Arthur Benjamin Conner, agronomist and developer of sorghum for use in Texas, son of Richard Benjamin and Jane Conner, was born in Rosebud, Texas, on October 20, 1881. He graduated from Texas A&M in 1904 with a B.S. in agriculture and worked as a scientific assistant for the United States Department of Agriculture at Chillicothe until 1911. During this time he tested hundreds of sorghum varieties and became responsible for distributing dwarf yellow milo, the principal sorghum grown in Texas for the next twenty-five years (see SORGHUM AND SORGHUM CULTURE). In 1911 Conner became vice director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (see AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION SYSTEM). He completed an M.S. at Texas A&M in 1923 and three years later became acting director of the station. In 1928 he became director, a post he held until 1944. In 1948 he received the first honorary doctor of agriculture degree awarded by Texas A&M University.
As station director, Conner wanted experiment stations to be like model farms. His scientific goals included prevention and cure of plant diseases and diseases of animals, adaptation or breeding of fruits and vegetables for Texas soils and climate, soil fertility and agricultural chemistry, and research on livestock feeds, forestry, cotton, and agricultural economic problems. He recognized and supported Harris P. Smith's development of the mechanical cotton stripper, Paul Mangelsdorf's studies of corn, and Ray E. Dickson's soil conservation research. The Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was written by Conner, Representative James Paul Buchanan, and Dickson, and supported in the United States House of Representatives by Marvin Jones, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. Under Conner's direction the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station expanded research to areas of diverse soil, climate, and agricultural conditions. He cooperated with the United States Department of Agriculture to establish the Southwestern Great Plains Research Center near Amarillo and entered into joint relations with John Tarleton College (now Tarleton State University) at Stephenville. In addition to research on sorghum, soil fertility, and conservation, he supported and helped make possible the introduction of the Chinese elm to Texas, the development of the sore-mouth vaccine, and the development of new varieties of cotton, corn, oats, and wheat, as well as work on controls for the cotton flea hopper.
Conner was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Genetic Association, the American Society of Agronomy, and the Philosophical Society of Texas. He lived near Rosebud with his wife, Nettie. He was a Methodist. He died on August 4, 1971, and was survived by his wife and two sons. See also AGRICULTURE, CORN AND CORN CULTURE, COTTON AND COTTON CULTURE, WHEAT PRODUCTION.