Justin Vetch, back left, sons, Gavin and Orion, front, and wife, Emilie, are excited to be a part of the community as Justin recently started his new job as superintendent of the MSU Western Triangle Ag. Research Center located between Shelby and Conrad.

What is the Western Triangle Research Station (WTRS), which is located between Shelby and Conrad, and what does it do? The station is a site for test plots for crop research in the area. They test new varieties of various crops grown in the area, such as spring wheat, winter wheat, peas, barley, canola and mustard. Justin Vetch recently joined the WTRS team as the new superintendent 

Vetch will be overseeing all the research already being conducted, as well as coming up with some of his own in studies in the future. It’s a big job, for sure, but one Vetch is truly excited about.

“This is basically my dream job,” said Vetch. “I am looking forward to all aspects of my position. I really love interacting with the community and absolutely love general and applied research.”

Vetch was born in Miles City, but grew up in the Kalispell area. After completing high school he had a few different jobs in construction and the grocery store industry before deciding to pursue a higher education in some sort of science. At the time he wasn’t sure of what field of science he wanted and attended the orientation at Flathead Valley Community College. There he met Dr. Ruth Wrightsman, who aided him down his current path.

Dr. Wrightsman was the head of the Microbiology department and had just received a grant to start a Biotechnology program. Vetch was the first person to enroll and has never looked back.

“This year was a very defining period in my life. Dr. Wrightsman and her husband, Dr. Jerry Manning, took me under their wings and helped me find a true love of and appreciation for molecular biology,” Vetch explained. “After graduating from FVCC I enrolled in the biochemistry program at Montana State University (MSU) where I was able to gain a solid foundation in chemistry, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology. I also gained research experience by volunteering in multiple labs.”

It was during his last semester as an undergraduate that Vetch took a plant biotechnology class under Dr. Mike Giroux. That was when he realized he wanted to pursue plant science.

“I graduated soon after and started working at the North Western Ag Research Center in Creston, Mont., with hopes to get more experience in plant science to apply to a graduate program at MSU,” said Vetch. “While working at NWARC I received an invitation from Dr. Mike Giroux to pursue a masters degree working in his lab. I accepted and it was in his lab that I gained a large appreciation and interest in crop research. I chose to focus in crop genetics and molecular biology.”

Vetch’s focus has remained there and as he embarks on his new career at Western Triangle Research Station his knowledge will not only benefit him in his own research, but the community as well. 

The work done at the station benefits the producers in the region by providing them with quality data, resulting in informed decisions being made and also identifying critical problems.

The facility’s main service is conducting relevant research to address the main issues faced by the area. Vetch, and others, try to answer any questions producers may have and help them address any concerns or problems they may be having on their farms. They provide outreach and educational services through field days, winter meetings and other forums, that are yet to be planned. One of the major challenges Vetch is currently facing, is when and how these forums and meetings can take place. 

“The main challenges have been coming into the station with little staff present and connecting with the community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Vetch. “We are addressing the staffing issues as we are able to push positions through the state hiring freeze and are currently searching for a Research Associate and a Farm Operations Manager. As springtime rolls around this issue should be solved.” 

Vetch continued, “Community outreach has been much more difficult as there have been multiple spikes in COVID-19 in the surrounding counties. I am overcoming this obstacle by trying to reach in more of a one on one fashion either virtually or on the phone. As my time here progresses, I am trying to arrange for some small meetings of three to four people at a time. I am also reaching out to local newspapers to introduce myself and let the community know we are here for them.”

Vetch credits Drs. Wrightsman, Manning and Giroux for motivating him to choose the career path he is on. 

“Additionally, my wife and two sons have also helped me realize the value of the path I am on and make me proud of the career I have chosen,” Vetch concluded.

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