For the Land and Its People
By Anne C. Nyren

Agriculture is the source of more than half of all new dollars coming into North Dakota. Agriculture not only produces food for our tables but, as the state's largest industry and biggest employer, it provides dollars to help us pay for our food as well. Urban and rural alike, agriculture affects everyone's life.

Today's agriculture is a huge and complex industry. It encompasses not only the growing of crops and livestock, but basic and applied research, processing, packaging, merchandising, economic development, world trade, global ecology, and more. Agriculture is an ever-changing industry, affected by dramatic expansion of scientific and technological knowledge.

The North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES) is the state's public research and development arm. The NDAES is headquartered at North Dakota State University, Fargo, and consists of a network of research centers. In response to producer requests, each center was created by an act of the North Dakota Legislature for the purpose of conducting research specific to the region's soil types, precipitation patterns, and growing season length. To serve the state effectively and economically, NDAES research projects are integrated and multidisciplinary. Scientists from every agricultural discipline at NDSU conduct research at the Centers. Also playing a role in this integrated effort is the NDSU Extension Service whose staff communicate results to the producers of the state.

 Research Centers: Comparison and Contrast

Because North Dakota's soils, topography and climate vary significantly from region to region, research programs at the various locations are tailored to fit each area's specific growing conditions. For example, the Dickinson and Williston Centers are located in the western third of the state but are situated on widely different soil types. The sandy soils at Dickinson are derived from non-glaciated sandstone, while the loam soils at Williston are derived from glacial till. Also, Dickinson receives an average of about 2 inches more annual precipitation.

ndmap.gif (46352 bytes)

No-Till Crop Production at Dickinson

Dr. Pat Carr directs crop production research at the Dickinson Center. Dr. Carr has extended the small grain research program to include contrasting tillage systems, crop rotations, fertilizer programs and pest management strategies. Results of this work are among the first generated at Dickinson questioning the practice of summer fallow in cropping systems in the southwest, as well as the first supporting no-tillage crop production systems.

Efforts have been intensified to identify annual forage options for livestock producers. Extensive research on barley-pea and oat-pea mixtures is being conducted, and recommendations for growing cereal-pea mixtures are being changed as a result of it. Dr. Carr has initiated several new crop rotation experiments at Dickinson. These large (5-70 acre) experiments are designed to identify how feed (both grain and forage) and food crops can best be integrated into crop-livestock systems in southwestern North Dakota.

The impact of contrasting crop systems on the cycling of water and nutrients, crop yield and quality, and economics is being determined at the Dickinson Center for the first time. Dr. Carr is collaborating with NDSU scientists located on the Main campus, at other research extension centers, and with USDA-ARS scientists, to identify how contrasting cropping systems impact pest management.

 Crop Variety Testing for the MonDak Region at Williston

The Williston Research Extension Center is an 800-acre dryland farm located in northwestern North Dakota near the city of Williston. The Center was established in 1907 but relocated to its present site in 1954. Formal cooperation between the Williston Center and Montana State's Eastern Agricultural Research Center at Sidney began in January 1994. Director Jerry Bergman administrates the research programs for this Mondak Region (northwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana).

Research at the Williston Center is focused on increasing the productivity of dryland and irrigated agricultural crops while maintaining or improving the soil resource base in the semi-arid MonDak region. The main dryland crops in the region are spring wheat and durum, 50% to 70% of which is grown in a crop-fallow rotation. Barley, oats, safflower, annual legumes, and other alternative crops are also grown as livestock feed and cash crops. Major irrigated crops are sugar beets, alfalfa, and spring wheat.

The Center conducts selection and variety testing on safflower, hard red winter wheat, durum, and high value/value added crops in an effort to enhance their production in the MonDak region. Foundation seed production for area distribution of new and popular older varieties is also a major part of the Center's program.

Recently, in response to the growing interest in irrigation, the Williston Center in cooperation with the Eastern Agricultural Research Center, is evaluating the quality and yield potential of potatoes grown under pivot irrigation on different soil types in the MonDak region.

 Alternative Crop and Weed Research at Minot

The North Central Research Extension Center was established south of Minot in 1945. Located in the heart of the nation's major durum wheat producing counties, the Center serves agricultural producers in a 12-county region through crop and weed research, foundation seed production, and extension programs in crop and livestock production.

The staff at North Central investigate alternative oilseed and legume crops grown in rotation with durum, hard red spring wheat, and barley. Recent problems with scab, Septoria, and orange wheat blossom midge plus economic considerations have increased the need for new rotational crops. Dry peas, lentils, canola, sunflowers in narrow rows, dry beans, soybeans, and a host of new specialty crops are being evaluated for this purpose. Numerous planting, production, and harvest practices are studied for producers' acceptance. Dormant seeding of traditionally spring planted canola is also evaluated.

