Armand Bauer: German-Russian 'Roots' in Agriculture
Hanson, Nancy Edmonds. "Armand Bauer: German-Russian 'Roots' in Agriculture." Bismarck & Mandan’s City Guide, June 1980, 3-5, 14.
The Bauer family roots have been sunk firmly in agriculture for
countless generations. But the harvests they've brought in have
changed over the years.
Less than 200 years ago Armand Bauer's forebears were packing up
in overcrowded, troubled southwestern Germany and heading for homesteads
in the Black Sea region in Alexander the First's Russia. They came
to set an example of wise farming for the natives, and to settle
the broad, wild expanses of prairie-like wilderness.
Another hundred years later, Bauer's great-grandparents were among
the German-Russians on the move again, uprooting their families
for a better life on the American "steppes" in south central
North Dakota. Still known as exemplary farmers, they set about to
bring their traditions and their grasp of dry land farming to the
semi-arid stretches of central and western North Dakota.
Enter Armand Bauer. A product of that heritage and a Space Age
descendant of those tenacious farmers, he is engaged today in the
same pursuit that his family has grappled with for generations on
end: How to make the best of farming, using the soil that Nature's
left there and the amount of precipitation she sees fit to drop
down in the short, hot growing season at the center of the continent.
|Armand Bauer's scientific career
has been taken up by wheat.
But Bauer serves agriculture in a way that's new in his family
tree. He doesn't farm. He studies wheat, not raises it. He measures,
not only its yield at the peak of harvest, but its growth day by
day from the moment of germination to the time its destiny is certain,
and when it's ripe.
He's a soil scientist now associated with the Great Plains Research
Center south of Mandan. There Dr. Armand Bauer is one of the research
scientists actively engaged in making the best of North Dakota agriculture
- a pursuit his forebears might have found incredibly technical,
but which has changed countless North Dakota farming practices in
his own generation.
"I've spent my entire professional career working on problems
of water and wheat and soil fertility." he says. "Here
at the research center, we're all engaged in furthering dry land
agriculture - the kind that's practiced here in North Dakota."
His office at the center, located on a hill just south of the Heart
River as it rolls through Mandan, seems remote from the dust and
weather demons that bedevil farmers in the field. It's quiet, air
conditioned, tiny...neatly packed with the austere tools of a researcher's
trade, including walls of files and reference notebooks and a calculator
close at hand. Only a well-worn pair of boots tucked under a chair
attests to Bauer's practical links to the soil he has sampled, studied
and experimented with since graduating from North Dakota State University
with his first degree just thirty years ago.
Yet the fruit of his labors, along with those of colleagues engaged
in unlocking the same agricultural puzzles, have changed the face
of North Dakota farming. In 1950, several years before his projects
helped develop tests to measure crops' response to specific nutrients
like phosphorus and nitrogen, twenty thousand tons of fertilizer
were sold to state farmers. In 1978, they purchased and used over
Farmers today use the cropping techniques designed by Bauer and
all his colleagues in experimental agriculture to increase yields
and cope with drought years. Economists base their predictions of
coming crop across the Great Plains on research results they've
amassed in years of studying the most minute of influences on growing
grains, and the international trade picture brightens and darkens
accordingly - influenced, it seems, by sometimes-tedious digging
and measuring and testing accomplished by scientists back tilling
their test plots in places like North Dakota.
"We're into the third and fourth generation research today,
down the line from the work I took part in my early career,"
Bauer says. A soft-spoken man, he fits the image of the careful
scientist logging precise results. "My first work was on the
effect of water supply on wheat's response to fertilizer. The next
time around, we were interested in the amounts of water needed and
their effect on quality factors. But we need to know even more -
how the plant responds to shortages at different times in its life.
We're always looking for more detail. Next we'll probably study
the effects of temperature at each stage of the wheat plant's life."
Why ascertain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how a shower on a
hot day in the second week of June will change what pours into the
combine's hopper on noon in early August? "Our number one user
of agricultural research is always the farmer. Everything we do
has an application to his farm, and the economic rewards he get
from it," Bauer says.
