The History of the College of Agriculture
The Roots Begin to Spread
The College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) and Nevada
Agricultural Experiment Station have long been a part of Nevada’s tradition. Extending
back to the very beginning of the University of Nevada, Reno, CABNR, initially the
College of Agriculture, was one of the University’s first schools. The formation
of the Experiment Station was an early effort at the University as well.
The need for agricultural
programs in Nevada was not clear-cut to many at first. With desert topography, low
humidity and short growing seasons, Nevada’s landscapes were considered sub-marginal.
Land grant institutions like the University of Nevada were enabled by Congress to
set up agricultural experiment stations with the passing of the Hatch Act in 1887.
Agricultural experiment stations undertook research that helped form the basis of
scientific education in horticulture, forestry and other agriculture-related fields,
thereby promoting and supporting Nevada agriculture.
In 1888, UNR’s Agricultural Experiment Station began to grow. Money arrived from
Washington D.C. as well as bulbs, roots and plants sent by U.S. Senator William
Stewart. These roots created a legacy of agricultural research, education and outreach
After building Morrill Hall, the first building on campus, Congress funded a building
for the Agricultural Experiment Station. A 60-acre farm on Valley Road was deeded
to the University by Washoe County in 1899. This farm, the Valley Road Field Laboratory,
allowed for the College’s first opportunity in experimentation. A fire destroyed
the first Experiment Station building in 1900, and money was granted for a new one
because the importance of the agricultural program to the University had been established.
The relationship between the College and the Experiment Station, however, had not
always been one of shared goals and values. It soon became clear that the merger
of the two would be very difficult and would have to withstand some opposition.
Some felt that agricultural research and instruction should remain separate, not
realizing how both the College and the Experiment Station could benefit from one
Growing a Legacy
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 provided federal support for land-grant institutions
to offer educational programs to enhance the application of useful and practical
information beyond their campuses through extension efforts. The Smith-Lever Act
therefore gave life to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) in
1914. UNCE was created to connect the University with rural Nevada and to aid farmers
and ranchers. Within its first five years, extension clubs were developed throughout
Nevada to encourage young people to start home projects such as gardening, garment
making and livestock raising. By 1920, UNCE had 20 staff members and UNCE agents
in seven out of 17 counties.
The Depression era
deeply affected the University’s agricultural programs. The administrative division
between teaching and research along with hard financial times led to an increased
need for a university farm for instructional purposes. Food-industry mogul Max Fleischmann
stepped in to help. Fleischmann gave UNR a 258-acre dairy farm, one of many gifts
he would give to the University. This gift, along with other properties given to
the University, allowed field research to benefit farmers and ranchers throughout
Between 1954 and 1956 Dean John Bertrand and his administration generated significant
changes. The Nevada Legislature commissioned a study to look at the administrative
structure of the College, Experiment Station and UNCE. Maurice Kelso, then Dean
of Agriculture at Montana State University, conducted the study that paved the way
for the administrative integration of these three units. Also during Bertrand’s
administration, the College received $2.5 million from the Max Fleischmann Foundation
of Nevada for the construction and furnishing of an agriculture building as well
as a home economics building. Later named for its founder, the Max C. Fleischmann
Agriculture Building played a significant role in bringing together the College,
Experiment Station and UNCE.
Bohmont joined the College in 1963 as the new dean. His challenge was to find a
way to integrate the functioning of the College, the Experiment Station and UNCE.
Bohmont and his administration worked effectively from 1963 to 1981 to make this
transition as smooth as possible, both in terms of funding and faculty assignments.
Federal funding through the Hatch and Smith-Lever Acts was allocated for research
and extension service, so it was crucial to keep these funds separate in terms of
fiscal accountability—because federal funds could not be commingled with state-appropriated
funding. At this time, 90 percent of funds were going to research and extension
and only 10 percent toward instruction.
To support the rapid growth in student enrollment, Bohmont made it so that faculty
and staff would have joint appointments with the College, Experiment Station and
UNCE. This allowed a larger pool of faculty with more diverse expertise to be available
for instruction, research and extension programs. Each of the three entities would
benefit from the other’s expertise and would be able to collaborate on how to better
serve Nevada’s agricultural needs.
Bohmont’s vision proved to be a success. “In an academic setting, instruction is
king, but in the fiscal accountability of agriculture, the key connection is the
federal resources which historically made the College possible,” Bohmont wrote in
his book, Golden Years of Agriculture in Nevada.
