Nothing says celebration quite like a good steak dinner. The community will get both at Williston Research Extension Center’s annual field day, Wednesday, July 10.

That’s because the last stop of the tour will actually be a groundbreaking for the center’s new seed cleaning facility, approved by the legislature during the most recent biennium.

The steak dinner follows the groundbreaking ceremony, and includes the choice of either steak or lamb, the latter of which is coming in from the Hettinger Research Center.

Field Day is 3 to 7 p.m. at the Williston Research Extension Center, 14120 Highway 2 West in Williston. In addition to the groundbreaking ceremony, the tour includes an update on a wide variety of research, from soil acidification and soybean varieties to pipeline reclamation and weed management.

The seed-cleaning facility is a vital part of the region’s Foundation Seed Program, responsible for bringing new varieties to growers in the region.

The legislature has approved $750,000 toward the new plant’s construction, while community efforts have so far raised $800,000. That leaves just $700,000 more to go.

Pledges toward the capital campaign can be made over more than one year, and those giving at least $100 will have their name on a plaque commemorating their contribution.

The Foundation Seed Program increases seed from new varieties and disseminates them to growers who further increase them to sell certified seed.

Among the latest new varieties set to appear from the Foundation Program is a new variety of durum that’s resistant to cadmium. European countries like Italy are no longer buying durum that doesn’t have this trait.

There’s also a new NDSU soybean variety that is Roundup ready, one that farmers will be able to save seed to replant. That alone can save a grower between $26 to $60 an acre, and is just one example of how the Foundation Program puts money back into the pockets of growers.

There’s also a Montana spring wheat called Lanning that is tolerant to low pH soil coming from the Foundation program. Soil acidification is an emerging problem in some areas of the MonDak, but since variety trials are done across the state, resistance to that problem has been unknowingly in the works for a long time.

There’s also a dual purpose durum that will produce both good forage and grain that is worth consideration.

“It’s an awnless variety,” said Kyle Dragseth, who manages the Foundation Seed Program for WREC . “That makes it more palatable to livestock, so it’s going to be a great fit for the area. We have a lot of cattle producers, and we usually get our moisture in the spring. This is a winter wheat that you can seed in the fall to take advantage of that spring moisture and get some good quality hay. It should ton up better than a spring crop.”

Now that a seed cleaning facility is on the horizon for 2021, Dragseth has also taken on a couple of chickpea varieties showing resistance to Ascochyta blight and a pea that may have resistance to root rot, both of which would be an amazing leap forward for those crops.

“Pulse crops is where this new facility is going to shine,” said Tom Wheeler, a grower who has been active in efforts to get legislative funding for the new seed cleaning facility.

The old, 1950s model was state-of-the-art in its day, but is now hopelessly out of date. The five-story plant uses gravity to sort seeds, but is none too gentle on pulses.

“The new facility won’t damage the seed coats like the old mill did,” Wheeler said.

The new facility will also be faster.

“We’ll be able to do 200 bushels an hour,” WREC Director Jerry Bergman said.

That’s going to easily double the plant’s current capacity for seed production, allowing the Foundation Seed Program to put out a larger volume of pure seeds, and in wider assortment.

The new seed cleaning facility will all be on one level in a brand new building. It will be a series of devices that put seeds through their paces.

First there’s a scalper, to remove dirt and debris. Then, there’s a series of air screens to sort solely by size.

After that, a length grader separates seeds by length and weight, followed by a gravity table that sorts by density.

A color sorter finishes everything out. Not only can it separate red lentils from green, or yellow peas from green, but it can detect defects as well, and get rid of those seeds.

The new plant is so precise, it can even remove spring wheat seeds from durum.

“That one has been our biggest enemy here,” Dragseth said.

The inability to separate spring wheat from durum was one of the reasons Dragseth said he stopped growing Mountrail, an older variety of durum that many growers here still like.

With the new machine, the Foundation Seed program will be able to achieve new standards of purity — 98 percent or better.

“We could not do that with the old facility,” Bergman said. “With the old plant, there were some lots we didn’t even attempt to clean.”

The new facility is putting new vigor into Dragseth’s step, and into the Foundation Seed Program itself.

“It was starting to look like we’d never get it,” Dragseth said. “And that kind of takes the drive out of you. But now things are looking up thanks to Tom and Jerry for being so progressive in this venture. This will open up a lot of avenues.”

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