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Science-based farming research

Experiments are done on grower level instead of in a laboratory

May 18, 2008
By MARVIN BAKER, Staff Writer,
BERTHOLD – A privately-owned farm research organization that’s only been operating for three weeks already has 70 producers signed up in northwestern North Dakota with the promise of more to come.

Vision Research Park LLC isn’t a competitor and isn’t selling a product, but rather it is complementing science-based farming research. Experiments are done on the grower level instead of in a laboratory.

On May 8, partners Kent McKay of Carpio, John Hvidsten of Burlington and Lee Novak of South Prairie were involved in a national seeding project with John Deere, Bourgault and others to determine optimum rates of planting cereal grains for northwestern North Dakota.

The trial took place a couple of miles south of Berthold in a 2007 canola field owned by Stewart and Doug Opland of Des Lacs.

Spring wheat was seeded with five drills using five different openers with identical seeding rates and anhydrous ammonia applications.

Each drill made three passes and covered more than one acre. The total trial was about 20 acres. Similar data will be compiled when the wheat is harvested.

“We’re excited. This is one of the main trials,” said McKay, director of research. “We’ll look at residue stand counts and tissue testing during the season. We’ll look at different openers and combinations. They want to see how their drills compare with others.”

Glenn Maertens, a field representative with John Deere in Moline, Ill., was on hand to assist with the field trial. Maertens was making sure the John Deere seeders were level and completely operational, a time-consuming task prior to taking to the field.

Maertens, who was working with McKay in the Berthold area for three weeks, was anxious to see the 1870 air hoedrill that has not previously been used in northwestern North Dakota. He said John Deere built 40 of the drills designed to plant cereal grains, but the Moline factory intends to increase production of the 1870 because of rising demand.

“I’m following this machine, the new drill that John Deere has out,” Maertens said. “I’m trying to get data from out in the field. It’s the (right) area for this machine.”

According to McKay, the national research seeding project was a big event for the Berthold area and the northwest, but is just the beginning of what he describes as a forward thinking, exciting new venture.

He said John Deere came to Vision Research and North Dakota State University and asked if McKay and his partners would conduct the trial.

“Our motto is finding the answers before the question is asked,” McKay said. “We’re excited.”

So excited the former North Central Research Extension Center agronomist dubbed himself “Karnak McKay,” in reference to a character Johnny Carson played in a skit on the Tonight Show. In the sketch, Karnak the Magnificent held an envelope up to his forehead, blurted out an answer, then read the question for laughs.

McKay admitted he may take some ribbing for the nickname, but the answers are no laughing matter. His job is to make sure producer-oriented research is completed and data is returned to the farm where it was gathered.

“Our computer models will be able to help advise growers,” McKay said. “It’s to enhance their profit and that’s where the research comes in.”

As an example, McKay said producers don’t have time to spend compiling information and analyzing data. Instead, Vision Research exists to do just that. As an example of information obtained from producers, Vision Research will be able to predetermine disease or fungus and alert the producer to get out in the field and scout for problems.

Looking for answers

Thus far, Vision Research, which McKay affectionately calls “Vision,” has 30 trials set up from Washburn to Sherwood to Williston. It isn’t limited to Berthold or Ward County and nothing is being sold. Vision isn’t competing with anyone, he said, but is complementing science-based research. Vision works with growers, while university research is often laboratory related. Also Vision plans to do consultations.

“We hope to grow. We will grow,” McKay said. “We have more than 70 farmers signed up and to have that many in the first 10 days is amazing. We’ll be covering a lot of area working with growers. We’re not selling anything. We’re doing research. And just by tweaking, we can save money.”

Vision Research has been McKay’s brainchild for a number of years. He said it took a long time to develop, but now that it has, technical data related to farming will be better understood by producers and better analyzed by Vision Research, which in turn, will help producers gain more profit for their commodities. McKay will also be able to apply knowledge he gained as an agronomist for more than 17 years with the North Central Research Extension Center.

McKay said the emphasis will be on breeding, but numerous other options will be explored. They include working with seed companies, nurseries and chemical companies on the optimum use of fungicides and herbicides. Seed treatments will be explored, he added, and Vision Research is working with an inoculant company to test a promising British product on area legumes.

“Our plate is full,” McKay said. “It’s exciting for me to work closer with growers to solve some of these problems that are out there.”

According to McKay, as other companies get word of Vision Research, he expects more machinery trials to take place and more producers to sign up as members.

The Oplands said they are satisfied members and are happy to have an agency like Vision Research in their back yard. Stewart Opland said Vision Research will alleviate some of the work he and Doug don’t necessarily like to do and accurate analysis will help them stabilize input costs and maximize yields.

McKay says it’s all about doing the right thing in the field.

“Equipment, speciality crops, it don’t matter. If there is a need, we’ll do it,” McKay said. “We’re not just out spraying. We’re looking for answers.”

Article Photos

Marvin Baker/MDN --
Austin Emerson, an employee of Gooseneck Implement in Minot, seeds wheat on canola ground during a national seeding research project south of Berthold May 8. Vision Research Park LLC partners tested several machines to gain the optimum seeding results for northwestern North Dakota.

Fact Box

For more information
on Vision Research Park LLC,
please contact Kent McKay at 453-3561,
or send e-mail to



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