultural problems. We
assist the agricultural community in many different ways. We
study plant diseases; we diagnose plant diseases and insect
problems on plants; we test new crops in the fields. The other
part of our mission is to disseminate information to the
public. The results of our experiments are published in
scientific journals and they’re also given in
common-language-type publications to the general public.
Helping farmers cut down on pesticides
Today it’s very, very important that the research we’re
conducting be relevant to the farm community. One of our major
programs is to find ways of reducing pesticide use in farm
operations. This has been successful. We’ve managed, in certain
settings, to save the farmers’ money on the use of pesticides.
And our research has helped reduce exposure to these pesticides
of the people working on farms. There’s also a cleaner
environment as a result of this work.
There’s a very strong movement in the organic farming part of
agriculture, a strong public interest in buying foods that have
little or no residues of pesticides on them. But some pesticides
have to be used when you have very large acreages of crop
production, sot the goal here is to minimize the use of those
pesticides, to trim it down to a very, very short window to
reduce the exposure and the amount of pesticides in the
The analysis that we are doing on food substances conjunction
with the State Department of Consumer Protection, shows that, in
most instances, foods purchased in a supermarket have little or
no pesticide residue: They’re within the federal limits for
pesticides on foods. So foods are safe, for the most part. I
think that the analysis that we do every year reaffirms that.
Also, the number of organic farms in Connecticut is
increasing. There are certainly more and more farmers interested
in performing this type of agriculture. But for the most part,
these are small farms. The big production found on other farms,
either within the state or outside of the state requires
different treatment procedures for pesticides and pest problems.
Food security and the locally-grown movement
Food safety is a very important issue right now. There are
concerns about pesticides being on food. There are concerns
about bio-terrorism events. Farmers rely on us for this
monitoring system we have. The Connecticut Agricultural
Experiment Station is participating in a National Food Emergency
Response Network, an FDA program. If there ever were an event, a
possible contamination with chemicals, those food samples would
come here for analysis. The bottom line on this is that the
results we produce will either reassure people that there’s not
a problem; or, if there is a problem, we’ll be able to report
that to the authorities. So there’s a homeland security issue
here, and it’s a very important part of our program.
There are efforts underway within state government to bring
agricultural products out on the market for the Connecticut
consumer to buy. But, obviously our winters are pretty tough, so
other times of the year we have to depend on food coming in from
But there is opportunity for greenhouse-grown crops. One that
I can give you is tomatoes. We’ve done research on various
tomatoes that will grow in the greenhouse. The idea would be
able to produce the tomatoes for Connecticut residents during
times when tomatoes cannot be grown outside. There are
approximately 40 farmers growing tomatoes in greenhouses to meet
the demand in the state.
If the timing is right, the greenhouse-grown plants can be
cost-effective. You have to plant your crops at a time of the
year when there’s less demand for fuel. Greenhouse growers time
their products appropriately so that, for example, the plants go
in the springtime and are ready to produce fruit to put out on
the market ahead of the tomatoes grown in the open fields.
Our experimental work does help keep farmers on the farm
because if we can find ways of having them produce quality crops
for less cost, then you have kept farmers on the farm. And we
test new crops. We have a changing population, many more
minorities now – basically Hispanic populations – that want
certain crops. We have a research program to evaluate some of
these crops that have never been grown here before. So in that
way we’re providing a niche crop for certain farmers when other
crops are no longer economically feasible to be grown here.
How the Station does its work
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has about 104
permanent employees. There are another 50 temporary employees,
mostly college students, who during the summertime work along
with the scientists. Our budget is about $ 9 million per year.
We have a number of grants that we apply for, federal grants
that allow us to work on specific problems.
Most the scientists work in both the field and the
laboratory. We have about five buildings here that are used for
experimental purposes. We have a 75-acre farm in Mt. Carmel
where we do our outside work. We have another facility in
Windsor, about 50 acres, with more laboratories.
The conditions in the northern part of the state are different
than they are in the south, particularly the soil condition and
some weather conditions. So we perform these experiments at
both of our farms. And also we work very closely with the
agricultural community and do a lot of our work right in their
The future of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is
bright, in my opinion. There will always be a need for
agricultural crops in the state because people want to buy
locally grown produce. I believe that farmers will get better
at growing quality crops with the assistance of our scientists.
We also have a public health core program in which we analyze
mosquitoes for pathogens that affect domesticated animals as
well as people. And we’re involved in a number of environmental
studies. For example, invasive aquatic weeds have gotten into
our lakes and ponds. This is a water quality issue and we’re
trying to assess how bad this problem is in the state and find
ways of removing these unwanted weeds from these bodies of
water. Having quality lakes and ponds is very important for
agriculture, which needs good water for irrigating crops. Even
a small pond is very, very important for a farmer.