 Irrigation and Dryland Crop Production at Carrington

The Carrington Research Extension Center is located in the middle of the glacial drift prairie region of the state, which represents the major physiographic land type in North Dakota. The soils and climatic conditions in this region result in production of a very diverse group of crops. The research program at the Carrington Center began 39 years ago in response to the pending irrigation development associated with the Garrison Diversion plan for diverting Missouri River water. Though the Carrington Center remains the irrigation research center for the entire state, its research program has evolved in response to agriculture's changing needs. The Carrington Center is responsible for the region's dryland crop production research, with activities focused on crop cultivar development, alternative crop production, cropping systems evaluations and improved crop management techniques.

 Crop Disease Research at Langdon

The Langdon Research Center at Langdon was created by a legislative act in 1909 to serve the 9 counties that comprise northeastern North Dakota. This area contains some of the state's highest precipitation rates and richest soils. The region also experiences the state's coolest temperatures and shorter growing seasons. This environment favors high levels of crop production. While this region contains only 16% of all North Dakota farmland, it produces 25% of the state's hard red spring wheat, 93% of its potatoes, nearly half of its sugarbeets, a third of the state's barley and flax, 48% of its dry beans, 36% of its durum, and more than $605 million in annual agricultural production. Because 45% of northeast North Dakota is planted to wheat and barley each year, the Langdon Center emphasizes the study of foliar diseases in cereal grains, foliar fungicide use on hard red spring wheat, barley and durum, and common root rot. However, these studies have a major application for farmers throughout the entire state.

In 1989, the Center began monitoring water tables within 10 feet of the soil surface. John Lukach, the Center's director, states, "Shallow water tables really take the sting out of drought years as we have raised 70+ bu/acre barley on continuous cropping during all dry years."

 Range and Livestock Research at Central Grasslands and Dickinson

The Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) was established in 1977 to serve the 16 counties in the Coteau area of North Dakota. The legislated mission of this center requires that research be conducted that will increase the range-carrying capacity of native range with emphasis on conservation, stabilization of grass production, and the identification of the impact of different management systems upon beef production in the Coteau area. The Dickinson Research Center also has a legislated mission to conduct similar forage and beef production research on behalf of producers in western North Dakota. The unique combination of soil type and precipitation patterns also affects forage and rangeland production. According to CGREC Director Paul Nyren, both research centers investigate similar grazing systems but use different management methods to compensate for variances in the environment.

Dr. Llewellyn Manske, Range Scientist, has conducted rangeland research in western North Dakota since 1981. His analysis of 106 years of precipitation data at the Dickinson Research Center reveals a consistent pattern of droughtiness during the months of August-October. Western North Dakota experienced an extended period of drought between 1987 and 1992. A similar analysis of 47 years of precipitation data for areas in the Coteau, indicate average to near-average precipitation patterns at CGREC. Average annual precipitation at CGREC measures 17.8 inches and 15.9 inches at Dickinson. Precipitation records also indicate that CGREC receives 1.25 inches more than Western North Dakota during the growing season months April-September.

Data collected at CGREC on a twice-over rotation grazing system showed that it takes 1.5 acres of rangeland to support a 1000 pound cow and her calf for one month. Dr. Manske's research at the Dickinson Center shows a need of 2.0 acres per cow-calf pair per month on a similar grazing system. The length of the grazing season on native range pasture also varies at each location, 160 days at CGREC and 138 at Dickinson.

In addition to the soil and precipitation variances, Manske believes that the actual physiology of the native range species found in western North Dakota may differ from those found in the Coteau region. The same native range species are found in both locations but their physiology in terms of root growth and capacity to absorb available soil moisture and nutrients may differ. In western North Dakota where precipitation patterns tend towards droughtiness in the growing season, native pastures may include more drought-tolerant species than in the Coteau area of central North Dakota.

 Long Term Range Studies at Central Grasslands

The CGREC has received national recognition for its CRP research programs. A long term grazing intensity study is answering questions about the impact of five different grazing intensities on Coteau area grasslands. Remote sensing studies at CGREC are looking at various ways to increase the efficiency of monitoring range land productivity. Soil water studies are being conducted to evaluate various grazing intensities and their effect on soil water storage and use by the range plants. Cooperative research with the NRCS and Texas A & M University is studying the use of fecal samples to determine forage quality. A computer model called Nutritional Balancer Analyzer is being used in conjunction with near infrared analysis of the fecal samples to predict animal performance on rangeland.

