The Texas Research Foundation, a nonprofit agency supported by voluntary contributions, was set up to revitalize the sick soils of Texas. The foundation was an outgrowth of the Institute of Technology and Plant Industry formed at Southern Methodist University in 1944 with an initial emphasis on the blackland prairies. Two years later it was divorced from the University and renamed the Texas Research Foundation, with Karl St. John Hoblitzelle of Dallas as its president. Dr. Cyrus L. Lundell, an internationally known botanist who had been active in research since 1928, became its first director. The foundation established a plant at Renner, six miles north of the Dallas city limits, and there built twenty laboratories and put more than 400 acres in test fields and pastures. From its start, the foundation engaged in basic research as well as in the practical application of scientific discoveries. By 1950 its staff comprised about fifty persons, including thirty trained scientists. Projects of the foundation in its early years embraced the development of a white corn hybrid of high quality and large yield and the development and adaptation of substitute crops, mainly oilseed plants, for land retired from cotton. The foundation also tested many fertilizers and combinations of fertilizers. In addition it made practical grazing tests with both summer and winter grasses and developed a program for using grass to restore depleted soil and to produce more beef in Texas pastures. The foundation was one of the earliest agencies to apply atomic energy to agricultural research. Under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission, it obtained radioisotopes from Oak Ridge. These it converted into radioactive adenine and various compounds. Some were used in developing insecticides and weed killers. Radioisotopic phosphorus was used as a tracer to show the degree to which plants absorbed this fertilizer. Still others were shipped to laboratories elsewhere in the country to be used in cancer studies and other research.
In addition to engaging well-known scientists from agricultural institutions, the foundation awarded fellowships to young scientists working toward advanced degrees in various universities. In 1951 it entered into an agreement with the University of Texas for an exchange of advanced students in plant sciences. Soon after its start, the foundation began making the findings of its research and experiments available to county agents, conservation leaders, farmers, and ranchers. By 1966 the Texas Research Foundation had in use 860 acres of fields, pastures, test plots, and laboratories. After more than two decades of research, it had developed the Renner Farming System, a process of growing major cash crops for soil improvement, using rotation to improve the land, and the Renner Pasture System, which provided year-round grazing, leaving grass for hay and silage while improving the soil. The latter system helped to expand the number of beef and dairy cattle in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from 1,000,000 head in 1944 to more than 3,000,000 in 1964. In addition, the foundation put in practice in 1962 a farm-demonstration program that applied sound crop and pasture programs to fifty farms in thirty Texas counties. Research at Renner evolved new crop strains that increased yields while upgrading soil. These included grain sorghum, white corn hybrids, two varieties of soybeans, and several superior grasses.
On September 1, 1972, the Texas Research Foundation was liquidated and its property and lands were distributed to Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Dallas and at Austin. Texas A&M received 380 acres of the western portion of the foundation's lands and established the North Texas Research and Extension Center of the College of Agriculture; the university also made plans to establish other branches of A&M. The University of Texas at Dallas received the eastern portion of 275 acres, together with the Lundell Herbarium, Lundell Rare Book Library, Lundell Science Library, and the furniture for the Lundell Reading Room. The Lundell Herbarium and the Lundell Rare Book Library were transferred from Renner to the University of Texas at Austin in 1972, and a professorship in systematic botany, endowed by a gift of property from Dr. and Mrs. Lundell valued at more than $100,000, was established there beginning in fiscal year 1974–75.