MSU’s Ag research center to celebrate 100 years
One hundred years ago, as the dust settled on the American Indian Wars near northern Montana’s border with Canada, the Fort Assiniboine military post south of Havre sold 2,000 acres to Montana State University. The university turned that land into its Northern Agricultural Research Center, or NARC, which is one of seven agricultural research centers across the state that comprise the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station, or MAES. MAES is charged with delivering cutting-edge agricultural research for the state’s public.
Now, NARC will celebrate its 100-year legacy of agriculture research for thousands of Montana’s farmers and ranchers along the Hi-Line during its annual field day, set for Wednesday, July 1. The day will include field tours, presentations and demonstrations of current research. In addition, the Montana Board of Regents will rename the center’s office/lab building the Gregg R. Carlson Agricultural Science Center in honor of retired NARC Superintendent and Agronomist Gregg Carlson’s significant contributions to agriculture. The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Ag Appreciation celebration will take place, as well. All are invited to attend the day’s events, which will be held from noon to 5 p.m.
The day is intended to celebrate the center as a trusted source of agricultural science and support that has greatly changed agriculture for a significant portion of the state’s farmers and ranchers, according to Darrin Boss, NARC superintendent.
The land on which NARC now sits is steeped in history. According to Boss, before being sold to MSU, the land was a bustling military fort housing more than 700 enlisted United States military officers and their families on 704,000 acres. The fort included a hospital, ice house and living quarters. Today, bullet cartridges and arrowheads can still be found scattered around the center’s 7,000 acres. Summer student workers and ranch hands still live in the historic officers’ quarters built in the early 19th century. The building’s architecture is modeled after colonial civil war military barracks. A brick turret still sits on top of the officer’s barracks, and the old agronomy lab housed Havre’s first jail.
Through a collaborative effort, the Fort Assiniboine Preservation Society aids MAES and NARC in restoration and preservation of the historic fort. Though the research center has since moved to modern facilities, Boss considers the center’s unique history an integral part of the center’s identity.
“You can’t talk about this place without talking about its history,” said Boss. “We started with an initial 2,000 acres, added a few leases along the way, and in 1992 purchased the 3,000-acre Thackeray Ranch from Webster and Charlotte Thackeray to solidify our legacy as a 7,000-acre world-class agronomic and livestock research facility. I am not bragging, since I stand on the shoulders of all who have worked or been involved with the station before me, but when I say I have been to a very large number of research facilities from the Midwest to the West Coast, I would stack MSU agronomic and livestock facilities, research support staff and faculty with any in the nation.”
The center is credited with making many agricultural advancements through the years and has influenced a majority of current agricultural practices in the region, according to Barry Jacobsen, associate director of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. Some of these include adoption of no-till farming, GPS use in crop rotation, seeding and fertilizing, increasing calf weaning weights, increase of yields in drought years, irrigation practices, nutrient application techniques, range renovation, grazing practices, breeding and genetic development of heterosis in cattle and soil physics research. NARC is the only statewide research center that conducts both agronomy and livestock research.
“NARC has been immensely successful in the manner in which the center’s years of science and research has changed the way many Montanans operate in agriculture,” Jacobsen said. “Not only does the center have an important historical legacy for the state, but it is also a place of 21st century, cutting-edge livestock and crop research that I know we will see more advancements from in the next 100 years.”
Boss credits the legacy of NARC with those that conducted both technical science research, as well as the hard labor required of farm and ranch work.
“There is no way a research center could survive and generate pertinent producer-driven research without the dedicated service of every employee who has worked at the station,” Boss said. “Nobody chose agricultural research to get rich and retire wealthy; most chose a profession at the center because of their ties to the land, cattle or family. The scientists conducting and publishing the research get national attention, as they should, but I think back to the young men who broke the plot field with both teams of horses and one of the very first steam engines on the hi-line, every plot worker who has spent the day counting newly germinated wheat plants, to the cowboys who are out in the -30 (degree) weather saving that newborn calf. It truly was, is and will always be a team environment at NARC, and we could not survive the first 100 years and will not be here for another 100 years without that attitude.”
–MSU News Service