Canola growers keep truckin’

LANGDON, N.D. – The Borgens don’t seem to be able to keep away from the frigid centre of the Prairies.

Tom and Nola Borgen escaped the cold winters and tough economics of North Dakota in 1967 by moving to Seattle where Tom had been spending his winters working in the construction industry.

By 1981, they were drawn back to the prairie by the farming life.

And their grandchild, Kristen, who was born and raised near Detroit, Michigan, trekked west to Fargo to study engineering at North Dakota State University.

“It wasn’t like I was going to the middle of nowhere. I know everybody here,” said Kristen, 19.

Tom and Nola hadn’t seen many opportunities in their hometowns of Langdon, N.D., or Hannah, N.D., so they moved away. Tom got a job as a unionized trucker working at the port and eventually became a Teamsters union shop steward.

Nola was soon busy raising daughters: Holly, Heather and Jennifer.

When Nola’s dad offered to let them take over the family farm in Langdon, they accepted. They made the move in separate vehicles over mountains and across plains while noticing many people moving also.

“All the other U-hauls were going west, and I asked Tom on the CB (radio): are we going the right way?” said Nola.

It was a good move for the Borgens but Tom initially had trouble accepting the crop choices of local farmers and started chasing information on canola.

“To find out about canola, where did I go? Canada,” said Tom, who spent a lot of time in the mid-1980s going to meetings in Morden, Man., Brandon and Winnipeg.

Nola’s father, Stan Koehmstedt, had grown rapeseed but the new yellow-flowered crop wasn’t grown then by local farmers.

Tom first grew some canola crops and sold them through a grain company, but started hauling the crop to a crushing plant in Altona, Man. He became the first American farmer to supply the plant directly.

Tom and Nola became involved in getting North Dakota farmers to grow the crop. Nola became known as “Nola Canola” and they ran the Northern Canola Growers Association from their house .

Tom spent much time trying to convince American chemical companies to get approvals for the basic production chemicals they were already selling to Canadian farmers.

“They wouldn’t do it,” said Tom, echoing a complaint Canadian farmers often make about U.S. chemical companies refusing to seek approvals for chemicals commonly used in the U.S. “There weren’t enough acres for them to make a margin.”

But perseverance paid off, and companies slowly gave farmers just south of the border the ability to use many of the chemicals used in Canada.

The couple farms 1,456 acres, on which they grow a rotation of canola, wheat, canola, wheat, but Tom also does custom harvesting and custom trucking. It’s been a hectic and rewarding life, and one that Tom is now trying to slow down.

He recently spent part of his birthday at the hospital getting cardiac rehabilitation therapy. He’s had two heart attacks in the past five months.

“I’m having a mental thing. I’m 63. Do I retire? Do I quit? But I feel fine. I hauled five loads of canola to Altona and two loads of wheat to town this week.”

Kristen is glad this set of grandparents came back to North Dakota.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” she said, musing about why she and her grandparents both came back to North Dakota. “We like it here.”

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