Iowa State, federal partners mark 75th year for North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station

Red sign at Plant Introduction Farm with greenhouse in backgroundAMES, Iowa — The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) began operations in Ames in 1948. Seventy-five years later, it continues to fulfill its mission to protect and expand plant genetic diversity and facilitate plant conservation and use in research and crop improvement. 

That history will be observed this month with a 75th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, Aug. 15. Activities that day include a free public open house in the afternoon, at the NCRPIS facility, 1305 State Avenue in Ames, from 2 until 6 p.m. Station staff will be available to answer questions and light refreshments will be available. A formal, by-invitation event will be held earlier that day.      

“Today’s traditions are yesterday’s innovations, and our plant introduction station is a great example of that,” said plant scientist and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Associate Dean for Research and Discovery Carolyn-Lawrence Dill, who also serves as associate director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. 

“Its very establishment was a huge innovation that continues to pay dividends in so many ways, usually very behind-the-scenes,” Lawrence-Dill said. “For example, the station’s role in maintaining biological diversity of plants -- from field crops to vegetables, favorite yard ornamentals to herbs -- is critical for our future food security and for plant health. That said, this enormous value of the work sometimes goes unnoticed.”   

The NCRPIS was established as a state-federal research joint-venture, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service and Iowa State’s Agriculture Experiment Station. That partnership continues. Federal funding now comes through USDA multistate research project NC-7, joining contributions from 19 other Agricultural Experiment Stations nationwide. Iowa State provides land, utilities, buildings and support for personnel. Currently, 28 research staff work for the station. Its projects help support eight CALS faculty and staff. 

Drone's-eye view of the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station. Photo courtesy of NCRPIS.

NCRPIS’ original goal – as for 20 other regional plant introduction stations that have followed - was to provide the plant science community with working collections of germplasm. That goal still guides the stations, but the mission has broadened to serve private industry and the public. Their wide-ranging activities center around acquisition, maintenance, distribution and documentation of plant germplasm. The units are coordinated by the National Plant Germplasm System and also support international seed collecting and conservation efforts.  

brief history of the NCRPIS in 1985 reported the facility then included 295 plant genera, “of which 173 are ornamentals and many of the rest are crop plants.”  The NCRPIS now houses even more taxa, including maize and other grasses, amaranth, legumes, quinoa, umbels, melons, sunflowers and flax. The NCRPIS fills approximately 60,000 seed orders annually for domestic and international requests. 

This spring, Lawrence-Dill and David Peters, NCRPIS Research Leader with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, co-hosted a campus seminar series that highlighted current and historic projects linking scientists in CALS and NCRPIS. Topics highlighted research on oilseeds, maize and grain amaranth, and horticultural species, including helianthus (sunflower) and monarda (bee balm).   

As the NCRPIS looks ahead, its leaders say some of its major challenges are to address the need for additional space and managing digital resources for plant curation and public access while ensuring collection security. Within its larger sphere, top challenges include maintaining appropriate protocols for international collection and conservation of plant resources, and responding to climate trends that pose risks to plant resources unimagined when the NCRPIS was established.  

“We are grateful for the partnership established 75 years ago that remains important to protect and improve plant species for the future of our region and the world,” Peters said.