As a farmboy in Devonshire, England, James Withycombe was enchanted by stories of the Willamette Valley. At 17, he convinced his family to move with him to a farm near Hillsboro; at 21, he bought himself a nearby ramshackle, 100-acre wheat farm. Instead of following the established path of a one-crop farm, Withycombe developed a diversified cropping system that eventually grew to 256 acres and one of the most prosperous farms in the region.
A gifted livestock breeder, Withycombe became the state veterinarian and traveled throughout Oregon, often by horse-and-buggy. He developed an interest in the agricultural possibilities for the state, and in 1908 he became director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. He preached the importance of soil fertility and recommended earlier plowing of summer fallow and rotations of nitrogen-rich crops in a cycle with wheat. Following Withycombe’s advice, Oregon wheat growers more than doubled their production and allowed for the conservation of soil.
In 1914, James Withycombe resigned as Station Director to become governor of Oregon. Three years later, the U.S. entered World War I, and Oregon Agricultural College became the center of military life for the entire state of Oregon.