"But wheat yield predictions influence much more. Since wheat
is a commodity on the world's market, we need to be able to accurately
predict the global supply - as food for billions of people, as speculation
and investment, as a product for international trade that has great
implications in world politics.
"Everything we learn makes those vital predictions more accurate.
But we never lose sight of the farmer himself, either."
Bauer is one of eighteen scientists, with a support staff of over
fifty, who work at the Great Plains Research Center. Funded by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, the center occupies campus-like
grounds well-known to Bismarck-Mandan residents, who circle them
on Sunday drives and admire the shady arboretum just west of the
buildings and main grounds.
Established in 1912, the center was first engaged in breeding fruit
trees and other horticultural crops. Much of the development of
the new variety of apple called "Hazen" took place there
earlier in the century. But these days three primary areas of research
occupy the scientists, Bauer says, all related to farming the semiarid
lands of the upper Great Plains.
One is soil, crop and water management; that's Bauer's area. They
focus on "tillage, fertility, water storage and residue management,"
he says - finding the most advantageous combination for farmers'
Another concentrates on range management and grass breeding. They're
developing new varieties of grasses for rangelands, studying methods
of range management and investigating the benefits of fertilizers.
The third works on hydrology and drainage. They studied potential
irrigation in the Oakes area, for example, to prepare it for Garrison
Diversion (which may never come). They're now involved in reclamation
of strip mined farmland, a subject far more certain of use in the
field; some of their studies have already had effect in North Dakota's
new laws on reclamation.
Besides these three units, a tree breeder is also studying climate
and growth at the research center. His aim: to develop trees that
are more disease-resistant for farmsteads and shelter belts, as
well as bring new light to the area of plant pathology.
Bauer joined the Great Plains Research Center in 1976 after 25
years with the NDSU Agricultural Experiment Station. "But if
it wasn't for the GI Bill of Rights and later Sputnik, I wouldn't
be here today," he claims.
That goes back to his roots. Raised on a farm near Zeeland, Bauer
and his family watched the dust storms and the depression threaten
their livelihood. "That's where I learned to work - back on
the farm," he says. "The farm experience stays with you
all your life...and you never forget how to milk a cow."
Nevertheless, the young Bauer always had planned to go to college
despite the financial problems that made that dream unlikely. But
he was drafted and served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1944 to
1946, including tours aboard ships in the Pacific.
After the war, his GI benefits enabled him to enroll at the School
of Forestry at Bottineau for two years, then wrap up his bachelor's
degree with two more at NDSU in Fargo. "I started out in chemistry,
and can't really say why I switched my studies to agriculture,"
he says. "I had friends in the Department of Soils, and I suppose
I was influenced by them. At any rate, I switched." And graduated
Now, Bauer's first objective was to get a job. "I wanted to
start earning some money, a commodity I'd never had," he says.
But science and employment dovetailed neatly with a position with
the Soil Conservation Service. When he was offered a graduate assistantship
under Dr. E.B. Norum several years later that included supervising
soil testing, he moved into the Experiment Station, where he helped
develop tests for phosphorus. He was later involved in similar tests
for nitrogen, plus studies on the effects of water stored in the
soil at seeding time. With NDSU, he eventually held the title of
professor, taught several classes and was active in professional
He came west as part of an Experiment Station team working at Mandan
on soil-bank reclamation, for which he was research coordinator.
The move became permanent two years later when he joined the research
So what about Sputnik? "When it increased the nation's interest
in upgrading the sciences, it led to funding that permitted me to
do graduate studies that led to my doctorate." That was awarded
by Colorado State University in the early 1960s during a two-year
leave from NDSU. Not that it was easy - "We just made it, between
my fellowship and my wife Elaine's working as a registered nurse
with our three daughters at home," he admits. But with characteristic
German-Russian tenacity, they dug in and accomplished what they'd
set out to do.
That German-Russian heritage, however, wasn't high on their list
of familiar topics. It wasn't until a new interest in their family
tree ten or fifteen years ago that the Bauers became fascinated
with the heritage they'd taken for granted, along with most of their
fellow North Dakotans of German-Russian backgrounds.
Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck & Mandan's