WILLISTON An expansion project at the North Dakota State University Williston Research Extension Center has been a long time coming, and will give the agricultural research facility some room to stretch out with new offices and labs.
Neil Riveland, assistant director and agronomist, said the extension center's mission is to research crop varieties and management practices that enable the farming community to increase its net income. One of the fastest ways to do that, according to Riveland, is to find superior varieties of crops.
"We spend probably 50 percent of our time testing varieties and trying to find superior varieties of (crops)," Riveland said. "We work with between 25 and 30 crops, so it becomes quite a numbers game."
Submitted Photo --
The Ernie French Center at the North Dakota State University Williston Research Extension Center, seen in this photo Aug. 31, is being expanded with three new labs and a sample processing facility. The addition will add 10,000 square feet to the building, which currently has 8,000 square feet.
Other management practices the center does include testing different herbicides and seeding rates, and updating its recommendations in light of new technology.
A new addition to the Ernie French Center should go a long way in helping the center fulfill its mission in the future. The Ernie French Center, named after Ernie French, superintendent of the Williston Research Extension Center from 1960-1992, is an educational facility with office space as well as meeting rooms and a small kitchen.
A total of $1.68 million of state money has been appropriated for the addition, although the construction bids came in slightly under that amount. The addition will include six offices, a horticulture lab, soils lab and irrigation lab, as well as a sample processing facility. A number of rooms will make up the sample processing facility, including rooms for receiving, seed archives, seed preparation, seed analysis, a weigh room and a cleaning room.
The sample processing facility is for small-plot samples harvested from the research program, not the seed increase program, Riveland said.
"This initially was what we have been trying to improve on over the years and now we've got it into one nice package," he said.
Construction began in early August and is slated for completion by March of next year. The original building is slightly less than 8,000 square feet, and the addition will add another 10,000 square feet, more than doubling its size.
Wickum Construction of Williston is the general contractor for the project. Riveland noted Wickum Construction actually built the Ernie French Center in the first place, so their added familiarity with the building is a definite plus.
The new labs will update and consolidate the areas where that work is currently done, which Riveland said in its current form is piecemeal.
The horticulture lab is designed primarily to process the horticulture crops such as grapes, vegetables and so forth. The irrigation lab will allow the processing of crop samples grown under irrigation as well as facilitate the analysis of nutrient content. Riveland said they are also hoping to set the irrigation lab up as a basic chemistry lab to allow further analysis during the growing season. The soils lab will be used to analyze soil samples and investigate soil-related problems.
"In our sample processing, that's really going to be nice because we can bring in our samples, clean them, store them for a while if we need to, bring them into a weigh room and sample them, and process our seed samples either with taking oil or protein test weight, those kinds of things," Riveland said.
A walk-in cooler is associated with all three labs, giving the center the ability to store the samples for later use. The center goes through 15,000 to 25,000 samples every year, according to Riveland, who noted this year there were 81 varieties of hard red spring wheat alone planted in a trial with four replications. With so many varieties of each crop, having a modern facility capable of handling all those different samples is vital to the work the center does.
"With the increased diversity that we've seen in the last 20 years with crops, pulse crops in particular - lentils, peas, the acreage increasing," he said. "When I first started it was half fallow, half crop. Now you hardly see a fallow field anymore, and so all of those acres are in crops. Crop diversity has really been something that has not only increased our potential for increased income on the farm, but it also increases the research."
Those aren't the only plans for the new labs, either. While the addition isn't even completed yet, Riveland said they are already thinking about how to improve it even more.
"Potato research is a big thing now and so we're looking to have fryers and those kinds of things in those labs also, but of course the equipment doesn't come with the building," he said with a laugh. "So it will be a while before we have all the equipment. But you know, by the same token you need the space first."
While the labs and sample processing area were of prime importance, the additional office space is greatly needed as well.
"There's a couple offices where we have two per office, so we need a little bit more room," Riveland said, laughing.
This expansion is something the center has needed for quite a while, Riveland said. The original idea for consolidating the various sample processing areas into one place has been on the drawing board in various forms for the better part of 25 years. In fact, he remembers plans being submitted when Ernie French was still the director of the center back in the 1980s so he's excited to see the work get started. Riveland said they've never had anything as technologically advanced as the three labs and sample processing facility all under one roof in his 41 years at the center, and he can't wait to see how it all comes together.
"We're very happy that we're getting this addition and it's an exciting time," he said. "I think this will improve efficiency considerably and it will allow us to do more things. I'm anxious to see the finished product."