Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

University of Minnesota Student Reflects on his “Vern-alization” while Studying Agriculture

University of Minnesota Profressor Vernon Caldwell

University of Minnesota professor Vernon Caldwell is retiring after 45 years.

By Nick Peterson

This past winter one of my professors at the University of Minnesota retired after spending the last 45 years with the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. It was bittersweet, since I had learned a great deal from him through my time with the Crops and Soils Club, Crops Team, and his classes.His name is Vernon Cardwell, previous professor/advisor/researcher at the University of Minnesota for the better part of the last century. As he spoke during the retirement party, he recalled the different “vern-alizations” he had witnessed with undergraduate and graduate students. With vernalization meaning acquisition of a plants ability to flower following cold periods, it was a metaphor of his students.Growing up on the family farm it was not difficult to realize that agriculture is what I wanted to continue to pursue in my career. However, the agricultural industry is a very broad field with many opportunities. As I was accepted to the University of Minnesota, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, I was still very uncertain as to where I wanted to end up following graduation.

As I attended my first Gophers Crops and Soils Club meeting, I met and talked to Vern, who was the faculty advisor for the club. Soon after, following persuasion from Vern, I decided to join the crops judging team, where we competed against students at other schools in weed and crop identification, grain grading, and seed analysis. Since the 1970’s Vern has been leading the University to top ranked finishes, although participation had been waning in the last few years. This is when my Vern-alization began.

As I spent more time looking at plant and seed mounts and taking in all the information that Vern was spewing out, I couldn’t help but notice him slowly having an effect on me. The vast amount of agricultural knowledge that he had acquired over his many years of research, extension, and interaction with students was a little intimidating. I tried to soak up as much of it as I could.

Looking at my Vern-alization, though, it wasn’t so much the knowledge but the activism that he inspired in me that I would attribute to it. What makes him such a successful mentor to students is his ability to inspire this activism.

So, as I look towards graduation and opportunities in the agriculture industry in agronomy or seed representative roles, I continue to look back and use his contagious personality as a template for myself. I have no doubt this outlook will not only strengthen my commitment to clubs and organizations that I put my time into, but it will enable me to see the best in people as well.

The agricultural community was lucky to have a man like Vernon Cardwell influencing its students for the last 45 years. And so my Vern-alization proceeds, as I am ready to follow in my mentor’s footsteps and do what I can to better agriculture and the people within.

Nick Peterson is a participant in Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s Agvocate program.


International buyers reassured on quality and quantity of US grain for sale

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

According to the USDA, corn exports are off 40 percent from their usual rates and grain buying for ethanol and livestock consumption are both off as well, but the 2012 Export Exchange conference hosted in Minneapolis by the US Grains Council and the Renewable Fuels Association helped reassure international buyers that good quality US grain is available.

The most recent estimates by the USDA for this year’s production, 10.7 billion bushels is down 13 percent from the 2011–a remarkable figure in light of the severe drought that struck much of the US Farm Belt this year.

Corn producers John Mages, David Ward and Lori Feltis all represented Minnesota’s corn organizations at the conference, which belong to the US Grains Council. Mages, who farms in Stearns County, took part in a panel discussion about how the harvest went. A farmer from Illinois told about how hard hit drought areas suffered and saw severely constrained production. Mages was able to report the states in the northern tier of the Corn Belt remained untouched by the worst of the weather conditions–the crop is abundant, the grain is high test weight, high quality. This was true for corn from Minnesota and the Dakotas, as well as from the Deep South–Mississippi and Louisiana saw bumper crops thanks to favorable rains.

“Minnesota had record production–1.4 billion bushels,” Mages told the audience. He also noted that “86 million acres harvested nationally was also a record. It’s a surprise that the yield was as good as it was, despite the drought. The hybrids are better than they used to be. This weather would have been completely devastating 20 years ago, but today we can withstand it better. The conference gave the grain buyers a chance to get a feel for what the crop was like in the US–producers like me and Lori and David, and some from the Dakotas and Illinois–it was good to hear directly from the farmer rather than relying on other sources, to know what the crop is like.”

