An Agricultural Leader, the Sooner State is More than Livestock
Oklahoma is the next stop on our tour of U.S. land-grant universities (LGUs). It is nicknamed the Sooner State after the settlers who literally jumped the gun back in April 1889 when major portions of modern-day Oklahoma were officially opened up to settlement by the U.S. government at noon on April 22 of that year. Those who successfully snuck across the starting line, thereby getting an earlier-than-allowed start were called “sooners” and when Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907, the moniker stuck. The nickname also serves as the official mascot of the University of Oklahoma (OU) that was founded in 1890 in Norman. Incidentally, OU is not one of the three land grant universities in the state. That distinction belongs to Langston University (1890 institution), the College of the Muscogee Nation (1994 institution), and Oklahoma State University (1862 institution). Based on USDA’s map of land grant institutions, Oklahoma appears to hold the distinction of being the only state in the U.S. that is home to an 1862, an 1890, and a 1994 institution. Also founded in 1890, Oklahoma State University (OSU)–home of the Cowboys–is located in Stillwater and is the subject of this post in honor of the state’s birth 113 years ago today.
After hay which supports the state’s substantial livestock industry, wheat is the most valuable crop in Oklahoma, estimated by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to be $473 million in 2019. Nationally, Oklahoma’s wheat production ranks sixth by value. Behind wheat are corn ($185 million) and cotton ($183 million)–each of which are estimated at just over a third of the value of wheat to the state’s agricultural economy. At $107 million, soybeans are the only other agricultural crop in the state valued above $100 million. Other crops of note include pecans ($27 million) and peanuts ($13 million). For comparison, the combined annual production value of cattle and hogs in Oklahoma is over $3 billion, according to the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture.
Not surprisingly, wheat receives a fair amount of research attention by OSU’s Ferguson College of Agriculture, encapsulated in the Wheat Improvement Team (WIT). On their website, WIT features 24 wheat varieties released by OSU, five of which were released in 2020.
Although wheat is a critical part of Oklahoma agriculture, it isn’t the only part. At OSU’s Southwest Research and Extension Center near Altus, researchers develop new varieties of cotton and assist with the cotton variety trials in the state. OSU has a very organized variety trialing system that over the years has encompassed everything from alfalfa to wheat, in addition to cotton. The state is the fifth-largest producer of canola ($3 million in 2019) in the country and has nine canola trialing locations. In addition to the main OSU campus in Stillwater, variety development and trialing activities are conducted at more than 16 additional research stations across the state.
Despite its status as a relatively “young” state, Oklahoma has a history steeped in an impressive work ethic. In fact, such a work ethic could be thought of as a prerequisite for those who have over the years figured out a way to work and graze unforgiving areas such as No Man’s Land. In retrospect, it probably was exactly the type of place that beckoned those who would later embrace the “sooner” nickname.