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Northwest Experiment Station

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Polk County Historical Society
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Black and white aerial view of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings, 1939.

An aerial view of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings, 1939.

In 1895, on land provided by James J. Hill, the Northwest Experiment Station was founded to maximize the agricultural potential in the Red River Valley. Through many changes in the business of farming, the experimental farm continued to provide data on the most effective and efficient crops, livestock, and farming methods in the fertile land around Crookston. The facility was renamed Northwest Research and Outreach Center in 1999.

Since its inception, the station has tested, researched, and provided valuable insight into the farming practices of the Red River Valley. The area’s potential was seen from the beginning, with former superintendent Conrad Selvig noting, “What a heritage. Do you know the potent powers of this soil and the wonders it can perform?”

Less than twenty years after the incorporation of Crookston, the plentiful agricultural opportunities in the Red River Valley were already known around the state. Even Great Northern Railway magnate James J. Hill saw that the Crookston area held promise for farmers, with the right amount of research and experimentation. In the late 1890s, Hill donated 476.61 acres of land two miles north of Crookston to the state, with the provision that it be used for agricultural research and education.

At that time, there was already a state experimental farm in St. Paul, run by W. S. Hays. Hays and the University of Minnesota Board of Regents were surveying land around the state to determine locations for sub-station farms. Having spent time in the Red River Valley while working in Fargo, Hays was also aware of the area’s potential and named Crookston as a possible site.

In 1895, two legislators—Senator Peter M. Ringdal and Representative M. E. Craig—introduced bills to establish the Northwest Experiment Station in Crookston. Their bills led to an appropriation of $15,000 for the establishment of Crookston’s experimental farm, including $10,000 for equipment and $5,000 for two years of operations. The city of Crookston and Polk County also chipped in funds to develop new roads at the new facility.

Torger A. Hoverstad was named superintendent of the station and joined Hays for the groundbreaking in August 1895. Hoverstad’s first few years on the station were difficult. The biggest barrier to developing a working farm was the extensive flooding. The area’s particularly flat land resulted in soggy fields with nowhere for the water to run. In 1903 and 1905, additional state appropriations were finally provided to improve drainage, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and United States Engineers worked on the project through 1908.

In those first years, Hoverstad focused on planting trees around the barren land and testing four-foot-by-four-foot plots of wheat. After the major drainage issues were addressed, everything from forestry, alfalfa, and sugar beet farming to clover, poultry, and dairy farming were tested on the grounds.

In Hoverstad’s ten years as superintendent, he saw both growth and failure. In many years, wheat crops struggled due to weeds. But clover and alfalfa took off and were quickly adapted to the land in the Red River Valley. With economic development in mind, Hoverstad saw a natural fit—dairy farmers could become buyers of the plentiful clover and alfalfa to feed their cows.

Education was a natural next step for the station. With the backing of Hill and Governor Samuel Rinnah Van Sant, the 1905 Minnesota legislature appropriated $15,000 to establish the Northwest School of Agriculture on the grounds of the experiment station. This school was rededicated as the University of Minnesota Technical Institute in 1966 and as the University of Minnesota–Crookston in 1988.

In 1999, the Northwest Experiment Station changed its name to the Northwest Research and Outreach Center. Over the years, the experiment station grew in size. In 2017, the farm’s land totaled more than 1,500 acres. Research on soil, fertilizer, livestock, and crops—including sunflowers, sugar beets, and edible beans—helped farmers increase their efficiency and develop many of northwest Minnesota’s successful industries.

Education and outreach were also part of the station’s mission. Farmers spent time on the grounds during annual visiting days, learning about the latest research to take back to their fields. These trainings later developed into the popular Red River Valley Winter Show, a large indoor showcase of the latest agricultural developments.

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“An A. C. for Crookston.” Crookston Weekly Times, February 6, 1904.

“Beside Education, Experiment Farm Earns $21,000.” Crookston Daily Times, March 25, 1926.

“Drainage Necessitated.” Crookston Weekly Times, July 20, 1895.

“Experimental Farm.” Crookston Weekly Times, June 24, 1899.

“Experimental Farm – What Supt. Hoverstad is Doing at the State Institution this Season.” Crookston Weekly Times, September 5, 1903.

“Expression of Opinion Upon the Experimental Farm Location.” Crookston Weekly Times, May 18, 1895.

“Forestry – It Will Be Made a Feature of the Crookston State Farm.” Crookston Weekly Times, November 14, 1896.

“Good Progress – The Work at the Experimental Station is Being Pushed.” Crookston Weekly Times, July 27, 1895.

“History of Rapid Growth of Northwest Experiment Station.” Crookston Weekly Times, April 1, 1916.

Miller, Gene. Gleanings: A Centennial Project of the Northwest Experiment Station, Crookston, Minnesota. Crookston, MN: University of Minnesota, 1995.

“Northwest Experiment Station, Crookston.” Crookston Daily Times, July 12, 1976.

“Northwest Experiment Station Vital in Valley Agriculture.” Crookston Daily Times, March 26, 1976.

“On the Ground – The Men Ready to Begin Work on the Experimental Farm.” Crookston Weekly Times, July 6, 1895.

[Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.] “Railroad’s Gift to Agriculture.” Minnesota Science no. 31 (Spring 1975): 7.

“Rededication.” Crookston Daily Times, November 30, 1966.

“School to Be Novel.” Crookston Weekly Times, April 22, 1905.

“State Experiment Station Founded 40 Years Ago, College Rises Rapidly.” Crookston Daily Times, November 21, 1935.

Stymiest, Ruth Anne. Cycle – A Chronicle of the Northwest School of Agriculture and Experiment Station, 1895–1968. Crookston, MN: University of Minnesota, 1978.

“T. A. Hoverstad Recalls Days 20 Years Ago When He was Superintendent of Aggies.” Crookston Daily Times, November 22, 1923.

Related Images

Black and white aerial view of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings, 1939.
Black and white aerial view of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings, 1939.
Black and white photograph of a livestock parade at the Northwest Experiment Station’s annual visiting day.
Black and white photograph of a livestock parade at the Northwest Experiment Station’s annual visiting day.
Black and white photograph of Northwest Experiment Station’s first superintendent, Torger A. Hoverstad.
Black and white photograph of Northwest Experiment Station’s first superintendent, Torger A. Hoverstad.
Black and white photograph of Northwest Experiment Station’s first superintendent, Torger Hoverstad, standing with one of the Experiment Station horses.
Black and white photograph of Northwest Experiment Station’s first superintendent, Torger Hoverstad, standing with one of the Experiment Station horses.
Black and white photograph of locals attending a meeting at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of locals attending a meeting at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the entrance sign for the Northwest School of Agriculture and Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the entrance sign for the Northwest School of Agriculture and Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the inside of the dairy barn at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the inside of the dairy barn at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of a worker using horses to plow the fields at the Northwest Experiment Station, 1912.
Black and white photograph of a worker using horses to plow the fields at the Northwest Experiment Station, 1912.
Black and white photograph of Superintendent Torger Hoverstad at a lesson about what to feed dairy cows during a Farmers Institute lecture.
Black and white photograph of Superintendent Torger Hoverstad at a lesson about what to feed dairy cows during a Farmers Institute lecture.
Black and white photograph of Grain Fields at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of Grain Fields at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings,1910.
Black and white photograph of the Northwest Experiment Station and Northwest School of Agriculture grounds and buildings,1910.
Black and white photograph of a group touring Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of a group touring Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the machine shed and elevator on the grounds of the Northwest Experiment Station were built in 1913.
Black and white photograph of the machine shed and elevator on the grounds of the Northwest Experiment Station were built in 1913.
Black and white photograph of the poultry house at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the poultry house at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the horse barn at the Northwest Experiment Station.
Black and white photograph of the horse barn at the Northwest Experiment Station.

Turning Point

After addressing significant drainage issues in the early 1900s, the Northwest Experiment Station successfully tests livestock and crops including alfalfa, wheat, sugar beets, clover, and corn, reporting best practices to northwest Minnesota farmers.

Chronology

1895

A state appropriation establishes the Northwest Experiment Station in Crookston as well as a station in Grand Rapids.

1905

William Robertson becomes the second superintendent of the Northwest Experiment Station and the first superintendent of the Northwest School of Agriculture.

1906

The Northwest School of Agriculture opens in Crookston, giving faculty and staff the chance to work on the experiment station’s grounds.

1909

Work to improve the farm’s drainage systems is completed.

1909

The first class (eight students) graduates from the Northwest School of Agriculture.

1910

Conrad Selvig is appointed superintendent after Robertson passes away. He organizes the first iteration of the Red River Valley Winter Shows.

1934

After the drought of the early 1930s, a large campaign to plant more trees—“windbreaks” to protect the farmland—begins in 1934.

June 15, 1935

Superintendents Hoverstad and Selvig return for the fortieth anniversary of the Northwest Experiment Station.

1945

The Red River Valley Winter Shows are cancelled for the first time in thirty-five years. The event permit was denied because the activities were not directly related to the war effort.

1947

Agronomist Dr. Olaf Soine introduces the idea of growing sunflowers in an article titled “Sunflowers—A New Crop in the Red River Valley,” published in Minnesota Farm and Home Science.

1966

The Northwest School of Agriculture moves from a high school to a college-level technical institute named the University of Minnesota Technical Institute.

1968

Forty-two seniors take part in the last graduation ceremony for the Northwest School of Agriculture.

1988

The University of Minnesota Technical Institute becomes the four-year University of Minnesota – Crookston.

1999

The Northwest Experiment Station changes its name to the Northwest Research and Outreach Center.