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Photo of Bill Bowman, 2019 NDSU Harvest Bowl Agribusiness Award recipient

Bill Bowman
2019 Agribusiness Award

In the mid-1960s, Bill Bowman was 20 years old and serving in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Hawaii awaiting deployment to Vietnam.

“I decided I was going to go into the service, maybe grow up for a couple of years, know a little bit more about where I wanted to go in my life,” Bill recalled.

Born in 1945 to Leonard and Betty Bowman, Bill grew up on a farm and ranch in Slope County, North Dakota, northwest of Rhame. While he started college in Dickinson after high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in, which led him to military service. The day before Bill was scheduled to go to Vietnam, however, a farming accident claimed his father’s life, which immediately altered Bill’s.

“Of course, I was the oldest boy (Bill’s older brother was killed in a car accident) and it was in the spring and we were calving. Mom got a hardship discharge for me so I could stay home and farm. That’s when I started fulltime,” Bill said. “You have to grow up fast; there’s a lot of responsibility when you have to run the whole show.”

Suddenly, Bill needed to learn the ways of running a farm and ranch — not just the labor parts of the operation but all that was required to run a business. At his mom’s insistence, he returned to Dickinson State University. He played football and took all the business classes he could to earn his degree in business while running the farm and ranch.

While his business degree helped him manage the books, NDSU Extension provided the research information Bill needed to get the most out of the land.

“I used NDSU’s research quite a lot when I was doing this because I relied on them saying what we should do to try and make a living on the farm,” Bill said. “I can remember the first experience I had, they had a variety of wheat and I planted that. It was only about 18 inches high and it made over 30 bushels an acre, and at that time, that was a lot of production.”

Bill continued running the family farm and ranch until the late 1970s when he moved his family into Bowman where he started selling farm equipment and eventually bought his own implement dealership. During his time as a farmer and rancher, he needed the information from NDSU Extension. When he began his tenure in the North Dakota State Senate, he never forgot how vital NDSU research is to rural farmers.

Bill served in the state Senate from 1990-2018. During that time, he served on many committees, including the Agriculture Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee where he was Vice Chairman. Ken Grafton, Interim Provost for NDSU and former Vice President for Agriculture, worked with Bill during eight legislative sessions.

“Bill’s commitment to North Dakota and agriculture never wavered. He was often leading the charge for better funding. While he wanted to see clear and large impacts to the state from our efforts, he also saw that investing in ag research and Extension was an investment for the future,” Ken said.

Bill was instrumental in bringing key projects to fruition including the Research Greenhouse Complex, Beef Cattle Research Complex, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and Research Extension Centers in Minot, Hettinger, Williston, Carrington, and Langdon.

The NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab was recently rededicated and renamed in honor of Bill — a legacy worthy of the statesman who never forgot what it meant to be a farmer/rancher.

“Agriculture is the heart and soul of North Dakota,” Bill said. “When you got up at 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock in the morning and turned that soil and realized that if that soil was firm and had moisture in it, you were probably going to grow some kind of a crop. I love that.”

Bill retired from the state Senate in 2018. He resides in Bowman and enjoys visiting the family farm his brother Dick owns and operates. He also enjoys fishing and spending time with his daughters Tracy, Jolyn and Mindy and seven grandchildren. 

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