Limestone rocks strategically-placed in an agricultural research field at the Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) in El Centro spell out a milestone for Imperial Valley farmers and the University of California.

The rocks spell “UC DREC 1912-2012,” a befitting acknowledgment to a century’s worth of agricultural research designed to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers in the Imperial Valley low desert.

About 300 agricultural enthusiasts joined hands at the DREC in late October to celebrate 100 years of accomplishments through research at the center.

The wingding party featured farm tours of current agricultural research projects, a toe-tapping mariachi band, fancy edibles, and festive fellowship marking a century of the UC’s commitment to low desert agriculture and public outreach.

(For more, see: Photo collage - 100th anniversary of the Desert Research and Extension Center, El Centro, Calif.)

“Moving into the next century a commitment remains to serve the public as a dedicated steward of the land in an attempt to ensure that local agricultural needs are recognized, research projects initiated, completed, documented, and disseminated,” says Alan Robertson.

Robertson is the DREC historian and author of a 105-page compilation on the DREC’s achievements. The booklet includes historical narrative, photos, center accomplishments, and the names of the 100-plus employees who have served to better the agricultural industry. Robertson’s wife, Nancy Caywood-Robertson, is the center’s educational outreach coordinator in charge of the center’s Farm Smart program.

DREC is the oldest continuously operating research farm in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ nine farm research center system. 

DREC is located in southeastern-most California adjacent to San Diego County to the west, Arizona to the east, and Mexico to the south.

To appreciate the DREC, it is important to understand the history of this arid low desert region as spelled out by Robertson.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Imperial Valley was a tough place to live for its 13,500 residents. Furnace-like summer temperature extremes above 110 degrees made living difficult. Air conditioning was merely a dream; far from reality.

Efforts to establish the research center were initiated in 1908 — current DREC director Khaled Bali said at the Oct. 25 event.

In 1909, valley residents asked the University of California to commission a study to find a suitable location for an experimental farm representing the soils of the Imperial Valley.

In November 1911, the Imperial County Board Supervisors and 16 local growers purchased 20 acres of land from Irving and Fannie Gleason for $1,800 in gold coins.

The research station was born.

“The collaborative effort between the University, Imperial County, and growers was the beginning of a long-lasting relationship to advance agriculture in the Imperial Valley,” Bali told the crowd.