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Published January 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Ag educator Will Yliniemi retires after 22 years with Extension

For 22 years, Will Yliniemi has worked for the University of Minnesota Extension, first serving Becker County, then Hubbard County, then both.

By: Vicki Gerdes, DL-Online

For 22 years, Will Yliniemi has worked for the University of Minnesota Extension, first serving Becker County, then Hubbard County, then both.

A Becker County native who grew up on his family’s farm in rural Wolf Lake, Yliniemi says he’s “been involved in agriculture my whole life.”

But on Jan. 31, the Extension ag educator will enter a new chapter in his life: retirement.

“It’s time,” he said simply. “There’s a season for everything…there just comes a time to do other things.”

Yliniemi, who turned 62 on Friday, says he has “no initial plans” for post-retirement activities.

“I’m looking at building a shop on our farm,” he said Thursday. Though he raised sheep on his 320-acre spread near Snellman for about 20 years, Yliniemi now rents most of the acreage to a neighbor for his beef cattle operation.

Will and his wife, Janice — an art teacher in the Nevis school district — also plan to spend time with their four grown children and 14 grandchildren.

Yliniemi’s retirement will also mark the end of an era in Becker County, which has no plans to fill his part-time position.

“There will still be a local Extension office,” he said. “But our office manager (Linda Perrine) will have a lot more responsibility.”

Besides Perrine, the office is also staffed by a 4-H coordinator, Sharon Smith, and nutrition educator, Tracy Baker.

But Yliniemi feels the decision to discontinue the ag educator position may turn out to be “a little bit short-sighted.”

With the current economic crisis, there are more farmers needing help, and there has also been a trend toward expanding locally grown food markets, as well as the development of the alternative fuel industry (i.e., ethanol and other biofuels).

“There are more direct food markets than we’ve seen in the past — more people looking at producing locally grown foods,” Yliniemi said. “It’s probably a healthy trend for farmers in this area.”

The loss of the ag educator position will also mean one less academic resource in the area.

“The county will lose that connection to the University and other educational institutions,” Ylinemi said. “That’s a critical thing … the connection with those agencies and related educational programs.”

The ag educator position in Hubbard County, where Yliniemi has spent approximately 60 percent of his time for the past four years (he works in Becker County two days a week), will also be cut back to a half-time position.

“They’re also shifting the focus (of the position) more toward sustainability, water quality and conservation issues,” he said.

This is just the latest in a series of evolutionary changes that have taken place in the Extension Service since Yliniemi started work with the Extension Service in February 1986.

“Originally, most counties had two or three Extension educators, with the funding shared by the county and the university,” Yliniemi said. “They’ve gone to a regional system now, with regional centers throughout Minnesota.”

For this area, regional offices are located in Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Crookston. Regional educators are 100 percent university-funded, while others are contracted by the individual counties, through the university. The total number of educators located throughout the state has also dropped significantly, Yliniemi added.

Though Yliniemi graduated from the University of Minnesota, with degrees in both agronomy and soils, he took longer than four years to do so.

“I went to school for a couple of years, then I got drafted into (military) service during the Vietnam War,” he said. Yliniemi did his tour of duty in Vietnam as a medic, then returned to Becker County and worked for a while before finishing school and starting a family.

His first post-graduation job was with the Land O’Lakes Cooperative, working as a seed buyer/merchandiser in the Twin Cities.

But he didn’t like spending so much time on the road, so Yliniemi returned to Becker County and spent 12 years teaching in the agriculture technology program at the Detroit Lakes Technical College (now Minnesota State Community & Technical College).

Then, in 1986, he took a temporary position with the Extension Service in Becker County, before taking a permanent, full-time position with Hubbard County in August of that same year.

He continued working full-time for Hubbard County until 2003, when he was sub-contracted to spend one day a week in Becker County. A year later, he started working two days a week in Becker County, an arrangement that continued for the next four years.

Yliniemi will be at the Detroit Lakes Extension office this Monday, Jan. 26, for an open house retirement party. Will’s co-workers have invited anyone who would like the opportunity to say farewell and thanks for his 22 years of dedicated service to stop by the office, located in the Human Services building at 712 Minnesota Ave., between 2-4 p.m.