Bernard Jones was
hired in 1982 and served as the leader for the College, Experiment Station and UNCE
for the next 16 years. During the first 10 years of his term Jones worked on changing
the College’s curriculum. Like deans before and after him, Jones considered it important
to cater to ever-changing student needs. His administration also saw an increase
of nationally competitive grants awarded to faculty.
As one of his biggest accomplishments, Jones developed a strategic plan to concentrate
the College’s resources and establish four major areas of emphasis: agribusiness,
natural resources and environment, cell and molecular biology and human learning
and development. By establishing excellence in these four areas, the College could
better grow in academic leadership, national stature and student enrollment.
was vital to expand student curricula with a greater focus on issues agriculture
students faced. The College sought to increase enrollment of non-traditional students
by adjusting schedules and developing new courses. Students were encouraged to take
courses in communications, interpersonal relations, problem solving, critical thinking
and other cultures and languages. Jones also wanted to increase the diversity of
teaching methods among faculty and put forth opportunities for more student-faculty
interaction. These new priority areas were also necessary to address decreasing
enrollment the College was experiencing at the time and to train students to be
better prepared for the job market.
The strategic plan played a large role in another area of change with the ever-growing
urban population in the state, particularly in Clark County; UNCE began to serve
the demands of this urban area. UNCE’s mission became broader than that of the College
and Experiment Station in serving Clark County’s educational needs. This helped
lay the groundwork for the split the College and UNCE.
A New Era
The Board of Regents of the University and Community College System of Northern
Nevada approved Jones’ strategic plan in 1993. It was decided at this meeting that
the organizational structure of the College would be consolidated, with the number
of its departmental units reduced from seven to four. This followed the strategic
plan’s call for a more modern curriculum, efficient use of resources and enhanced
national stature of the College.
When Jones stepped down in
1998, then UNR President Joe Crowley appointed two separate deans. David Thawley
was hired as the new dean for the College and director of the Nevada Agricultural
Experiment Station and Karen Hinton was hired as the new dean and director of UNCE.
Both were hired to focus on the missions of their separate entities.
Soon after Thawley’s arrival, the College of Agriculture changed its name to the
College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.
“The new name accurately reflects the College’s curriculum and what students of
the 21st Century hope to learn from the college,” Thawley said at the
time. Thawley feels it is important to have the name of the College reflect a change
of the times as well as the ever-changing student body, which expanded to include
many biochemistry and pre-veterinary students.
CABNR now boasts having the third largest major on campus—biochemistry—and its competitive
research grant awards are at record levels. Top scholarly honors across the University
are often given to CABNR students. Innovative course work and research in biotechnology,
natural resources, animal science and applied economics make CABNR the only college
of its kind in the state as well as a national leader in these fields.
Under the same leadership, the Experiment Station continues to play an integral
role with CABNR. Its focus has recently been directed toward the advancement of
agriculture through biotechnological development, the preservation and management
of natural resources, and the nutritional and social aspects of urban life.
The importance of the College and Experiment Station working together is more critical
than ever. Both entities address the emerging and urgent issues relating to Nevada’s
agriculture, the maintenance and restoration of the state’s valuable natural resources
and the economic revitalization of Nevada’s rural communities.
With six field stations throughout the state, along with other research properties,
the Experiment Station provides opportunities for CABNR researchers and students
to conduct hands-on fieldwork. The relationship between the two makes addressing
Nevada’s pressing needs that much more efficient since funding for research priorities
is administered through the Experiment Station.
For more than a hundred years, the College and Experiment Station have provided
expertise in agricultural education and research for the citizens of the state.
Today, at the dawn of a new millennium, both entities are building new legacies.
There has never been a better time, or a greater opportunity, to be at the forefront
of innovative scientific discoveries that will keep Nevada growing into the future.
Written by Nicole Klay
Bob Conrad, Rang Narayanan, Dale Bohmont, Bernard Jones, Elwood Miller, Alice Good,
David Thawley, Roger Lewis and Jean Carbon.
- Hulse, James W., The University of Nevada, A Centennial History; University
of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada: 1974.
- Bohmont, Dale W., Golden Years of Agriculture in Nevada; Nevada Heritage Series,
Nevada Agricultural Foundation, Reno, Nevada: 1989.