Feltis noted that one particular concern among grain buyers, are the reports of widespread Aflotoxin–a fungus that thrives in drought-stressed corn.

“We were able to reassure them that it’s virtually non-existent in the crop coming from the northern states,” said Feltis.

The fact that central parts of the Corn Belt–huge producers like Illinois–have seen higher incidence of Aflotoxin, has created something of a two-tiered market, according to wire service reports. Buyers are paying premium prices for grain unaffected by the condition.

Because of the drought, many foreign buyers had the notion that this is a replay of 2009, when test weights were off for most of the US crop, but they learned that the opposite is true–despite the lower total production, test weight and quality are above average.

“These overseas buyers were able to make connections and contacts,” said Feltis. “It was a great chance for people to meet each other. It created an open forum, so they could tell us their concerns. For the Asian countries, the biggest concern was price. As a general rule, it seemed like they are very frugal buyers, very price conscious. So we were trying to explain that quality is important. That the results they will get feeding our grain to their animals will make it worth the price.”


Tim Waibel joins MCGA board of directors

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Animal agriculture is still corn’s number one customer in Minnesota, and Courtland farmer Tim Waibel brings direct experience of that to his new position on the board of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He joined the board in August, to fill out the term of grower leader Curt Watson.

Waibel, 53, raises corn and beans with his wife Mary, and sons Justin and Jonathan, and together they custom finish 25,000 head of hogs each year. Daughters Rebecca and Anna are college students studying nursing and Clarissa, a senior at New Ulm High School, plans to attend South Dakota State University to pursue a degree in ag business.

“Since Minnesota became a state, animal agriculture has been the key mainstay of farmers,” said Waibel. “It has always been a big usage of grain and it will continue to be. As the original, value added use for crops, livestock production is part of what keeps agriculture and our state economy strong.”

Waibel has farmed full time for the past 18 years and his agriculture leadership experience includes four years on the Minnesota Pork Board.

“A lot of issues interest me, and I’d have to say that number one is transportation–we’ve been dealing with the lock and dam issue for a number of years,” said Waibel. “I’d like to help advocate so we can make progress and get the locks lengthened, so the barge operators don’t have to break up their tow-barges. We need modern, efficient transportation if we want to compete in the marketplace.”

Waibel also feels that farm-based renewable fuels are at a critical stage and need as much advocacy as farm organizations can offer.

“We have to continue to get the word out that ethanol is a great solution for fuel and food–it offers a feed product that has become a real staple in animal agriculture, and another point that I think escapes many people is how much ethanol has helped clean up the air emissions. We used to have checkpoints for testing your vehicle’s emissions. After ethanol came on, those disappeared, because ethanol really cleared the air.”

In addition to his work with farm organizations, Waibel continues to be active as a member of the Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Commission. As the main mechanism for managing the county’s land use, Planning and Zoning benefits from the farmer’s perspective, Waibel feels.

“It’s important to do what we can to be fair and to facilitate land uses that keep crop and animal production strong in our county, while we assure that the environment is protected from harm,” said Waibel.

MCGA board of directors includes 18 leaders drawn from across the state. Waibel will serve 18 months to fulfill the remainder of the current term.


Want a window on all the positive changes in agriculture? Take a look at the 14th annual Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

There were blue jackets, grandmothers, university professors, agribusiness and commodity organization representatives–many playing a double role as a farm producer along with full-time jobs off the farm–it was the 14th Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference. Held on Wednesday, April 11 at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, the conference drew a diverse crowd of more than a hundred women from across the state who shared a common excitement for agricultural leadership at this time of rapid change.

Roundtable discussions offered four ten-minute sessions where participants could attend one quick briefing after another, choosing from a dozen topics. MCGA Outreach & Communications Specialist Jenna Kromann and North Dakota Soybean Board Volunteer Karolyn Zurn spoke about the recently launched CommonGround initiative. Farm women volunteer at local events, grocery stores and other venues where they reach out to suburban and urban counterparts, who are the family meal planners and opinion makers when it comes to food, and start conversations about farming and food.

