Cole Gustafson's death shocks NDSU family

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota State University Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics is shocked today to hear about the death of Cole Gustafson, 56, in a farm accident.

Cole Gustafson
Cole Gustafson, North Dakota State University chairman of the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics and a biofuels economist, died April 28 in a farm accident on his family farm north of Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is pictured here in February 2011, at Barry Hall. (Mikkel Pates, Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota State University Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics is shocked today to hear about the death of Cole Gustafson, 56, in a farm accident.

Ken Grafton, NDSU vice president of agriculture, sent a memo to staff today saying, "It is with deep sadness" that Gustafson was killed "Saturday, April 28, in an accident while working on his family farm in Minnesota." He said counseling would be available for colleagues.

According to sources at NDSU, Gustafson was planting at his parents' farm and didn't come back home when expected. He was found with his leg pinned in machinery.

Gustafson was an agricultural economist who in 2007 was named NDSU's first biofuels economist. He had worked in the area since the North Dakota Legislature developed the position, before adding the chairmanship in 2011.

In a 2010 interview with Agweek, Gustafson said he grew up on a farm north of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He went to the University of Minnesota where he received a bachelor's degree in 1978 and a master's in 1980. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., in the farm income section of the Economic Research Service. Gustafson obtained his doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1986 and that same year started at North Dakota State University, during the ebbing agricultural financial crisis.


He taught classes and conducted research and in the late 1980s and served as chairman of the agricultural economics department for three years. He was chairman of the department again from 1994 to 1998 and associate dean from 1998 to 2001, with Dean Pat Jensen.

He returned to the faculty in 2001, again in ag finance, and became involved in renewable energy. The majority of his appointment was in extension, giving him an outreach mission that others in the field did not have.

"I think I'm the one in the state who's been asked to look at these (renewable energy) projects objectively, to help foster the development of the industry as well as provide the research," he told Agweek in 2010. He was on a 60 percent Extension Service appointment at the time.

When naming him department chair on July 14, 2011, Grafton noted that Gustafson had authored more than 47 peer-reviewed journal articles and had obtained more than $1.5 million in grant funding. Gustafson at the time said that recent volatility in commodity and energy markets, as well as widespread adverse weather across the state, had created a strong demand for the department's economic, planning and forecast information.

Grafton described Gustafson as a "great faculty member, colleague and administrator" who "unselfishly" agreed to lead the department as its chair. He says Gustafson embraced distance education and placed students' needs as his highest priority.

Gustafson's wife, Nancy, is from Minneapolis, and writes about nutrition. They have three grown children.

A prayer service will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Grandstrand Funeral Home in Lindstrom, Minn. The address is 11900 Lake Lane, N., Lindstrom, Minn., 55045. The funeral will be held at Chisago Lake Lutheran Church, Center City, Minn. Burial will be at Hillside Cemetery at Center City. Arrangement details are available at .

Gustafson is survived by his wife, Nancy, son, Erik of Fargo, daughters Kelsey of Fargo and Ana (Ben) Creo of Providence, R.I., and granddaughter, Chloe. He is also survived by parents Richard and Drelyne Gustafson of Center City, a brother, Max (Mary) Gustafson of Center City; sister, Lori Wayman of Minneapolis.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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