Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published January 11, 2010, 04:00 AM

AG AT-LARGE: 10 years later

FARGO, N.D. — Jan. 3, I marked exactly 10 years with Agweek and the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Jan. 3, I marked exactly 10 years with Agweek and the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.

Ten years has been long enough to feel at home with a product that our staff is proud to put in your homes and businesses.

Some readers remember that I was an ag reporter at the Fargo (N.D.) Forum for 17 years before that. I’d graduated in 1979 from South Dakota State University, with my bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism and a minor in economics. I’d started at SDSU with a dream of studying music, but I quickly ascertained that the world would tire of hearing my viola and my baritone voice.

So I shifted to this “meat and potatoes” career — in agricultural journalism — roughly following the path of my dad, an ag journalist with the SDSU Cooperative Extension Service.

During college, I was an intern with The Farmer magazine in St. Paul. At The Farmer, I got to rub shoulders with the legendary editor Bob Rupp and travel to the Red River Valley, where I met historian-author-farmer Hiram Drache and others.

After college, I landed my first full-time job with the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe, where I wrote ag stories in a newsroom of literary luminaries such as Paul Gruchow and with a heritage of photo legends such as Jim Brandenburg, who recently had gone to National Geographic fame.

Expecting that my career would focus on ag production issues, I instead found myself writing more about the meltdown in hog prices and the start of a great farm credit crisis. Big stories during that four-year period were the Jerusalem artichoke pyramid debacle and James and Steven Jenkins’ ambush murder of two Ruthton, Minn., bankers after they were foreclosed upon.

At the Forum, I continued to write about the farm crisis, the “quick-PIK and roll” federal farm program shuffle, and about the eventual recovery of the farm economy in the 1990s. The Forum’s news staff was led by managing editor Terry DeVine, a former Marine, and Joe Dill, the former Associated Press bureau chief.

New path

Eventually, my professional ground shifted.

My dad and mentor collapsed and died in November 1998.

Similarly, Joe Dill died a month later.

The Forum hired a new editor in spring 1999. The new guy didn’t turn out the way I or others had hoped. (I remember a particular embarrassment when this ignoramus lectured American Crystal Sugar Co. executives at their board room in Moorhead, Minn.)

In October 1999, I got a call from Kevin Bonham.

Bonham was the editor of Agweek — a friendly and well-grounded competitor. Kevin needed to hire a reporter and wondered if I could get it advertised it in a newsletter for the North American Agricultural Journalists.

“Sure,” I said, and added that (surprise!) I, myself, would like to apply at Agweek. Soon, Agweek sent a contract that arrived in the mail the same day that “editor goofball” announced his “resignation” and marched around the newsroom, shaking hands and saying goodbye.

Still, I went to Agweek, where I’d only write about ag.

My final assignment as the Forum’s ag writer was Dec. 31, 1999 — New Year’s Eve. I covered the “Jesus 2000” at the Speedway meeting hall in West Fargo, N.D. The evangelicals offered prayers and comfort to those who feared a “Y2K” computer meltdown. Y2K fizzled.

My first day at Agweek was Jan. 3, 2000 — ten years ago.

To those producers and others who have taken the time to be interviewed or photographed by me, thank you. To my editors and colleagues: Thanks for overlooking my many shortcomings.