In February, 2015 Kurt was awarded the Premier Seed Grower Award by the North Dakota Crop Improvement and Seed Association

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Kurt Bollingberg’s seed plant operation provides a prime example of how a business needs to change in order to stay on top of the game.

The main focus of his seed plant operation when he started in 1995 was conditioning and selling mainly wheat seed, some dry beans and some barley though he didn’t like working with that because it was so itchy. Then, as the small grain acreage started to decline in the central part of the state and was replaced by corn and soybeans, his attention shifted more to pinto beans, because there were a lot raised in the area, and some wheat.

“What we are doing now is commercial pinto beans,” Bollingberg said, “meaning we now clean beans for the food market and ship them out.”

He still prepares pinto beans for seed and will run an occasional batch of wheat for seed production, but the vast majority of his business now centers on the commercial pinto bean market. But that still requires meticulous accuracy, since just one soybean in a batch of commercial beans can be a costly mistake.

“If I ship a car of pinto beans and they find a soybean in it, some people will dock me $6000 for that car. That’s discouraging,” he said.

Bollingberg noted it was a great honor to be named the Premier Seed Grower of the Year, but wondered why he was selected, since he actually isn’t involved in seed processing as he was a few years ago.

Seed plant history

Bollingberg’s dad was involved in the seed cleaning business and later, after his marriage, Bollingberg worked at a neighbor’s seed plant – Klindworth Seed – and then moved to his current location in 1992. The barn on the place Bollingberg moved to has an exceptionally high roof, and he thought the barn would be a perfect place to set up a seed conditioning plant. The roof was high enough that he could run the legs up in the barn and he wouldn’t have to cut any holes in the roof.

The seed plant started operation in 1995, a time when the seed business changed drastically. Prior to that, farmers could buy and sell seed at will. However, in 1995, unless a farmer was using his own seed to plant on his own acres, all other seed lawfully needed to come from a certified seed plant, which naturally caused a growth in the number of such plants to meet the seed needs of farmers.

Since Wells, Walsh and Pembina counties have been the top three pinto bean producing counties in the state for many years, Bollingberg’s Wells County operation was perfect for pinto bean seed conditioning. And in those first years, dry peas and small grains were also in the mix.

However, because dry peas do better in a drier climate and because the area was experiencing a wetter cycle, soybeans started moving into the area and pushed out most of the dry pea production. Bollingberg then raised some soybean for seed production for various companies, but finally decided to focus just on pinto beans and some wheat varieties.

Today, the main use of the seed plant is conditioning pinto beans.

“Right now we are processing pintos and putting them in tote bags,” he explained. “Then we haul the totes to Cathay and put them on the rail. The totes are more expensive but when you are doing a food product, it seems like the purity is more readily assured with the totes. The totes range from 2,000 to 3,000 pounds in size.”

A lot of those beans go south to Mexico and generally end up as “refried beans,” he noted.

To get an idea of the make-up of his pinto bean business, he said if they sold 200,000 totes of pinto beans they would clean 200,000 pounds for seed production.

Looking to the future, Bollingberg expects the acres of pintos will likely shrink in 2015 and he is concerned that soybean acres will continue to expand and lower the production levels of pintos in the region. That ultimately could make the supply of pintos more difficult to find for commercial processing.

And, he may be involved with a little more condition of wheat seed, if the current indications from growers come true in the spring of 2015.

But, from past experience, what change might come about will be met by Bollingberg and his willingness to conform his seed plant operation to the current trends.

In addition to crop farming and running the seed plant, he is very active with 4-H and FFA, his township board, various elevator boards, the Wells County Better Seed & Grain, North Dakota Edible Bean Growers, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and his church board.