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John Henry Shepperd | 1921

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

A forty-five-year career at North Dakota Agricultural College and Experiment Station and over thirty years of being the Judging Superintendent at the International Live Stock Exposition.

1853-1921 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936); original portrait by Arvid Nyholm

Impact & Accomplishments

Raised on a general farm in Chariton, Iowa, John Henry Shepperd took particular interest in his father’s Shorthorn herd. An early student at Iowa State Agricultural College, he graduated with honors in 1891 and completed his master’s degree at University of Wisconsin two years later.

In 1893, Shepperd embarked upon a forty-five-year career at North Dakota Agricultural College and Experiment Station. He studied improved varieties of grain and championed durum wheat for the harsh North Dakota climate, earning a gold medal for his plant breeding work at the 1900 Paris World Exposition.

He was an early proponent of crop rotation, soil conservation, and feed storage. Influenced by Stephen Babcock while at Wisconsin, however, Shepperd took greater interest in the dairy herd he established at the school. In 1918, Professor Shepperd was made chairman of the animal husbandry department. In 1928, Iowa State awarded him an honorary doctorate, and that same year, he was named acting president of North Dakota Agricultural College, becoming president two years later.

President Shepperd led the school through the difficult financial period of the Great Depression. He retired as president emeritus in 1937. In addition to his academic career, J. H. Shepperd was superintendent in charge of judging at the International Live Stock Exposition from 1905 to 1938.

Did You Know?

Shepperd also received early training in agribusiness there on the farm when an older brother paid him a nickel a day to husk corn. When he used his meager earnings to buy a pig, he later said: "It was not a business proposition, for I bought this little animal for purely aesthetic reasons - the desire to have a pet." This episode indicated the love of animal life that would propel him into a crusade for an improved livestock industry in North Dakota.

In 1927 and 1929 Shepperd was Grand Champion of the International Livestock Exposition.

One problem with North Dakota agriculture in the early 20th century was the fact that hard spring wheat did not do well in the western and drier regions of the state. Shepperd thought he had found the solution when Mark A. Carleton, USDA cerealist, discovered that durum, or macaroni wheat (particularly Kubanka) did so well in those areas. Carleton collected samples of durum in Russia in 1898-1900. Shepperd became an enthusiastic champion of durum wheat, and was appointed to a committee of three by the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention to advance the interests of durum wheat and its producers.

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