Groundbreaking for NDSU’s Williston Research Extension Center’s new seed-cleaning plant will happen during summer field days at the center July 11.

“We’re excited about finally getting a new seed-cleaning plant, and we will be having a ground-breaking for it at field days,” said Kyle Dragseth, director of Foundation Seedstocks manager at WREC. “Our current one, built in 1954, is the oldest of all the research centers in the state.”

In the recent Legislative session, WREC was appropriated $750,000 for the seed-cleaning plant at the Williston Research Extension Center.

Jerry Bergman, director of WREC, has been working with Tom Wheeler, a producer in the Ray area, other farmers in the region, northwestern state legislators, and county and city commissioners for a long time to bring the appropriation to WREC.

“We were very pleased with the appropriation and it will help with the $2.5 million needed for the seed conditioning plant,” Bergman said. “We greatly appreciate the support of all our proponents that urged the North Dakota legislature to provide funding for the seed conditioning facility and the many legislators who voted to approve the funding.”

The seed conditioning plant will feature pure seed handling and conditioning with new optical sorting technology to condition and distribute the highest purity seed, 99.9 percent pure, of crop varieties in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

“Hats off to Tom Wheeler, a farmer in Ray, he is a blessing. He made it happen,” Dragseth said.

Two years ago, in the last Legislative session, Williston was only given the right to raise funds for the new seed conditioning plant, while Carrington and Minot RECs were handed $750,000 appropriations.

Dragseth knows more than most about the old seed-cleaning plant.

Every year, he cleans and conditions the seeds in the current plant, climbing up and down five levels to do it.

“It’s hard keeping an eye on the seeds I’m cleaning when they are on different levels, and to get to the last level, the fifth floor, I have to pull down a ladder,” he said. ““I can’t wait for the seed cleaning plant to be all on one level so I can do several projects at once and keep an eye on all them.”

The current seed plant is a vertical cleaning method, while the new plant will be a horizontal cleaning method, which is ideal for specialty and pulse crops.

 “We use conveyors that you have to careful not to damage delicate pulse crops – you don’t want them to shatter. It is very difficult to clean chickpeas right now with the current facilities,” Dragseth said.

Parts to keep the current plant going are difficult to find, and companies don’t want to put in large parts because of the difficulty of putting them in in a five-level small building. It is not worth the effort economically.

Seed itself is currently cleaned at a slow 35 bushels an hour for 40,000 bushels of seed each year.

In the new plant, that would increase to 200 bushels an hour, according to the Williston Advisory Board.

Reasons for the new plant presented by the board to the State Board of Ag Research and Education included:

- The existing plant is limited in capabilities and not designed to prepare pulse crops or specialty crops.

- Cropping patterns in the region have exploded with diversity in the past 20 years.

- New and adapted varieties offer grain producers improving opportunities to enhance soil health and increased profitability.

- Increased volume of specialty and traditional seeds will add tremendous income to WREC. A private seed company would consider going into debt to build this profit center.

Dragseth explained that the new seed conditioning plant would be built where the old building currently is.

“The current seed plant is a strong structure so we don’t want to lose it. We’re going to move it to another spot on the fields here, and build the new plant on this site,” he said.

Dragseth recently finished planting his huge acreage of Foundation and Breeder seeds.

“I enjoy the job, really enjoy the producers I work with,” he said. “Like farmers, I like the crops that year that will make money. A couple of years ago that was chickpeas and I hope it goes back to that.”

At WREC, some of the Foundation seeds grown include: Bolles, Mott and ND VitPro HRSW; Carpio, Divide, Lebsock, ND Grano and ND Riveland durum; and Cardinal and NutraSaff safflower, varieties for Safflower Technologies.

“We grow all the seed for Safflower Technologies. Safflower is such a great crop in the rotation – its long tap roots break up compaction – and the crop grows well in arid North Dakota,” Dragseth said.

In addition, he is growing varieties of chickpeas.

“Meridian Seeds increased New Hope chickpeas last year, sent it to the winter nursery, and the goal is to get around 1,000 bushels, so I am working on that,” he said.

Dragseth is also growing two peas in fields in back of the current seed plant: one is green pea, called Hampton from Washington, and one is a NDSU yellow pea variety.

WREC also grows the new lentil from NDSU, ND Eagle.

WREC hopes to finish fundraising for its new seed cleaning plant in the two states by December of this year. 

Construction might begin in the spring of 2020, if fundraising is complete by then.

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