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Published April 29, 2013, 09:52 AM

A career that counts

The National Agricultural Statistics Service has named a new state chief for Minnesota.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

As a boy growing up in McVille, N.D., Daniel Lofthus helped his family raise grain and beef cattle.

As a student at North Dakota State University, he thought about returning to the family farm.

Now, as the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s new Minnesota state statistician, he’s the agency’s chief contact for farmers, ranchers and other agriculturalists across the state.

“I’m looking forward to visiting and working with farmers and others in agriculture,” he says.

NASS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conducts hundreds of surveys annually and prepares reports that involve nearly every aspect of ag. NASS sometimes uses the phrase “Agriculture Counts” to describe its mission.

Lofthus had been deputy director of the Minnesota field office of NASS, which is restructuring nationwide. Douglas Hartwig, formerly Minnesota state director, transferred to the NASS office in St. Louis.

Under the restructuring, NASS is eliminating its state director and state deputy director positions and replacing them with a state statistician and a state survey coordinator, who supervises the people who collect information for the agency.

So, Lofthus has gone from the second-highest post in the NASS Minnesota state office to the top spot.

Lofthus, 42, once considered farming himself near McVille, about 65 miles southwest of Grand Forks, N.D., and 115 miles northwest of Fargo, N.D.

“In the back of my mind, I’d always thought about it. But when it came time to graduate, my parents weren’t quite ready to retire, and so I went looking for a different job,” he says.

In 1992, he was hired by the NASS North Dakota state office in Fargo, where NDSU is located.

After seven years in Fargo, he spent two years with the NASS state office in Kentucky. Then he transferred to FSA national headquarters in Washington D.C., where he held several positions.

Eight years ago, he came to the Minnesota state office as deputy director.

As state statistician, Lofthus will work with farmers, universities and other agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, to promote the NASS surveys.

“We’ll keep our survey program as strong as it ever has been,” he says.

NASS continues to work on its 2012 Census of Agriculture. Conducted once every five years, the census provides a wide range of information about U.S. agriculture that isn’t available elsewhere.

“The census is our big project right now,” he says.

NASS is analyzing the data that’s been collected. The completed census will be released in early 2014.

Lofthus wasn’t sure when he joined NASS whether he would make a career in it.

But his two decades with NASS have been “a blessing for me. It’s worked out well. I’ve been able to stay close to agriculture,” he says.