The Stiles Farm Foundation is a 2,716 acre farm located in Thrall, Texas in eastern Williamson County. The farm is managed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service as a living demonstration of research-based, profitable, and environmentally sustainable agricultural practices for the Texas Blackland Prairie.
The farm works with scientists and industry partners to create farm demonstrations and research trials evaluating new technologies, farming methods or equipment so producers can adopt the most beneficial practices. What makes Stiles Farm unique is our outreach and education efforts all happen on a commercially viable farm operation. The farm has to be profitable to survive and is faced with many of the same challenges as other dryland farms in the Texas Blacklands. This provides Stiles Farm a grassroots platform for promoting research driven agricultural practices.
History of the farm
The Stiles Farm Foundation originated with the visionary Stiles family at Thrall in Williamson County. Longtime farmers J.V. and H.A. Stiles wanted to commemorate their father, James E. Stiles, and the land he worked. They also wanted to help their neighbors in the Central Texas Blacklands learn about new farming practices. They envisioned a model demonstration farm where farmers could see such new practices in action. So in 1961, they established the Stiles Farm Foundation with its land holdings of about 3,000 acres as a bequest to the Board of Directors of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System).
As the Foundation’s trustees, the Texas A&M Board of Directors asked Texas Cooperative Extension (now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service) to manage the farm according to the expressed purposes. Current land holdings (about 2,700 acres) include some 1,800 acres of cropland and the remainder in pasture and stock ponds.
The farm manager works with extension specialists, research scientists and county agents to establish demonstration plots and also to manage most of the farm as a full-scale commercial operation. With money from that operation, scholarships and a chair of agricultural finance were established at Texas A&M University in 1969. Currently, two $4,500 Stiles Farm Foundation scholarships are given annually to outstanding Central Texas high school seniors to study some field of agriculture.
Crops that have been planted on the farm, in addition to the traditional corn, grain sorghum, cotton, wheat and oats, include sunflowers, soybeans, peaches, grapes, Christmas trees, vegetables, and rapeseed. The livestock component of the operation has included a cow-calf entity, stockers, swine, and catfish.
Various farming practices also have been demonstrated to determine their viability. For example, furrow diking and conservation tillage have been used to increase rainfall efficiency. Cropping systems have included narrow row cotton and broadcast grain sorghum, and there have been numerous demonstrations of different fertilizer sources, rates, and placements as well as seeding rates, methods, and planting dates. Various weed, disease, and insect control practices serve as longtime standards among demonstration plots at the farm. Stocker cattle and grazing studies have highlighted livestock operations along with a farrow-to-finish swine operation that was discontinued in 1992. Marketing of agricultural enterprises has also been explored, including such practices as forward contracts, futures, and options.
Field days have been conducted annually at the farm since 1963 (except in 1996 when the event was cancelled because of drought conditions). Visitors come from across the Central Texas area to view the demonstrations and educational exhibits. Resource persons for the field day represent the various entities of the Agriculture Program in the Texas A&M University System. The field day also features equipment and machinery displays by area agribusinesses.
The farm has published a handbook of its demonstrations since 2002. This valuable reference for producers provides firsthand information on results of various farming operations that can serve as a management guide.
Stiles Farm is committed to fulfilling the vision of the Stiles family whose faith and trust in The Texas A&M University System inspired them to establish the farm foundation for the betterment of Central Texas agriculture. To that end, The Stiles Farm, along with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and The Texas A&M University System, will continue its commitment to strive for excellence in leadership and service.