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Published February 23, 2010, 08:55 AM

The evolving ag economist

FARGO, N.D. — Cole Gustafson grew up on a farm north of Minneapolis and his career path marks the imprint of the shifting of agriculture.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Cole Gustafson grew up on a farm north of Minneapolis and his career path marks the imprint of the shifting of agriculture.

Gustafson did his undergraduate University of Minnesota in St. Paul, where he picked up his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1974 and his master’s degree in 1978. Fresh from college, he went to work for USDA in Washington in the Economic Research Service for its farm income section.

From there, he went to the University of Illinois to work on his doctorate.

In the mid-1980s, farmers were in the midst of their credit crisis, and Gustafson wrote his dissertation about when farmers would return to the market to purchase new farm equipment.

“Reliability of their existing equipment and the cost of money rose to the top” of the equation, he recalls.

In 1986, Gustafson arrived at NDSU, where he started working in agricultural finance, teaching classes and conducting research.

“The farm financial crisis was ebbing,” I was working with producers and lenders, trying to get them through those times, but also developing longer-term plans.”

In 1994 to 1998, Gustafson served as chairman of the agricultural economics department, among other things, working with junior faculty to develop researchable projects and strategic plans for the department. He was associate dean from 1998 to 2001, working with then-Dean Patricia Jensen.

In 2001, he returned to the faculty, again in ag finance, and became involved in renewable energy topics.

“As the industries grew in North Dakota, the Legislature provided opportunity to formally move in that direction,” he says.

In 2007, the Legislature created a biofuels economist post and Gustafson was named to that spot. His appointment is 60 percent extension. Extension is partly funded by federal dollars, and he serves on some federal panels, including the so-called “e-Extension” concept, which would make all Extension Service resources available online.

Did he ever have a plan to go into farming?

Gustafson explains that the home farm was close to the city of Minneapolis, and the land values priced him out of the market.

“I still have a plan, but it hasn’t worked out,” he says with a smile.

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