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Cecil Watson remembered for leadership roles and advocacy for agriculture

Cecil Watson served for three four-year terms on the North Dakota Wheat Commission board, the maximum allowed by the organization, and was chair of U.S. Wheat Associates.

Green wheat
Cecil Watson, a wheat industry advocate, died Friday, March 4, 2022.
Agweek

Cecil Watson was a hard-working farmer, a leader in the North Dakota and U.S. wheat industry and a strong advocate for preserving local history, said family members and friends.

Watson died Friday, March 4. He was 90. Born on April 1, 1931, on a farm near Bathgate, North Dakota, Watson earned a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from North Dakota State University and taught there for two years before returning to the family farm.

Watson could fix pretty much any piece of farm machinery, said Daryl Watson, a son who lives in Cavalier North Dakota.

“It would have to be a pretty serious breakdown if you had to call the John Deere shop,” Daryl Watson said.

His father worked long hours in the field in the days before there were cabs on tractors and combines, and he expected his four sons to work hard, too, Daryl Watson said.

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Watson not only had a passion for the production side of agriculture, but also policy and marketing.

“That was something that was very important to him, promoting farming and promoting wheat,” Daryl Watson said.

Cecil Watson served for three four-year terms on the North Dakota Wheat Commission board, the maximum allowed by the organization.

“I knew Cecil way back in the early '80s when he got elected to the North Dakota Wheat Commission,” said Neal Fisher, North Dakota Wheat Commission administrator. “He served a very distinguished 12 years with us.”

During the mid-1980s, Watson also served as chair of U.S. Wheat Associates, the U.S. wheat industry’s export market development organization.

As U.S. Wheat Associates chair, Watson focused on trade issues that were important to other wheat farmers, such as making sure that high-protein hard red spring wheat was included in the U.S. Export Enhancement Program, Fisher said.

Watson received the North Dakota Governor’s award for traveling to 45 countries promoting wheat while he was chair of U.S. Wheat Associates

Watson was proud of his association with the North Dakota Wheat Commission and U.S. Wheat Associates, and it didn’t end with his time on the boards, Fisher said.

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At age 84, Watson attended the 2015 installation of Brian O’Toole, a Crystal, North Dakota, hard red spring wheat farmer, as U.S. Wheat Associates chair.

“He was moving around the room, with ease, talking about things he knew about,” Fisher said.

Besides farming, another one of Watson’s passions was local history. He was one of the founders of the Pembina County Historical Society and served as its president for several years.

Zelda Hartje recalls Watson was a kind man who worked to get things done.

“He was responsible for the new building at the museum. He worked to raise funds for it. We have a veterans memorial, and he was instrumental in getting that started,” said Hartje, Pembina County Historical Society administrator.

Meanwhile, Watson was president of the Pembina County Historical Society when the museum hosted the first Smithsonian traveling exhibition to come to North Dakota, Hartje said.

“He always promoted the museum,” she said.

“He really stood out as a capable leader, a good decision maker,” Fisher said.”He became a mentor and a friend, and he set a good example for other people he met on the boards.

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“He was looked up to, and he was our good friend and I’ll miss him," he said.

Memorial services for Watson will be held Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 10 a.m. in Cavalier Baptist Church in Cavalier. Visitation will be held Wednesday, March 9, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the church.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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