Commercial Sheep Production Studies at Hettinger

Research at the Hettinger Research Extension Center is directed towards four main areas: commercial sheep production statewide, agricultural economics/farm management, control of invasive weeds in North Dakota rangeland, and crop production research. The North Dakota Sheep School is a statewide outreach initiative of the Center. Sheepbud/SD is a national program of production and enterprise analysis records system that is an outreach for North and South Dakota with its origin at this Center. Livestock nutrition research at Hettinger is focused on adding value to new emerging crops in the state.

 Drylot Cow-calf Nutrition and Management at Carrington

The livestock research program at the Carrington Center focuses on intensive drylot cow-calf nutrition and management, beef backgrounding and finishing studies, bison nutrition and crop/livestock integration. Other program activities involve aquaculture, horticulture and groundwater quality studies.

 Economic Impact of Agricultural Research

For the past 25 years, agriculture has provided 53% of North Dakota's new wealth. Statistics taken in 1998 by the North Dakota Statistics Service showed that the state ranks first in the nation for the production of durum, spring wheat, barley, flaxseed, sunflower, canola and all dry edible beans. According to Dr. Al Schneiter, Chair, NDSU Plant Science Department, "NDSU is one of the leading institutions for sunflower research in the world." Schneiter also explained that Trenton, a new hard red spring wheat variety recently released by NDSU, along with new varieties of durum such as Maier and Mountrail, have the potential to increase yields and generate $31 million per year in new wealth for the state.

Livestock sales during 1997 comprized 16.8% of the state's total cash receipts. In 1997 North Dakota ranked 15th in the nation for calf production, 14th for lambs, and 28th for hogs. CGREC has conducted several studies to evaluate management practices for immunization of young livestock against diseases. The results of these studies have decreased the amount of diseases in cattle as they move from the pastures of North Dakota into feedlots.

A 6-year North Dakota Steer Classic conducted at CGREC gave local producers a retained ownership experience permitting them to observe how their livestock performed in the feed lot and the grade and yield of their animals at slaughter. This study is now being used as a model by other centers.

 How the Research Centers are Funded

1997 statistical reports showed cash receipts for all farm products marketed totaled $3.2 billion. Approximately 1.4% of this income is invested in agricultural research. Each research center receives approximately 58% of its funding from state funds. The other 42% is achieved through federal, foundation and industry grants, testing services, and sales of seed and livestock. State support for the entire NDAES is 2.2% of the general fund.

 Producer Input

Each research center is served by an Advisory Board that is made up of area producers and business men and women. These groups assist the center directors by making recommendations concerning the scope and range of the research programs for the area. Each center shares its research results through public meetings, field days, and annual reports.

 The Directors

While writing this article, I asked the directors what it meant to them to be a director of a research center. Kris Ringwall, Director of the Dickinson Center said, "I am proud to provide leadership to the land grant system in southwestern North Dakota. Through the foresight of our parents and grandparents, we have improved crop production, native rangeland, pasture and forage production, and improved critical areas of livestock production. The NDSU Land Grant system has taken the vast unsettled wilderness viewed by historical figures like Lewis and Clark, Custer, Sitting Bull and Roosevelt and helped the families through the rough and tough days of the dust bowl and the depression of the thirties. The 40s, 50s and 60s brought rural security but gave way to a tough agricultural environment that repeated the woes of the 30s. Through it all, the NDSU Land Grant system has been a partner in agricultural productivity. Current programs and goals seek to balance conservation and preservation of our natural resources. This is done with a need to generate profit and sustain individual/family lifestyles in the rural communities in North Dakota."

Blaine Schatz, Director of the Carrington Research Extension Center, wrote, "For me, being a research extension center director means that I have been entrusted with a great responsibility to effectively lead and empower a small number of scientists and educators to address the many challenges faced by our constituency. I take great pride in the many positive impacts our staff has on producers' operations and our rural communities."

Paul Nyren, Director of the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, replied, "Being a research center director is more than an occupation, it is a lifestyle. Living on the Center and guiding its development over the years continues to be an awesome responsibility. Being responsible for the research programs, the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the entire Center brings one much closer to the stresses and rewards of the producers we serve. Being associated with a small group of dedicated individuals who work to not only understand the science of their chosen field, but also the people it serves, is very rewarding."

Jay Fisher, Director of the Minot Center, succinctly summed up the experience, "Being a director is an invigorating challenge. You put your head, your hands and your heart into your work. You never stop thinking about it."

Anne Nyren
Administrative Officer I
North Dakota State University
Central Grasslands Research Center
4824 48th Ave. SE
Streeter, ND 58483
Phone: 701-424-3606


Back to Economics Contents