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Published February 03, 2014, 09:52 AM

NCI educates visitors on regional ag

The Northern Crops Institute’s leaders can help educate visitors about the region’s agriculture, because they’ve helped shape it.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The Northern Crops Institute’s leaders can help educate visitors about the region’s agriculture, because they’ve helped shape it.

Director Mark Weber acquired his master’s degree in agricultural economics at North Dakota State University, spent two years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, and then came home to be the first director of the North Dakota Soybean Council in 1985. Six years later, he became the executive director for the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.

When his wife, Sandy, died of ovarian cancer in 2007, Weber left a six-figure salary and became a stay-at-home “mother and father” to his teenage son and daughter. In 2011, he returned to his ag career as NCI director, and found a kindred spirit, with Crabtree at his side.

Crabtree had grown up on a diversified farm near Plainview, Neb. He’d come to North Dakota as the state’s first licensed veterinary technician with a local veterinary clinic. Eventually wanting more, he went back to school and became one of the early graduate assistants for NDSU’s Bill Wilson, who would make an international reputation in grain marketing, logistics and risk management.

Upon graduation, Crabtree was an extension agent in Oregon. He returned in 1984 as assistant to Brendan Donnelly, a food scientist who was NCI’s founding director. Crabtree has played a key role in hosting people from 130 countries. He’s traveled to 25 countries.

The work has changed through the years. Participants today are mostly from private companies, not governments. Most speak English and are increasingly sophisticated.

NCI has changed too. Increasingly, it has a more international staff, with individuals like Thunyaporn Naggie Jeradechachi, a crop quality specialist and native of Thailand, offering cultural, language and other connections.

Crabtree says NCI work remains satisfying because it carries forth a philosophy set by Donnelly, the dignified cereal chemist from Dublin, Ireland.

“Donnelly said we want to make sure people — when they walk through that door — know that we’re world class.” Crabtree says. “We’re here to promote the crops in the Upper Midwest. And we’re saying, ‘If you’re going to come to the United States to buy grains, come here.’”

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