The Harvest Bowl Agribusiness Award is an annual award that recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of agriculture and business in the state of North Dakota and beyond.
2022 Agribusiness Award Recipient
In 1979, North Dakota State University’s dry bean breeding program launched with a small grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). A year later, Ken Grafton accepted a position as a post-doctoral research associate, and in 1981 he became a faculty member and leader of the dry bean breeding program.
As bean acreage increased across the state, so did the need for new regional bean varieties. In response to this growing demand, Ken evaluated and released two new pinto bean cultivars — “Nodak” in 1983 and “Holberg” in 1984 — in collaboration with bean pathologist D.W. Burke at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Prosser, Washington.
Over time, NDSU released 11 new varieties of dry beans with Ken’s expertise and guidance at the helm. These varieties include “Norstar” navy bean, which was the most widely grown navy bean in the region and the first dry bean cultivar developed and released by NDSU; “Maverick” pinto bean, which was the most widely grown pinto bean in the state; and “Eclipse,” the leading black bean grown in North Dakota and one of the dominant cultivars grown in the United States. He was also involved in the development and release of more than 30 dry bean germplasm lines for production in the northern Great Plains. Today, NDSU’s breeding program has become the largest producer of dry beans in the United States.
“Dr. Grafton took a brand-new program with no field or lab equipment and with limited funding to one with its current level of national prominence,” Richard Horsley, NDSU professor and head of the Plant Sciences department, said.
During his 40-year career at NDSU, Ken held many roles ranging from full professor to interim provost. Some of his most notable positions include vice president for Agricultural Affairs; dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources; and director of the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES), where he oversaw research activities at seven Research Extension Centers across the state, the Main Station in Fargo, and the Agronomy Seed Farm.
As director of the NDAES, Ken worked with the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education (SBARE) to help expand the agency and raise funds for capital projects including the Beef Cattle Research Complex, the Jack Dalrymple Agricultural Research Complex, the Senator Bill Bowman Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, seed cleaning facilities, and new or improved field research laboratories and headquarter buildings. Together with the SBARE, Ken also advanced several important initiatives focusing on critical areas of research and infrastructure at the Main Station and all the Research Extension Centers.
Ken has continually sought opportunities to benefit the citizens of North Dakota through research, outreach, and advocacy. He worked diligently to provide local bean commodity groups with clear and relevant information about dry bean cultivar performance trials, production, disease control, and management throughout the growing season. He also assisted with lobbying efforts to fund $1.2 million for the National Sclerotinia Initiative (NSI) aimed at neutralizing white mold’s economic threat for edible dry beans, sunflower, soybean, canola, chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas.
“During more than 15 years of contributions to his discipline and the agricultural industry, Dr. Grafton became one of the most visible, knowledgeable, and respected leaders not just at NDSU but in the entire state,” Dean Bresciani, distinguished professor and former NDSU president, said. “His expertise, focus on contributing in the most substantial ways possible, and loyalty to NDSU and the field of agriculture are well-known and without parallel.”
In each of his roles, Ken prioritized relationships. He sought synergistic partnerships with student organizations, stakeholders, state and federal legislators, commodity groups, colleges, agencies, and industry as he promoted the values and needs of the University and state.
“Ken is a caring, listening, and sincere individual who is naturally adept at supporting and mentoring those around him,” Dean said.
Ken earned his B.S. in agriculture and his M.S. in plant breeding and genetics from The Ohio State University and his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Missouri. His scholarly achievements in teaching, research, publications, grants, awards, and service to NDSU and the industry have elevated agribusiness in North Dakota and beyond.
Eddie Bernhardson ’60, ’76, the fifth of eight children, was born in Comstock, Minnesota, in 1928. He grew up during the Great Depression and remembers lean times on the family farm. He recalls a friend saying, “Everybody was poor, but none of us knew it.”
Eddie helped with all the chores and remembers early years of working the land with horses and making all the modern advancements along the way.
After graduating high school from Comstock in 1945, Eddie was awarded a scholarship to Concordia. He attended for one year but didn’t return for his second year. Education was an important value his parents instilled in him, but he didn’t recognize its full value until he was drafted by the Army in 1952. He saw the very different paths for those in service who had completed higher education and those who hadn’t.
He returned from Korea in 1954, married his wife, Barbara, in 1955, and enrolled at NDSU to study animal science and ag education shortly afterward.
Eddie continued working on the farm while attending NDSU and became involved in the Livestock Judging Team and traveled the Midwest from Denver to Kansas City to Chicago.
In 1962, he and his brothers took over the family farm, but the first year was tough and extremely wet — they couldn’t harvest even a bushel. Fortunately, they had dairy, so the farm survived. That difficult season led Eddie to the Minnesota Extension where he was hired as the associate county agent. Eddie thought it would be a temporary break from the farm, but he worked with Minnesota Extension for 30 years, eventually becoming the county extension director. He kept his strong ties to NDSU and often worked closely with his colleagues in North Dakota Extension. Eddie returned to NDSU to earn his master’s degree in agronomy — graduating in 1976. He worked with crops, livestock, soils, and horticulture and continued his involvement in 4H.
“Eddie had a very deep-rooted believe in the extension system and what it was established for — helping people, being of service, listening to people, gathering information, and trying to provide good educational answers,” Sharon Anderson ’68, ’73, former NDSU Extension Service Director, said. “Many of our specialists would cross the river and go over and work with him because he had concerns for producers or families, and he would truly want to know how he could help and that’s the whole belief of Extension.”
Eddie had the unique experience of working in his home county. Many of the farmers he helped were people he grew up with and knew well. Those lifelong relationships helped build his rapport and comradery in the community. But Eddie’s greatest asset in Extension was his belief in education. While he mainly worked with crops, livestock, and soils, he was always ready to address whatever question came into the office. Eddie felt it was crucial he respond to every inquiry with the same gravity as the person needing answers. This passion for service meant Eddie learned a lot about horticulture during his tenure with Minnesota Extension because people in his county often had a lot of questions about their trees and lawns.
Eddie’s enduring connection to NDSU eventually led him to Harvest Bowl, and shortly before his retirement, he and Barb became involved with the annual event.
“Eddie stands out in his entire life of commitment to agriculture, the betterment of people, the betterment of NDSU, and his goal through all this has been to get the word out, become more knowledgeable in agriculture, and watch everything around him succeed,” Brent Montgomery ’80, Harvest Bowl committee member and former president of First State Bank in Arthur, North Dakota, said.
Eddie served as Harvest Bowl Chair for many years and during his time as chair, he named a sponsorship committee and an agribusiness award committee. He is credited with elevating the event and helping build a model awards program that celebrates agriculture in the region.
“Nobody has been more diligent and enthusiastic about Harvest Bowl than Eddie Bernhardson,” Sharon said. “He was always there and excited about each year and what was going to happen — the event and who was going to be recognized. I think about all of the thousands of people on both sides of the river who have probably been impacted because of the kind of energy and interest that Eddie always put into Harvest Bowl. We had a lot of fun, we worked hard, but it always was successful because of the work from Eddie.”
As a leader, Eddie believed in empowering committees to make decisions and following the recommendations put forth by committee members. While he never taught in the traditional classroom, Eddie became an amazing educator, and his ability to listen and lead left lasting impacts on Harvest Bowl and Extension.
Past Award Recipients: