While a few “seedsmen,” such as Oscar H. Will and David Podoll selected or developed varieties of vegetables for sale as seeds, the role of the agricultural college and the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) cannot be overlooked in the process of developing hardy, early, and drought resistant vegetables. The processes of distributing vegetable (and field crop) seeds has varied over the course of the college’s history, but professional horticulturists have understood the significance of vegetables and fruits that mature in the short growing season of the northern Great Plains.
Several horticulturists have worked for NDAC/SU since it began operation in 1890 with Claire B. Waldron as the sole horticulturist. H. O. Werner held that position in the ‘teens. A. F. Yeager arrived in 1919, to become “a notably accomplished horticulturist” who made great efforts to get vegetables to grow, ripen, and produce abundantly in North Dakota. (Danbom, 112)
Werner published Bulletin 111 in 1915 entitled Tomatoes for North Dakota. He cautiously advised readers that tomatoes, native to the tropics, can be grown in North Dakota if one is careful in cultivation and chooses the proper variety. He tested many strains of Earliana and Bonny Best with some emphasis on a marketable crop. (Throughout the first 50 years of the AES, marketability was a fundamental concern, though most horticulturists quietly conceded that few vegetables would serve as market crops in ND.) Marketability was defined as a plant that would produce eight pounds of tomatoes before August 20 and twenty-five pounds per plant before frost. Market concerns trumped flavor. He concluded that there was an opportunity for a commercial tomato industry in local markets for early tomatoes, canning tomatoes, and canning factories. He urged readers to consider the potential for tomato canning factories in ND, stating that tomato farmers might realize a profit of $50 to $150 per acres after paying their own wages. Werner added that most tomatoes would be used “on the farm for home use and for sale” because farm canned goods sell higher than commercial products.