WTARC History and Background
Authorization for the Montana Ag Experiment Station's Western Triangle Agricultural Research Center came from the 1977 Legislature, which appropriated $206,000 for the biennium ending June 30, 1979. An additional $4,000 was contributed by the Montana Wheat Research and Marketing Committee. The Research Center (first called a satellite station) was charged with serving the agricultural needs of the western half of Montana's Golden Triangle, which encompasses Glacier, Pondera, Teton, Toole, and western portions of Liberty, Chouteau, and Cascade counties.
Impetus for the center came primarily from farmers and ranchers of the Western Triangle, who organized efforts through the Soil Conservation Districts. A 12-man Advisory Board representing all those counties was established in 1977. Jim Krall of MAES in Bozeman was appointed Coordinator and summoned the assistance of personnel from Montana State University, the Soil Conservation Service and other agencies to provide the Board with technical information on soils, climate and other disciplines pertinent to site selection.
In January 1978, Dr. Greg Kushnak was hired as the first Superintendent of WTARC and the following April, Ronald Thaut joined the staff as the first Research Technician. Temporary headquarters were set up in Conrad.
Research Center Location
Advisory Board members and MAES agreed that WTARC should be strategically located in order to expedite service to all counties involved and that Conrad would best satisfy this need because of its central location, proximity to Interstate 15 and the availability of both irrigated and dryland facilities.
Selection of a location on soil typical of the Western Triangle was given high priority. This narrowed the site selection to a Scobey/Kevin glacial till soil, which was by far the most prevalent of the region. Other factors considered were accessibility to the public, availability of utilities, proximity to a service center, landowners’ willingness to sell and property price.
Members of the Board provided names of landowners to be contacted. Along with MSU staff and assisted by the SCS Soil Survey Team from Choteau, they examined each of the prospective sites for suitability and availability. In March 1978, the Board selected the Denzer land nine miles north of Conrad. The Board of Regents authorized purchase of this land on May 31, 1978 and closing was completed in December 1978. The site consisted of 75 acres of land, an irrigation canal and pump, and met all of the selection criteria.
The Advisory Board approached the Tiber County Water District regarding the possibility of transferring a 60 × 100' steel government building from the Water District to the Research Center. The Water District agreed to release possession of the building and received authorization for the transfer from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The Advisory Board for WTARC consists of farmers and ranchers. Additional plans called for the addition of businessmen to the Board. Members are appointed by the County Commissioners and/or Soil Conservation Districts in their respective counties. Appointments are three year terms and members are limited to a maximum of two terms.
The Board has played an essential role in WTARC's development. Many days of their valuable time were spent seeking information on buildings, site selection and available utilities. A hearty vote of thanks to all of the members for their excellent service! Special thanks to Joe DeStaffany for leading the group as Chairman, and for helping with soil sampling. Also, to Dick Page and Paul Kronebusch for serving as vice-chairman and secretary.
Original Advisory Board members
Appointed through 1979
Richard Page, Bynum, Teton County
Dave Shane, Floweree, Cascade County
Gary Iverson, Sunburst, Toole County
Vade Hamma, Brady, Chouteau County
Appointed through 1980
Henry Wilson Hodgskiss, Choteau, Teton County
Don Buffington, Ledger, Pondera County
Jerry Swenson,Cut Bank, Glacier County
Appointed through 1981
Karl Ratzburg, Ledger, Pondera County
Paul Kronebusch, Conrad, Pondera County
Joe DeStaffany, Conrad, Pondera County
Dale Vermulm, Cut Bank, Glacier County
Jack Baringer, Conrad, Extension Service Representative (ex-officio)
Committee Officers during 1978
Chairman: Joe DeStaffany
Vice-Chairman: Richard Page
Secretary: Paul Kronebusch