When you look at the new seed cleaning facility at Williston Research Extension Center, what you see on the surface is shiny and new, like a recently white-washed fence under a blue prairie sky.
Beneath that surface, however, is a vision 27 years in the making, and a lot of dedication and will from a whole community of people determined to help make that dream finally come true.
“We’ll be able to purify seed that may have different weeds that we couldn’t with the old plant,” NDSU director Dr. Jerald Bergman said. “So we’ll produce higher purity seed and more crops with this plant that will handle about 200 bushels an hour. Our old one did 35 bushels an hour.”
Bergman, in his brief remarks, took no credit for the dream he’s been working toward for 27 years. Instead, he talked about the team efforts of others. Those individuals, however, all talked about Bergman’s vision and long-time experience with nearly 50 years in the agriculture sector as the guiding force behind them every step of the way.
“Jerry Bergman is really good at passing praise off on everyone else. And he does that with me,” Tom Wheeler said.
The farmer from Ray was a frequent figure at the legislature during the fight for funding for WREC’s new seed-cleaning facility. He also helped lead the capital campaign for the facility once the legislature finally approved a $750,000 appropriation for the project.
“You know, I’m a farm kid,” Wheeler said. “I don’t have much education. And I couldn’t have done it without him. We did it as a team. But he pushed me there. You know, he knows the system. He knows NDSU. He’s been around a long time. So he knows how to do things, and he’s the one that got me to go. We went together on these presentations. We worked together as a team. And I just don’t even want to take any praise.”
Rep. Patrick Hatlestad, also saluted Bergman’s tenacity.
“I think Jerry had said 27 years,” Hatlestad said. “That’s a long time to keep battling and battling and still remain optimistic.”
One of the things that impressed Hatlestad about both Bergman and Wheeler’s efforts was not just that the two kept going and going, however.
“Every time they came to the legislature to see us they had refined the proposal,” Hatlestad said. “They made it better. And we kept pushing it. In fact, Jerry handed it to me one day and he said here, now it’s in your hands.”
That turned out all right. Hatlestad’s desk in the legislature just happened to be right on the way for the gentleman who was chairman of the subcommittee on appropriations. That entity, ultimately, is the one that dealt with funding for the seed-cleaning facility.
Hatlestad used that to good advantage, he recalled, pressing the man about money for the seed cleaning facility every so often. Until finally, the chairman simply agreed that the money would be there.
“Thank you,” Hatlestad recalls telling him. “That’s really all I want.”
Hatlestad paused to gesture at the white building containing the recently completed seed-cleaning facility’s giant-sized equipment, full of tubes wider than a man’s leg, and towering metal structures that seemed at least two or three stories high.
“So I think if you see the vision, and the dedication of a lot of people,” Hatlestad said. “Voila, here it is.”
Rep. David Richter, meanwhile, was impressed by the presence of so many civic and community leaders both at the ground-breaking ceremony and the ribbon cutting Wednesday night, July 13.
“It shows the importance of this to the region, to northwest North Dakota,” he said.
He also praised the efforts of both Wheeler and Bergman in bringing about the facility.
“I think I saw Tom probably more than I saw my wife,” he joked. “I want to say to Tom, in general, your dedication to this project was great. We brought a state-of-the-art, world-class seed-cleaning facility to Northwest North Dakota that will benefit this region and the state for 27 years to come.”
Getting the legislature to appropriate the money was a very big milestone for the project. But it was really only the first step. Next came the all-important part. Community support — and a capital campaign to raise the rest of the $2.7 million that would be required to build the state-of-the-art facility.
Among the first to step up to that plate was the city of Williston itself, with a $250,000 commitment from its STAR Fund.
“As the city of Williston when we heard about this project we were all in,” Mayor Howard Klug said, adding that he’s especially proud of the city for being among the first to commit. “That’s where we want to be on these ag projects. No. 1.”
Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford was also present for the ceremony.
“This has been a long time coming,” Sanford said, recalling how in 2017 other seed facilities received funding, but not Williston’s.
“That didn’t sit very well with us,” Sanford said. “And then the 2019 session came along. And a little problem happened with the budget, with oil funding. So this is four years coming, and Tom let us know every day of that for four years.”
Sanford joked that he felt like a mouse being chased by two cats, those cats being Bergman and Wheeler. But ultimately, the way Williston was able to do its facility, with the much larger community match, means that Williston has one of the best seed-cleaning facilities around.
Wheeler, who led the charge on the capital campaign, credited elected leadership in Williams, Mckenzie and Richland counties for making substantial commitments to fund the facility, as well as businesses throughout the region. The seed cleaning facility’s trade area stretches from Glasgow, Montana to the west, north to the Canadian border and south to the state’s border. In the east, it overlaps with Minot.
McKenzie County’s JDA did not generally commit to more than $100,000 for a project, but for the seed-cleaning facility, they offered $300,000, a testament to just how important elected officials found the vision of bringing about this facility.
Williams County, meanwhile, told Bergman he could give them a number. Any number.
“You tell us what you need to finish it, or to get as close as possible and we’ll make it happen,” Williams County Commissioner Beau Anderson recalled telling Bergman. “The money we contributed, it’s not Williams County’s. It’s yours. and a lot of that money came from the land because it came from oil production taxes that are returned to the county. So it came from the land. And I like to think that we contributed to a project that is going to give back to the land and give back to the folks that contributed to us.”