The morning general session panel addressed the “Changing Face of Agriculture”–the panel’s makeup demonstrated the diversity of agriculture today in Minnesota. Not only did the panel reflect different ethnic heritages among Minnesota farm women, but the panelists reflect how women lead in agriculture at every level. Pakou Hang, executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association spoke about her work advocating for one of the state’s fastest growing minority populations (60,000+), among whom many are connected to agriculture, particularly small farms that use organic methods and market their products at farmers’ markets.

“Minnesota’s Hmong farmers have been right at the forefront of the growth in the local foods movement,” Pakou said. “There’s a growing number of people willing to pay a premium for locally-raised foods, and our organization is working to make sure that Hmong farmers are benefitting from that.”

Another fast-rising star in agricultural leadership, Sangeetha Gummadi, talked about her work for the past two years as a soil conservationist at Wright County Natural Resource Conservation Service, where she not only helps farmers develop plans to prevent soil erosion and maintain water quality, but she has begun to work on outreach with school groups and local government units, to educate the public about all the conservation happening on today’s farms. Gummadi is a graduate of University of Minnesota’s agriculture education program and served as a Minnesota State FFA officer during her high school and college career.

Proving the value of an economics degree, Betty Berning spoke about her role as senior dairy buyer for General Mills.

Berning noted that General Mills’ success has come in part through its excellence in developing partnerships with the spectrum of food processors, but she hopes that the Minnesota-based Fortune 500 company can re-establish close connections with the farm producers who raise the raw feedstocks that become such General Mills products as Yoplait yogurt or Totino’s pizza.

Kristin Weeks Duncanson brought her perspective gained not only from production on her family farm in Mapleton, but also from service in state and national commodity organizations (past president of Minnesota Soybean Growers Association) and her current position as board chairwoman of Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. She told the audience about her work recently as one of 31 advisers to the newly formed AGree Food and Ag Policy Group, an initiative from nine of the world’s leading philanthropic foundations: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“The AGree Team is working on long term sustainability in food production and the environment around the world,” said Weeks Duncanson. “Through the AGree process you get a view of some of the forces behind the changes we see in ag. By 2050 we need to feed 9 billion-plus people and there’s only so much tillable ground. We have to get better at production, while not leaving behind distressing environmental impacts…there are so many interesting opportunities and challenges ahead of us.”

Rural areas need to prepare to offer solutions for what a growing world population and a growing world middle class wants. Weeks Duncanson noted that by mid-century China will have 300 million middle class people–equivalent to nearly the entire population of the United States. Further, her work with AGree has given her insight into the desire of companies like Walmart to put actual numbers and measures to concepts of sustainability, for everything from electronics products to the milk and cheese in its grocery aisles.

She said farmers need to be aware of Walmart’s process and to contribute information and offer the farm producers’ point of view when they can, knowing that the big retail players like Walmart increasingly call the shots about how food is produced.

Rural areas will need infrastructure to take part in world growth in everything from fish farming, to microbrewing of beer, Weeks Duncanson said. Education is another area that calls for a responsive approach.

“A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out all the jobs out there going unfilled –welders, painters, carpenters–highly skilled labor. We need to tweak training and education programs to fill those jobs,” said Weeks Duncanson.

The daylong leadership conference included breakout sessions in which the common theme was how to have an impact as a leader–one of the most popular sessions of the day was “How To Be Outrageous” in which Peg Longquist of the University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center shared her infectious message about how to gain the confidence to be leaders for positive change.

MARL Class VI graduates, including four leaders with MCGA connections

The Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (MARL) program recently graduated its sixth class of mid-career leaders with a concluding weekend seminar and graduation event held in Chaska. The year-and-a-half long seminar series, organized through Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, is considered the most prestigious and rigorous training that focuses on leadership for agriculture.

The thirty two leaders of MARL VI were drawn from across the state and from a number of different agriculture industries. They include four leaders connected to Minnesota Corn Growers Association: farmer/MCGA members Rochelle Krusemark of Trimont, Kirby Hettver of Montevideo and Ian Sandager of Hills, as well as MCGA staffer Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships.

The group returned from a ten day visit to Morocco earlier in March. This international experience, along with a weeklong experience in Washington, DC, form the highlights of a series of seminars that also take the leaders to locations all around the state of Minnesota, to give them in-depth exposure to the various regions and economic segments of the state.

