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Tree Harvest

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Farmers across North Dakota are trying to wrap up the 2013 harvest season.

Small grains are in the bin while corn and sunflower crops are slowing coming in.

Near Towner, fall harvest is finishing up on another crop -- but this harvest is actually the start of decades of growing.

Jim Olson reports from the Towner State Nursery.

Jerome Suchor hops in and fires up his tractor to get the harvest going. But the harvester he's towing doesn't mean the end of this crop's growth - it's closer to the beginning.

(Jerome Suchor, Field Production Specialist) "We're harvesting Black Hills Spruce."

Suchor is navigating rows of conifers - evergreen trees - in this case Black Hills Spruce four years after they started growing from seeds. And the equipment he's in charge of is actually something of a Towner State Nursery breakthrough.

(Jerome Suchor, Field Production Specialist) "This is probably the focal point of our operation because we had to reduce the amount of labor out in the field."

(Jeff Smette, Towner State Nursery Manager) "Before we used to have 10 to 12 people picking up trees by hand where now we have a total of four people that can lift 50,000 trees in one day."

Nursery Manager Jeff Smette says the Lundeby harvester built in Tolna, North Dakota, starts the process by gently removing the young trees from the ground. Then, it shakes them up for a few seconds to remove as much soil as possible. After that comes the innovation developed here - Suchor modified a potato lifting conveyor and developed a system of easily changed-out pallets to bring the saplings gently up to where workers can untangle their roots and begin their transformation from nursery stock to majestic trees.

(Jeff Smette, Towner State Nursery Manager) "Most of them will end up somewhere in North Dakota in field wind breaks, around farmsteads, or urban development."

But that can't happen until the newly-picked trees come here - to the grading room where a small army of workers digs in. They unload the trees from the pallets, place them on a conveyor, and start the job of separating and sizing the young trees - putting the waste trees on another conveyor that sends them to a compost pile. Meanwhile, the strong trees continue their journey - eventually making it to the end of the line where they're bundled and wrapped - then moved to the packaging area where several bundles are wetted down and wrapped in moist material that will serve as their artificial soil for the winter.

(Jeff Smette, Towner State Nursery Manager) "These will be frozen at about 25 to 28 degrees so they're going right into a freezing facility right now."

Then in the spring, they can be shipped around the state - about two-thirds of the nearly one million trees shipped from here each year stay in North Dakota - where they'll become important parts of our landscape.

(Jeff Smette, Towner State Nursery Manager) "Most confier wind breaks, tree rows, more than likely came from right here."

About 180-thousand trees will be harvested this fall - the rest will be picked from the ground in the spring to begin the next phase of the decades-long life. At the Towner State Nursery, Jim Olson, KX News.

While most of the trees from the Towner State Nursery stay in the state, about 30% are shipped to places like Canada, California, New York, and Florida.

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