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Published November 04, 2013, 10:19 AM

Words of wisdom

Gustin's book is a compilation of his past columns

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Retired ag broadcaster Al Gustin’s new book, “Farm Byline: Reflections on North Dakota Agriculture, 1974-2013” is available in time for the holidays.

Gustin retired in December 2012, after 45 years in the news business, and is most well-known for his radio and television news work, where he cut a wide swath with Meyer Broadcasting and KFYR-related companies in the Bismarck-Mandan area in North Dakota.

But the broadcaster also wrote monthly columns for what became North Dakota Living magazine, a monthly publication of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. He says he spent much of last winter winnowing his 400 or so columns down to about 160 for the book.

Gustin will do a book-signing at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway in Fargo, N.D., 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 9. The book is $19.95 and available at regional stores or online at He has another book signing on Nov. 23 at Barnes and Noble in Bismarck.

This 250-page collection covers the waterfront of Gustin’s topics starting with his reflections on growing up on a diversified farm in Morton County, where he continues to live today, still with an interest in what became the Gustin family’s Diamond-D Gelbvieh Ranch.

Day-to-day dramas

The columns in the book reveal the strong connection to the day-to-day agricultural production concerns — pride and humility, confidence and awareness of the power of natural and economic forces facing farmers and the underlying strengths that allow them to cope and thrive.

Dates change in the columns, but there is a familiar compass and voice.

In one 1983 column, “Right and Wrong Decisions,” Gustin says the “right decisions for the 1970s turned out to be wrong in the 1980s” — a dual message for those who had failed, and for those who were tempted to judge them harshly. Gustin recalls how audiences became tired of bad news, which led to more. “Continuous reporting only made matters worse for those suffering through the difficult times,” he writes.

Also in 1983, Gustin wrote, “Farming is more than a Business,” another message for those whose financial fortunes had gone sour. In it, he lists the noneconomic rewards of being a farmer or rancher — things such as working alongside children and relatives or the lessons of life and death.

Not just business

In a 1997 column, Gustin warns about how a recovering farming economy should worry about only a “just business” approach. “Once agriculture crosses the imaginary line from ‘way of life’ to ‘big business,’ the public is all too willing to change the rules,” he concludes.

In a related theme in 2011, he wrote “Washington sees no … dark cloud when it comes to the nation’s food supply. There are no lines of people waiting to buy food,” and adds, that “while agriculture is a goose that lays golden eggs, that goose needs to be continually fed.”

Describing himself as an “observer and chronicler of change,” he in 2001 voiced concern about the advancing age of farm operators, and the need for young blood.

In 2006, he wrote about the demise of smaller country grain elevators, and the critical skyline feature that “called out proudly to anyone approaching, ‘This is a farming community.’” In 2012, he writes that changes in grain transportation would be on the list of the biggest changes he’s seen in agriculture.

Still on the ranch

After his media career, Gustin retired to be a “ranch hand” on the place he co-owns and says he’s done a bit of freelance television work, including some advertising work. Mostly, he says, he does things such as fixing fence, all while watching sunsets and within view of the St. Anthony Catholic Church where his family has been active all of these years, and where he picked up some of his sensibilities about the land and its people.

In 2011, he wrote about what to pray for, in a stunning year in which one-fourth of North Dakota’s crops went unplanted.

“Instead of praying for the rain to stop, we’ll simply pray for favorable weather and a lack of storms; and we’ll keep praying for those who are suffering because of adverse weather, be it too wet or too dry,” he concludes.