Three hundred people, including many MARL alumni and agricultural industry leaders, attended the MARL graduation ceremony and dinner, which took place at the Oakridge Conference Center in Chaska.

“MARL has been awesome, I am so grateful for this experience,” said Tanner.

She said the leadership course included tools for self-reflection and measuring progress in areas like emotional intelligence, which is a key skill/knowledge area for any leader.

Asked about how MARL has shaped and developed his leadership abilities, Ian Sandager said: “MARL has helped me to be able to speak more knowledgeably and to be able to debate and discuss issues respectfully, to see where we can meet in the middle and where we can’t. It’s helped me develop more patience in those situations. I am more passionate about my issues, but at the same time I have been able to increase my ability to speak about them in a respectful manner.”

Sandager went on to describe how knowing yourself more fully gives you the ability to lead more successfully. Just this year he joined the local board of directors for Rock County Corn and Soybean Growers Association.

“The big thing for me about MARL is assertiveness and being self-aware about my emotions,” Sandager said. “Overall I think I have grown quite a bit. The things they have you do, looking at yourself and the different measurements and testing you go through cause you to reflect, and it helps you to improve. It’s been challenging and at times it’s not fun, but I definitely recommend this program to anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills and knowledge base.”

Rochelle Krusemark farms in Trimont with her husband, and they raise corn and soybeans, and contract-finish hogs. Their sons remain involved in farming despite one being a full-time college student and the other pursuing his career as an aerospace engineer.

She found the trip to Morocco to be everything it was advertised as an eye-opening experience of a very different culture and its agriculture industries.

“We saw both sides,” said Krusemark. “We saw the small farmer that brings his produce by donkey and markets it in the open markets in the city, and then there is the other scale where we visited farmers with thousands of acres of peaches, olives, almonds, pears, oranges and lemons. We visited a huge cooler warehouse –an individual farmer had this set up so he could box his produce for shipping.”

Kirby Hettver, 37, is a farmer and ag equipment/seed entrepreneur.

In addition to farming corn, soybeans, alfalfa and small grains with his father and two brothers, Kirby sells after-market planter parts to improve performance, and equipment to manage dust at grain storage facilities, as well as selling seed corn and soybeans.

“The value of this Morocco trip to me was the appreciation of what we have,” said Hettver who represents, with his two brothers, the fifth generation of his family to farm on their land in Montevideo. Hettver said, “The vast contrast between the micro small farms and the large ones in Morocco–it was hard to find average size farms like ours. There were so many obvious differences, from the services available to farmers there, to the social fabric of their society. I came back thankful for what we have in the US. Looking at it from a Moroccan’s perspective, the one word I would use to describe their situation is ‘opportunity.’ There are a lot of positive changes going on for them. We visited a dairy coop where they were feeding calves to harvest weight, coordinating that system and making leaps and bounds in improvements to those coop members. Improvements in technology and efficiency are coming. More products are becoming available to Moroccans, products of a higher, more consistent quality for the Moroccan marketplace…I am excited to watch their progress and see where they are ten, 15 years down the line.”

Hettver, who is involved in his local corn and soybeans association in Chippewa County, hopes to go on to involvement with the organization at the state level.

“From a leadership standpoint the international trip was a culmination of what we learned,” said Hettver. “It put us in an atmosphere very unlike the US–The contrast, the perspective, helps mold your thought process, the way you approach different subjects. I think this process has helped me become a better leader.”

Tanner said that observing the changing political landscape in Morocco at firsthand was its own lesson in leadership. She found the briefing with the US Ambassador’s economic adviser and his agriculture advisor to be incredibly interesting.

“In the Arab Spring, Morocco underwent changes last year–not as revolutionary as in some countries, but still major changes,” Tanner reported. “The constitution was amended this past summer, and one of the most important changes was that the legislature now must have a certain number of women, a certain number of youths represented in Congress. An election was held in November…the new constitution set a minimum of 60 women members and 66 women were elected to parliament–that shows that the changes there are not just superficial. And while we were there, there was a lot going on at the Moroccan embassy. That afternoon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came into town as part of an international relations event.”

