Four miles south of Oakes, on the west side of N.D. Highway 1, a 20-acre plot features a patch of carefully cultivated crops.
Watered with a mini-irrigation system, onions, sunflowers, corn, beans and potatoes thrive in the dirt with the conditions, yields and results carefully scrutinized.
For more than four decades, the area was called the Oakes Irrigation Research Site. But the generosity of a local resident has resulted in it getting a new name.
The Robert Titus Research Farm honors a longtime farmer and innovator, who lived for many years just west of the site. It was renamed this summer, the American News reported.
Titus, 87, now lives in Oakes.
"They asked my mother, Josephine Titus, if they could rent the land. I suppose I was the one who made the decision," he explained. "They asked me if they could rent the land for five years. That's been a long five years."
The plot was established in 1970 by the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Land Reclamation to showcase to farmers the benefits of irrigation.
To ensure the research will continue, Bob and Elsie Titus have, in their life estate, deeded the land and another 20 acres to the North Dakota State University Development Foundation.
Blaine Schatz, director and research agronomist at NDSU's Carrington Research Extension Center, oversees the Oakes site and is excited about the expansion.
"The research station has generated a lot of information in the last 46 years, not only for the region and state irrigators, but a lot has been extrapolated to dryland operation and utilized by dryland producers," Schatz said. "Every year, it's a struggle to complete all of the research because of the limited footprint. Working with the Garrison Board, the Oakes community and other ag groups, the research capacity will double. Starting in September, a new linear irrigation system will be put in place."
Schatz said he is confident the information from the site is being used for water management across the area.
"We also look at how to manage fertilizer and disease. All of the information is part of the overall package of information researchers use to make decisions as shown in our annual reports and through the research available online," he said.
Schatz said onions are a tremendous crop under irrigation. There are 25 varieties of onions planted at Oakes, and that provides a look at niche marketing.
Even though there isn't a sugar beet processing plant near Oakes, sugar beets are seen as a potential for biofuel. Under irrigation, the Oakes site provides data to show they have a tremendous potential as an alternative crop.
Since Oakes is close to the South Dakota border, much of the research has regional applications, Schatz said. Northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota have a lot of similarities, and the Oakes trials can provide valuable information in the controlled setting.
Walt Albus retired as the research agronomist at the site in 2013. When he and Ray Sletteland started working at the Oakes site, they were only in their 20s and needed direction.
"We only had a small shack with our equipment," Albus said. "Bob (Titus) let us use his shop, tools and junk pile, plus would work with us to figure out what we needed to do."
Albus said the site is used to provide a look at new seed varieties and conventional and non-conventional hybrids. He said a non-biased assessment with regional data is critical for producers. And now, with expensive herbicides, it's imperative to find out through trials, such as those done at Oakes, what works and what doesn't.
"We wanted to find out what would work under irrigation in these sandy soils," Sletteland said. "We soon found that small grains were not feasible. Crops like onions, potatoes and sugar beets work well.
"We wouldn't have made it without Bob. He's one of the big reasons it's here," Sletteland said. "He was a good mentor, a good teacher and heck of a good friend. He should have been an ag mechanics instructor. He would have made one cracker jack of a teacher. He leaves us quite a legacy."