Agricultural research in southwestern Colorado began at the San Juan Basin Research Center near Hesperus in 1921. The major emphasis was to identify crop species and varieties adapted to the high altitudes of southwestern Colorado. The crops grown included grasses, clovers, alfalfa, field peas, corn, potatoes, dry beans, sugar beets, small grains, and vegetables. Research was conducted on both irrigated and dryland sites.
By the mid 1940’s, the drylands of southwestern Colorado had developed into a major pinto bean producing area. A comprehensive edible dry bean research program was initiated during this period. The pinto bean variety ‘San Juan Select’ was developed and released in 1946. A Yellow Jacket unit of the San Juan Basin Research Center was opened in 1962 to study management of dryland soils and crops. Major emphasis was on the production of pinto beans, winter wheat, and soil and water conservation practices. Additional crops studied at Yellow Jacket under dryland conditions included grasses, alfalfa, sunflowers, oats, barley, safflower, and sorghum.
The soil and crop sciences section of the San Juan Basin Research Center separated from animal science in 1971 and leased a farm 10 miles northwest of Cortez in the Arriola area. The need for a research facility in the Cortez area was catalyzed by plans to construct the Dolores Project, a Bureau of Reclamation irrigation, municipal, industrial, and recreation project. The Colorado Legislature, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Four Corners Regional Commission, and the Soil Conservation Service provided the funding to lease and operate the 300 acre farm. Surface and sprinkler irrigation systems were studied utilizing furrow, flood, gated pipe, side-roll, center pivot, end-tow, and traveling gun. Analyzing the economic impact of converting from dryland farming to irrigated agriculture was a priority. An adjacent 20 acre dryland site was added in 1976 for research on plant-water relationships, erosion control, dryland cultural practices, fertilizer use, and bean root control. The lease on the Arriola farm expired and research at the San Juan Basin Research Center-Cortez Unit ceased in 1983.
The present 158 acre farm located 15 miles north of Cortez on County Road Z was purchased by the State Board of Agriculture in 1981. An office, shop, equipment shed and later, a hay storage facility were constructed. Water from the Dolores Project was delivered to the research center for the first time in June1987. The Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds for the development of the research center. The name ‘Southwestern Colorado Research Center’ (SWCRC) was officially given to this research facility in 1984. In 1988, 30 acres one- half mile north of the Research Center were leased for a ten-year period to conduct research on dryland cropping systems.