It was also another sign of how deeply the world has changed in the past decade. Clinton attended a groundbreaking for new embassy building in Rabat. It has been completely redesigned and upgraded as part of the continuing security overalls that came in the wake of 9/11 and US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The final meeting in Chaska was a chance for all the MARL leaders to look back and take stock. Krusemark has noticed how her approach to leadership has changed in the past year and a half.

“I really appreciate MCGA’s support of the MARL program,” said Krusemark. “Until you participate in it, you don’t realize the benefits. My husband says he can see the change in me–personally, I have become more discerning. Many of us that are leaders tend to be analytical, and often we see things in a black and white way. I am a former educator. I was in special education, so I appreciate diversity, and I always have, but being among the MARL leaders, which is such a diverse group, I appreciate diversity even more. Everyone has something different to offer, brings up things you never would have thought of. Another side benefit that I have loved is that we get to talk specifically about ag production when we get together. What’s working and what isn’t on our own farms, whether it’s the sprayer nozzles we just started using or tile drainage set up we have.”

Sandager said it was fascinating to see in Morocco an extremely different culture and geography and yet to see past those differences to commonalities between the two countries’ agriculture systems.

“At the most basic level, they face are the same issues we do,” said Sandager. “They need to find markets for their production. They’re trying to get the most money for their buck. Water is a big issue. A couple of farms we visited were converting to drip irrigation, which is much more efficient because less water is lost in evaporation. The thing is, because the government is subsidizing the change, everyone is going that way, and that’s led to an overall increase in water use–and that’s a scarce resource for them.”

Sandager also enjoyed learning about one of Morocco’s major industries–it’s second in the world in olive oil production. Sandager enjoyed learning about how the national school of agriculture collaborates with private industry to solve problems and continue to strengthen the quality of production, the consistency of the product and the Morocco’s position in the world market.

“We did some learning before the trip in Windom about different cultures, trying to recognize the differences and yet still being able to work together,” said Sandager. “You are forced to adapt or get left behind. You realize that people are different from you and you respect that and try to understand that, understand where they are coming from when they talk about an issue.”

Sandager, whose uncle Gene “Pucky” Sandager, is a past president of MCGA, looks forward to participating in the state level of farm organizations.

“I want to get involved in voicing the issues and having an impact on the things that are affecting agriculture and our way of life,” Sandager said.

Grower leaders talk issues with lawmakers during 2012 Day on the Hill

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Biofuels and water quality rules. These are two issues dealing the highest impact to farmers and rural communities in Minnesota and so farmers went to the Minnesota State Legislature to attend hearings and speak with lawmakers and ask their support for the farmers’ positions on several key pieces of legislation in these areas.

An MCGA delegation headed up by MCGA President John Mages of Belgrade (Stearns County) attended a hearing on biofuels legislation to support the Ethanol Requirement Extension (HF2741), which extends Minnesota’s ethanol 20% ethanol requirement by 3 years.  Without this change, the requirement will expire, perhaps before federal approval can be gained for E20 as a standard gasoline blend. Rep. Paul Anderson, author of the bill, spoke at the hearing and Mages also offered testimony. Representatives from the biobutanol industry were seeking a change in Anderson’s bill to include the new biofuel, also produced from corn. Mages offered the MCGA position that it would be better to hold off-session hearings with all the stakeholders rather than changing the language of the extension bill right now.

“It was helpful that we had 15 people in the room,” said Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. If you do have good representation at a hearing it does help your cause.”

The delegation included several staff, three student ‘agvocates’ and a dozen MCGA grower leaders.

“MCGA Day on the Hill went really well,” said Tanner. “It’s about making connections and those connections lead to more connections–this is the way you let your representatives know that you know what’s happening and that you follow what they are doing. Senator (Julie) Rosen bumped into us, and said she really liked seeing our group up there at the capital. She chatted with us, gave us a quick update, and listened to our concerns, and then she went back to the session. She let another senator on the floor know that one of our grower leaders, a constituent of his, was waiting out in the hall, so that senator came right out and talked to us.”

Another important element of Day on the Hill is educating grower leaders about the legislative process and about the work that political advocates are carrying forward on behalf of MCGA.

