Thankful and still going strong
FARGO, N.D. — Tim Petry sits behind a table in a lobby. In front of him is the pre-registration list for the soon-to-start North Dakota State University Extension outlook conference for agricultural lenders. Bankers from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota stream up to the desk to be checked in.
But Petry rarely needs to consult the list. He greets most of the bankers by name — he's known them for years — and offers a friendly smile to all.
"I do know a lot of people in agriculture in the area. That comes with the years, I suppose," Petry, NDSU Extension livestock marketing specialist, says later in an interview.
Petry, 73, is a northwest North Dakota ranch kid who's helped to educate and inform area agriculturalists since 1971, when he became an instructor of ag economics at NDSU. Since 2002, he's held his current position, a big part of which involves speaking to livestock producers at Extension meetings across the state.
He's one of 15 people nationwide to serve as a state Extension livestock marketing economist. The position was once common throughout the country, but changes to Extension budgets through the years have whittled down the number of people serving in the role.
"I like to joke that I know all my counterparts on a first-name basis. I'm in one of the few occupations that can say that," Petry says.
North Dakota has a relatively large number of cow-calf operations, which benefit from his position, he says.
"NDSU has funded it, fortunately, and the (NDSU) administration has been very helpful and so has the Legislature," he says of his position.
His influence extends outside North Dakota; Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota don't have livestock marketing economists. So Petry occasionally puts on presentations for South Dakota and Minnesota ag groups and in the past has talked to Montana ag organizations. In addition, South Dakotans, Minnesotans and Montanans sometimes attends North Dakota meetings in which he's involved.
His job involves looking at economic factors both domestic and international.
"It's 10 hours a day I spend looking at the livestock market and all the different fundamentals that affect us. Literally, there are hundreds. We're in a world market now," he says. "It's a very, very interesting career."
Petry grew up on a ranch with cattle, hogs, poultry and "as a young lad, no electricity or phone. Even horses along with tractors, when I was very young."
He noticed growing up that "whenever we had something to sell, prices were low." That fostered his interest in livestock marketing and ag economics, and prompted him to attend NDSU in Fargo, on the other side of the state.
"NDSU was a long ways away, and I was apprehensive. But I was intrigued (by ag economics) and NDSU was the place to go," Petry says.
Though he had planned on becoming an ag banker, he ended up as an instructor and later professor at NDSU. It's pointless to look back at what might have been, he says, but the tough ag economy of the 1980s would have forced him, as an ag banker, to make difficult decisions he wouldn't have enjoyed.
During his tenure at NDSU, he taught many marketing classes and a popular introduction to ag marketing class.
"He had a good way with all the students, but especially the younger ones," who felt comfortable dealing with Petry, says Dan Paulson, senior vice president for American Federal Bank who works from the bank's Fosston, Minn., location.
Paulson had Petry as an ag economics professor at NDSU and also sees Petry each fall at the annual Extension outlook conference for ag lenders.
Petry's good nature and friendly manner may be appreciated as much as his knowledge of livestock marketing, Paulson says.
"He just has a way of putting people at ease," Paulson says.
In the late 70s, Petry had an apparent opportunity to leave teaching and join the Extension service full time. But bureaucracy got in the way, and he stuck with teaching.
In 2002, however, NDSU had trouble filling the then-vacant Extension livestock marketing position, and Petry was tapped to fill it — a change he quickly accepted.
"After 30 years (teaching), how do you write a new test question?," he asked with a smile.
Working with people in the livestock industry is enjoyable and rewarding, he says.
"Livestock people are a special kind of people. They have to be devoted. It's not a get-rich-quick thing. My hats are off to them," Petry says.
His long career — which covers the '70s, '80s, '90s, aughts and teens — soon will extend into the '20s. Petry says his health is good and that he has no immediate plans to retire.
Both President Donald Trump and the singer Cher, who's scheduled to appear at the Fargodome in 2020, are 73, he notes.
Of his still-going-strong career, Petry says, "I'm very thankful to have had it."