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Published August 03, 2010, 10:03 AM

Longtime correspondent Hagstrom is Agweek’s eye on Washington

FARGO, N.D. — Jerry Hagstrom has been Agweek magazine’s eyes and ears in Washington since 1994.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Jerry Hagstrom has been Agweek magazine’s eyes and ears in Washington since 1994.

A native of the Bismarck/Wilton area in North Dakota, Hagstrom is known for getting the behind-the-scenes scoop on the national agriculture picture, tailoring his coverage to the readers in the Northern Plains that he knows and loves so well.

Jerry was born in 1947, the only child of Oscar and Marion Hagstrom. He remembers doing some farm work in his youth, but he got hives from grain dust at age 4, so he never looked to the farm as a career.

The Hagstroms farmed near Wilton, but lived in houses in town in the winter — first in Bismarck, then Wilton and then again in Bismarck, where Jerry graduated from Bismarck High School in 1965.

A friend had gone to the University of Denver for a master’s degree, so Hagstrom went there, too, picking up a double major in economics and Spanish.

After college, he moved to Washington, where he taught junior high school Spanish through 1971. Hagstrom had been a student- journalist, so he picked up a job as a Washington “stringer” for the Mandan (N.D.) Morning Pioneer back home.

The Morning Pioneer was owned by the Conrad family. His editor was Joyce Conrad, the wife of Charles Conrad and an aunt to Kent Conrad, who would go on to be a U.S. senator. Kent’s brother, Roan, had been a founding editor of the National Journal in Washington and returned to Mandan to become managing editor of the Morning Pioneer. He hired Hagstrom as a reporter.

In 1974, Hagstrom went to Colorado as a freelance writer. He became a campaign worker and then a congressional aide to Sen. Gary Hart, but in 1976, he returned to Washington for good.

He started working with Neal Peirce, another founder of National Journal, who wrote a syndicated column on state and local government. Hagstrom worked for Peirce for 12 years. In 1983, they together published the book “The Book of America: Inside the 50 States Today.” In 1984, Hagstrom started writing about the political consulting industry and, more independently, for National Journal and its Congress Daily, which goes to the movers and shakers on and around Capitol Hill.

Back to agriculture

“I had always done an occasional piece about agriculture, but in 1994, Mike Jacobs called me up,” Hagstrom says.

Jacobs was editor of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which owned Agweek. Jacobs, who had worked with Hagstrom for a short time in 1973 at the Mandan paper, was looking for someone to fill the Washington correspondent post for the weekly ag magazine. Sonja Hillgren, a native South Dakotan, had left the Agweek post to become Washington correspondent for Farm Journal.

“I was working at National Journal, primarily, and at that same period, they’d started Congress Daily, and they needed to have someone cover the farm bill,” Hagstrom recalls. “The very first story I covered for Agweek was the nomination of Dan Glickman

to be Clinton’s agriculture secretary. The nomination announcement was held in the White House Rose Garden on a wet, cold day in December of 1994.”

Hagstrom covered the 1996, the 2002 and the 2008 farm bills and now is covering the 2012 farm bill for which numerous hearings already have been held.

Hagstrom gets constant feedback from readers of Congress Daily, often those connected to the making of legislation and policies. Often, Hagstrom is in the Midwest, giving speeches to agricultural groups, and that’s when he hears the most from Agweek readers.

In recent years, he got lots of feedback when he exposed that the Australian Wheat Board had provided kickbacks to the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in an effort to maintain its share of that country’s wheat imports.

“To me the most interesting development over the years I’ve been covering agriculture was in 1996, when the ‘Freedom to Farm’ bill was passed. The theory was that farm subsidies were going to wither away in the next seven years. And that, of course, did not happen,” he says.

Opponents of farm subsidies were on the rise, but times changed.

“I believe the commodity producers got themselves organized in the 2002 farm bill and you could say they strengthened or restored the subsidies that were supposedly on their way to elimination,” he says.

More recently, Hagstrom has been fascinated with the rise of ethanol, which “in some ways overwhelms the farm bill in significance,” he says.

The emerging topic, of course, is the increased importance of national nutrition programs as a driver of farm policy. “It’s the concern about Americans’ health, which, I think, is going to make a major impact on what Americans eat in coming years. In turn, that will have a major impact on what farmers grow,” he says.

Through it all, Hagstrom gets satisfaction from his Agweek association.

“I was very happy to be able to write for a weekly that is published in the state where I was born and grew up,” Hagstrom says. “I am thrilled to be able to write for farmers who were friends of my father’s, or their children who have taken over those farms.”