“We employ full time lobbyists and it’s important for the grower leaders to see how that investment is paying off for the group’s 6,000 farmer members across the state,” said Tanner.

The group also spoke to their home legislators in support of two bills having to do with wetlands, introduced by Senator Gary Dahms: a Wetlands Bill (SF2072) to increase the size of land eligible for the de minimis exemptions for class 1, 2, 6, and 7 wetlands and another bill to exempt farmers from the Wetlands Conservation Act if they are complying with the federal wetlands protection laws known as Swampbuster. (SF2042, Sponsor: Dahms).

Another highlight of the day was an hour long briefing with State Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. The Minnesota Corn organizations’ board and council had met with Frederickson the day before, but this session proved to be a valuable follow up. The commissioner and the leaders held a lengthy discussion about the Memo of Understanding between the state of Minnesota and the Federal EPA and USDA to launch a pilot conservation program geared to water quality outcomes where Frederickson assured them that “we don’t want to cause economic pain with this program–if there is pain here we want to get rid of it. At the end of the day everybody’s got to earn a living. We just want to identify best management practices” in order to reward those through this program.

Former MCGA president Doug Albin said, “This is a good time for farmers to look at conservation practices. We have money to spend and we are willing to spend it.”

Former NCGA and MCGA President Gerald Tumbleson said, “America was built on one word. Innovation… We are just concerned that whatever program is put in place, we are allowed the room to change and grow. We don’t know what tomorrow’s best management practices will be, and trying new things is the only way to find out.”

Growers remember Curt Watson

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Curt Watson, 63, passed away Sunday morning at his winter home in Arizona. Watson, who farmed with his wife Janel in Renville, Minnesota, is a past president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He was widely known as a passionate advocate for agriculture. His friends knew him as a man of faith and family, who had courage in his convictions and whose good humor and sense of fun leavened the experience of leadership that he offered. He and Janel had five children and many grandchildren.

Lifelong friend Gerald Mulder recalled Curt’s zest for life.

“If you say one thing about Curt he really enjoyed life,” said Mulder, who went to grade school and Sunday school with Watson and graduated Renville High School with him in 1966. “He always said, ‘Let’s go out and have fun!’ That was ever since I’ve known him, he was always that way. Make it fun for everybody. That’s something Curt really lived by. He was a very Christian man. Curt and I went to the same church and we did talk about the Lord’s love and that when we would die, we knew we were going to be with Him.”

Mulder recalled first noticing the Curt had changed from a quiet kid to a man with leadership qualities when they played together on the Renville High School football team.

“Senior year is the year I remember most,” Mulder said. “We had a very good football team, we were 7-1-1. Curt started on the offensive line. Curt was center, I was tackle. That maybe was his first leadership role. He would get the offensive line together–using codes, he’d call out who was blocking who. That’s when he started to come out and be more of a leader. We grew up a lot that year.”

Then the two went into military service. Mulder went into the U.S. Air Force and a little later Watson joined the U.S. Marine Corps–ever after it was a point they teased each other about–who joined the better armed service.

One of Watson’s key leadership skills was recruiting new leaders and empowering them in order to strengthen the organization.

“Mentor is the word I think of when I think of Curt,” said DeVonna Zeug, a Walnut Grover farmer who became an MCGA leader through Watson’s encouragement, and subsequently served as president. Zeug said, “As I was coming up, Curt always made sure he included me because he knew I was coming up. He stayed in contact. He thought mentoring and communication were keys to developing new leadership and running a successful organization. The very first board meeting I went to I sat next to Curt and we became friends, right from the get-go.”

Like many who knew him, Zeug’s chief impressions of Watson were his sense of humor and his commitment to his pro-farmer agenda.

“He was very funny, he had a great sense of humor,” said Zeug. “Yet, he was focused and he knew his stuff. He was definitely an advocate for farm policy. He took the PAC very seriously. He was very passionate about its importance, and he was always trying to come up with different ideas for fundraising. It was great to get to work with him on that.”

Jerry Demmer, a farmer in Clark’s Grove, became friends with Watson when the two filled the top positions in Minnesota’s corn organizations.

