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Longtime Administrator, Plant Breeder Retires
North Dakota Ag Connection - 08/12/2020

North Dakota State University faculty member, plant breeder and administrator Kenneth F. Grafton has retired after 40 years of distinguished service.

Grafton began working at NDSU in 1980 as a postdoctoral research associate in the newly formed dry bean breeding program. In 1981, Grafton joined the Department of Plant Sciences faculty as an assistant professor, continuing to work with dry beans. He achieved the rank of associate professor in 1987 and he was promoted to full professor in 1994.

The first dry bean varieties released under Grafton's leadership, "Holberg" pinto in 1983 and "Nodak" pinto in 1984, were a collaboration with D.W. Burke at USDA Agricultural Research Service in Prosser, Wash. The NDSU dry bean breeding program then independently developed and released 10 more varieties under Grafton's leadership. "I was thankful that I was able to develop and release some varieties that proved to be very successful, including 'Norstar' navy bean, 'Maverick' pinto bean and 'Eclipse' black bean," Grafton said.

Grafton also was involved in the development and release of more than 30 dry bean germplasm lines, collaborating with scientists at the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, Md., and at Michigan State University. He also held several administrative roles at NDSU. In 2001, he was appointed associate dean of the Graduate School, while he continued to lead the dry bean breeding program. He was appointed director of the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station in 2002, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources in 2005 and vice president for agricultural affairs in 2011.

Originally from Ohio, Grafton attended The Ohio State University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture and his master's degree in plant breeding and genetics. He completed his doctorate in plant breeding and genetics at the University of Missouri.

During his tenure as North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station director, the agency expanded and funds were received for several new buildings and laboratories, including the Beef Cattle Research Complex, the AES Vet Diagnostic Lab, new seed cleaning facilities at Carrington Research Extension Center, North Central REC, and Williston REC and new or improved field research labs and headquarters buildings at all RECs.

During his time as dean, the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources saw growth in new faculty positions, scholarship funds, agriculture majors and the development of the School of Natural Resources Sciences.

Grafton served in these administrative roles until 2018, when he was selected to serve as the Interim Provost. On Jan. 1, 2020, he returned to the faculty of the Department of Plant Sciences. Upon retirement, Grafton was named an Emeritus Vice President, Emeritus Dean and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Affairs.

When asked what he will remember most from his career, Grafton said, "Working with great people, trying to do what was right, taking responsibility for decisions and treating people with respect."

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