Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published October 19, 2010, 08:23 AM

Candidates tout ag connections

FARGO, N.D. — Agriculture = good. If you don’t believe it, look at the year’s crop of political ads. This year, I took special notice of ads by Brad Crabtree, candidate for the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Agriculture = good. If you don’t believe it, look at the year’s crop of political ads. This year, I took special notice of ads by Brad Crabtree, candidate for the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

“A native North Dakotan, Crabtree grew up in Bismarck and ranches with his family south of Kulm,” the candidate’s bio says.

Crabtree’s Web info says his wife, Renee Gopal, and daughter, Suria, 10, manage their 520-acre Echo Lake Ranch in Dickey County as a small, family operation. They raise cattle and sheep and market all-natural, grass-fed lamb and beef to restaurants in North Dakota and individual customers throughout the Midwest and beyond.

I visited the Crabtree ranch in late 2005. Back then, I wrote about Crabtree’s wind power turbine siting ideas and a sidebar on the unusual stucco-clad straw bale house he’d built for his family in 2001.

When I caught up with Crabtree the other day, I asked about his house. Crabtree says it’s still there and he’s still living in it. It is a “personal choice,” which he isn’t suggesting others try.

Personally, I think the house and Crabtree’s failed initial effort to use farm-sized wind generators to go “off- grid” for power indeed are germane to Crabtree’s candidacy and his mindset. The generators wore out though, and he’s now back on the grid and North Dakota’s inexpensive electricity. He emphasizes the “grid is good.” (Contrary to what a local Republican detractor whispered to me recently, Crabtree says his family indeed lives in the straw house and never were chased out of it by mice. The house has been a good, affordable way of cutting cooling and heating bills, he says.).

Crabtree’s ranch

Crabtree says his place is “much bigger than a hobby farm but a lot smaller than a living.”

His place is 520 acres, he says, but with all the sloughs, 200 acres are water. Despite his travel schedule, Crabtree manages the 320-acre balance, and the rest is pasture under “intensive rotational grazing” with eight pastures.

He was at 50 head of cows, but last January, sold them to a neighbor, who pays for an amount of pasture. He kept 15 yearlings, which he’ll winter. He kept 125 breeding ewes and will market 70 lambs. When he travels during feeding months in the winter, he puts out extra bale rings, feeding prairie hay and alfalfa. Renee helps a bit, but has her own job. He markets yearling steers and lambs to individuals and three restaurants around the region.

Crabtree is running for a general PSC position and not necessarily for the agricultural portfolio.

He touts his consensus-building powers demonstrated by his coal development recommendations and renewable energy objectives. The PSC is known for its electric and natural gas utility rates, and less for its ag regulation. The energy portfolio — power lines, pipelines and wind farms siting “gets exposure,” he says.

Crabtree bills himself as a consensus-builder between utilities, farmers and others. On wind power, Crabtree wants a statewide policy that provides a formula for compensating neighbors for wind turbines. He says some locals unfairly blame him for a zoning policy that they think stopped wind development in his Spring Valley Township, but Crabtree says the real reason was a failed power deal in Minnesota, and that the turbines will eventually come.

If elected he says he’d push for in increase in a self-funded indemnity fund that protects farmers with price-later contracts if their grain buyers go belly-up. “I’m not a farmer and I don’t make my living from agriculture,” Crabtree says, but he adds, “I take my involvement in agriculture seriously and have some perspective on that and care about it.”

Tags: