By Tim Leeds
Northern Agricultural Research Center Superintendent Don Anderson said that although the station has changed technology over the last 85 years, the research has remained constant.
Anderson said when he first started at NARC, they were still mixing different feeds in tubs by hand to pour into troughs to feed to the cattle to test the effectiveness. Now, he said, they have a mixer wagon that measures and mixes the feeds for them.
"Just kind of one of those signs of the times," he said. "There was a lot more labor involved, in the research as well."
He said the first ground breaking on the 2,000 acres the center owned was done by a Kremlin farmer with a steam wagon, with horse-drawn implements used for the farming. But the intent from the start was to see how to improve the results of agriculture.
The station began in 1914, when the North Montana Branch Experiment station was established on the site of Fort Assinniboine. The U.S. War Department closed the fort in 1911, and gave the buildings and one section of land to the state, which purchased an additional 2,000 acres to go with it.
Today, there are four professors and seven support staff at the center, which is one of seven of the Montana agricultural experiment stations of the College of Agriculture at Montana State University-Bozeman.
Along with Anderson, Daniel S. Long, Derek W. Bailey and Gregg R. Carlson are MSU-Bozeman professors who research at NARC. Darrin L. Boss is a research associate, Garnet Bergren is the administrative assistant, Richard Granell and Jeff Whitmus are ag research technicians, and Larry Hagebuch, Steve Lairy and Chan Miller work as ranch hands.
This staff is continuing the work of agricultural research the station has done for more than 85 years. The benefit to producers is finding the most cost-effective way to get the most profit out of what they produce.
Anderson said research done by NARC over the years has become commonplace in agriculture today. He said the station has been a leader in the state, and recognized nationally, for the work done there. Much of that work has been incorporated into agricultural practices used today.
The center's first superintendent, George A. Morgan, grew some of the first dryland crops in the area. His research led to findings on the importance of methods and equipment used in summer fallowing, rotating crops, timing fall planting and using trees and brush for protection.
The first chemical fallow research in the United States began at the station in 1948, conducted by Torlief S. Aasheim. Aasheim was recently honored at a Monsanto "Fields of Tomorrow" field day held at the station in 1997.
Fred Willson, superintendent from 1940-43, researched reseeding rangeland with crested wheat during drought years and using it as early spring pasture for cattle. The station's second superintendent, M. A. Bell, researched the effects of drought on farming during the 1920s and '30s, and his findings have proven true throughout the years.
That kind of work continues today. NARC does extensive research to find what breeds of cattle, what varieties of grain, what kinds and amounts of fertilizers and chemicals will best fit into a particular area or climate.
Some of the current or recent projects at NARC include investigating cattle breeds that best match environmental conditions, crop variety performance under different dryland conditions, cropping techniques that increase the bushel per acre production of winter wheat, increased grassland production, analyzing the economics of different wheat varieties, global climate change monitoring, cattle foraging studies, and using global positioning technology and global information systems to maximize productivity of both cattle and grain crops.
Anderson said the work done at the station can involve the simplest concepts. He said one project is studying the effectiveness of seeder drill openers in different field environments. A farmer invests a lot of money into putting the equipment on their drills, Anderson said. The farmer needs to be sure he has the right equipment for the environment.
"The drill isn't that valuable if you don't have the right opener for a field," he said.