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AGWEEK EXCLUSIVE: Agweek goes to Russia

It seemed an irresistible possibility: traveling with Howard Dahl to see where he's selling North Dakota-made air seeders, tillage and sugar beet equipment in Russia. I've known Howard since the late 1980s when his business -- then Concord Manufa...

Russian trip
Mikkel Pates and Howard Dahl (right) stand near the Moskva River in Moscow and the Kremlin in the first week of April. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

It seemed an irresistible possibility: traveling with Howard Dahl to see where he's selling North Dakota-made air seeders, tillage and sugar beet equipment in Russia. I've known Howard since the late 1980s when his business -- then Concord Manufacturing -- was going through difficult start-up times.

Dahl took Concord products that had been successful in the United States into the former Soviet Union. He and his brother, Brian, were so successful with the air seeders that he sold the company to Case-IH, now Case New Holland. The Dahls have renamed their company Amity Technology, and -- with WIC sugar beet and Wishek tillage lines, among others, and then reabsorbing and improving the air-seeder products -- the company has continued to flourish.

From time to time during the past five years, I've talked with Howard about how wonderful it would be to travel with him in Russia, where he's sold $200 million in machinery. In early March, we'd talked about Amity's new marketing joint venture with AGCO Inc., and this time, Howard brought it up: "You know, I'm going there again in April. Want to come along?"

He didn't have to ask twice.

Dahl said I must start by making contact with the RDO Equipment people in Fargo, who are developing a successful agricultural equipment retail company in Russia called ACT Inc.

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Dahl proposed that I would fly into Moscow on a Saturday, do a bit of touring in Moscow on Sunday ("You HAVE to see some of Moscow," he said.) I'd fly to from Moscow to Krasnodar to meet with Ryan Offutt and the ACT group partner, while Howard made a side trip to Dagestan.

We would talk to some of the key figures in companies that are important customers to Dahl's Amity Technology. My travels with Dahl would take us to a John Deere dealer in Kursk, a farming operation near the village of Rylsk with which Dahl has close personal ties, and to Ukraine, where we'd meet farm managers from the massive Astarta-Kiev company -- the biggest sugar beet producer in that country. We'd finish our trip with a stop in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It was a whirlwind visit and an interesting one.

So here it is -- Agweek's two-part series on my adventures in Russia. I begin today's installment with a story about the Offutt partnerships. Next week, I'll offer an account of my times with Dahl. A travelogue can be found on the Agweek website soon.

Related Topics: CROPSMARKETSNORTH DAKOTA
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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