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Published April 02, 2012, 10:08 AM

Shaping the future

Erik Younggren wants to play a role in shaping his future. In the process, he’ll help to shape the future of other wheat farmers, too. The Hallock, Minn., farmer is the new president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Erik Younggren wants to play a role in shaping his future. In the process, he’ll help to shape the future of other wheat farmers, too.

The Hallock, Minn., farmer is the new president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Now 41, Younggren decided five years ago that he eventually wanted to lead the organization, which he says hasn’t been headed by a Minnesotan in nearly 30 years. Age was a factor in his decision to seek the top spot, he says.

“There’s always a lot of attention on the next generation. I look at myself as the next generation,” he says. “It’s my future at stake.”

Younggren says he may be a little younger than the typical NAWG president. He also says it’s not unusual for relatively young farmers to hold leadership positions in the organization.

He’s had plenty of preparation for the president’s post.

Besides serving on the group’s domestic and trade policy, operations and budget committees, he’s participated on a special committee examining crop insurance policy, according to information from NAWG.

Younggren encourages other area farmers, regardless of the crops they grow, to get involved in ag organizations.

Priorities in the job

Younggren says his priorities in the year-long position include the new farm bill and working with federal agencies to fashion what farmers and farm groups view as realistic regulations.

The farm bill, the federal government’s main food and agricultural policy tool, expires at the end of the year and must be renewed.

NAWG, like many other farm groups, is concerned by a federal proposal that would limit child labor on farms.

The proposal doesn’t reflect the realities of family farms, Younggren says.

Younggren, a fourth-generation farmer, raises wheat, sugar beets and soybeans in partnership with two cousins.

The arrangement allows Younggren to be away from the farm to work on NAWG business.

“We work that (service with farm organizations) into our work schedules,” he says.

He estimates the president’s position will require him to be away from home for roughly 100 hours during his year-long term.

“I was away from home for half of March,” he says.

Younggren says he’s been a bit surprised by the number of news media interviews he’s done. The media crush was particularly intense at the Commodity Classic, the annual convention and trade show for wheat, corn, soybean and sorghum farmers. This year’s event was held in early March in Nashville, Tenn.

NAWG has members in 21 states. Kansas, North Dakota and Montana, respectively, have the most members.

“We’re a diverse group. We’re politically diverse, we’re geographically diverse,” he says.

NAWG represents farmers who grow all six of the different wheat classes, which adds to the diversity, he says.

Wheat’s future role

Wheat remains the Upper Midwest’s most important crop. But other crops, particularly corn and soybeans, are increasingly attractive to farmers and wheat’s importance has been slipping.

Younggren says wheat will continue to play a major role in area agriculture.

Wheat is a good fit in many producers’ crop rotations, he says.

“There are rotational benefits,” he says.

Farmers typically rotate the crops they grow on a field from year to year to reduce the threat of insects and crop disease, among other benefits.

Wheat remains a major source of food in a world with a fast-rising population, he says.

“People have to eat,” he says. “There will always be a market for wheat.”

Biotechnology also holds great promise for wheat, he says.

For instance, developing wheat varieties that hold up better in drought would be a huge boost to farmers in Texas and surrounding states that have been hammered by dry conditions, he says.

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