“When Curt was president (of MCGA) and I was chairman (of Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council), the agreement was to keep each other out of trouble. ‘If either of us get to rattling on too much, just give me an elbow,’ was what we agreed. We had that bond at that time, and talked quite a bit. Curt was a loving father, husband and grandfather–he loved his grandkids. He was a great advocate for corn growers, and their mission. He was opinionated, maybe more so than the average person. He didn’t hold back on asking tough questions that sometimes people didn’t want to hear the answer. If he didn’t get the answer he would go and seek the answers out.”

Demmer noted that when the board and council decided to seek approval from Minnesota’s corn farmers to increase the amount of the checkoff rate, Watson took it upon himself to make calls to farmers to get out the vote for the issue at the MN Ag EXPO that year. Rolling his sleeves up and making personal contact was part of Watson’s effectiveness as a leader.

“Sometimes, instead of asking why, he’d say why not? Why can’t we do this? Board and Council is a team effort, but he wasn’t afraid to be doing the prodding when he felt it was an important issue,” Demmer said.

“Driven is a word that describes Curt,” said Chad Willis, a farmer in Willmar and current chairman of Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council. “He was driven to be a leader. Just a couple weeks ago at Commodity Classic, after Corn Congress, Curt was talking to me about a few of the issues, talking over how we presented things and how we could have presented them better. He was always thinking about the best way to do things. He really enjoyed the policy end of the work. And he was very into the stewardship issues. Water quality and different practices–he got to all the meetings and was on top of all the information.”

Willis and John Mages, a farmer in Belgrade who currently serves as MCGA president, are among the many who feel that Watson personally encouraged them in their leadership paths.

“I first met him six years ago when I joined the corn growers board,” Mages said of Watson. “He was the one who encouraged me to be an officer. He was always very knowledgable about the subjects, never afraid to speak up. He also injected humor into the meetings, so there were some lighter moments. He was always fun to be around. He was always thinking about ways to do things better. He was big on getting everyone involved. That included spouses, too–he was never shy about recognizing the support that spouses give that’s so important to leaders being able to fulfill their roles. When we traveled together, Curt felt it was important to get to know everybody, and to get to know spouses as well.”

Steve Kramer, who farmed about 30 miles down the road from Curt, on the opposite end of Renville County, is another talented leader recruited to MCGA by Watson. The two shared a passion for the politics of farming.

“He was an instigator,” said Kramer with a chuckle and more than a hint of admiration. “He was always looking for ways to make things happen. Always thinking of ways to make things better and he wasn’t afraid to push really hard to get them done. He went down alleys and paths other people never would have thought of, to pursue a goal.”

Kramer said two important ingredients in Watson’s leadership were his ceaseless curiosity, which worked well with his willingness to brave public opinion in the face of controversy.

“He never took the safe road. Not all the things he pushed for panned out, but he was always trying stuff, he was always interested in learning things and he was fascinating to talk to,” said Kramer. “I’ve known Curt for 30 years. He is the one who talked me into going on the state board–it took him a long time–he’s persistent, too. He was so interested in politics. He knew he wasn’t always the one to get things done. He knew some people saw him as abrasive. He liked people. He wasn’t afraid to promote ideas, to talk about them and sell them. Usually he had a very thoughtful approach. I got to travel with him a lot and I always enjoyed that. You never sat in silence. There was always a topic to talk about.”

His yen for problem solving suited him perfectly for the farming life, and for the politics he loved, said Mulder.

“Farming…he loved all the challenges. He loved fixing things, not so much with his hands, but with his mind. I talked with him about the fact that he was old enough he should retire, but he said he never would. He loved the business of farming. He was a shrewd business man, but I also think he never intentionally hurt anyone. When I think of what Curt loved about farming, I think he loved those headaches, he loved those very complicated situations. That’s why he liked to be on the corn board because he loved to solve problems.”

Mulder summed up his thoughts in a way echoed by all of these people who knew Watson so well.

“He is a friend that will be truly missed.”

Visitation will be held for Curt Watson at Emden Christian Reform Church in Renville from 5-8 p.m. Friday, and a funeral service takes place there on Saturday, at 10:30 a.m.