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Published April 18, 2011, 05:55 AM

Extension agent in ND’s Nelson County returns to his roots

LAKOTA, N.D. — Lucas Walter has an attribute that’s increasingly in demand in demand in area agriculture. He’s young.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

LAKOTA, N.D. — Lucas Walter has an attribute that’s increasingly in demand in demand in area agriculture.

He’s young.

Walter, 25, has served as the Extension Service agent in North Dakota’s Nelson County for 1½ years.

“When I go to a meeting and there’s a room full of farmers age 40 to 60, it can be a little intimidating. They have a lot more experience than I do. But it’s gone OK. I feel like I can talk,” he says with a smile.

Many occupations in area agriculture, including Extension Service agents, high school ag teachers and grain elevator managers, need an infusion of young people to replace workers nearing retirement

Thirty-six percent of counties in North Dakota have extension agents eligible to retire in the next five years, according to a study cited by the Extension Service.

Late last year, the Extension Service issued a news release touting the “exciting career opportunities” it offers.

The organization has attracted some good young people recently, but continues to look for more, says Margaret Tweten, the Grand Forks, N.D.-based Extension Service director of the district that includes Nelson County.

Agriculture always has been a crucial part of Walter’s life.

He grew on a family farm near Warrick, N.D., north of Lakota, and attended Nelson County’s Dakota Prairie School District.

After high school, he went to college with the initial idea of becoming a dentist. He later changed course, earning an ag business degree from the University of Minnesota-Crookston.

While in college, Walter had a summer internship under Bill Hodous, Walter’s uncle and Extension Service agent in North Dakota’s Ramsey County, which is adjacent to Nelson County.

After finishing college, Walter worked on the family farm. When the Nelson County Extension Service job opened up, “My name was thrown into the mix. I applied for the job and I picked it up,” starting in the post in November 2009, he says.

Walter continues to farm with relatives in Warrick, in addition to holding his Extension Service job.

Having current first hand ag experience is mostly a good thing for an Extension Service agent, he says.

“Being able to try some things personally that you read about, hear about and learn about — it’s good to have that experience. Other times, you can get crunched for time. But (overall) it’s been going good,” he says.

Turnover is rare in Walter’s Nelson County job. His immediate predecessor, Nels Peterson, held the post for 15 years. Before that, Morris Holm served for 27 years.

Walter says likes what’s he doing and can picture himself doing it for many years.

“It’s a nice fit because I want to stay in the area. And it’s a really, really good job,” he says.