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North Dakota mother and daughter are double (Extension) agents

Kelly Leo accepted a position as Williams County agriculture and natural resources Extension agent in Williston in 2020, a year after her daughter, Devan Leo, joined the McKenzie County Extension team in Watford City as agriculture and natural resources agent.

A brown-haired woman wearing a red blouse sits at a computer and behind her is a blonde-haired woman wearing blue jeans and a blue, red and white shirt.
From left are mother and daughter Kelly Leo and Devan Leo. Kelly is the North Dakota State University Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Williams County. Devan is the NDSU Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for McKenzie County.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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WATFORD CITY, N.D. — A mother and daughter with a zeal for agriculture and an ambition to assist farmers and ranchers are using their skills as North Dakota Extension agents in adjoining western North Dakota counties.

Kelly Leo accepted a position as North Dakota State University Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Williams County in Williston in 2020, a year after her daughter, Devan Leo, joined the NDSU Extension office in McKenzie County Extension in Watford City as agriculture and natural resources agent.

Like any mother and daughter, Kelly and Devan have had times when they haven’t always seen eye to eye, but now it’s obvious they work in sync to help each other and their clients, often glancing at one another when they are answering questions and finishing each other’s sentences.

Both women have a wide variety of hands-on experience, besides their agriculture-based bachelor’s degrees, that make work in NDSU Extension a suitable career for them.

Kelly, for example, has been a high school science teacher, the co-owner of a weed control and environmental business, and worked at a veterinary clinic. Daughter Devan got a lot of hands-on experience helping Extension agents with 4-H and other projects during her youth. Then while she was earning her bachelor’s degree in animal science, she was mentored by her professors at Montana State University in Bozeman who also had Extension duties.

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“It was really their push to see if it was something I was interested in,” Devan said. She discovered it was, and applied for Extension jobs after graduation from MSU. She was hired to for the McKenzie County post in 2019.

“This has been a really good move for me,” Devan said.

That came as no surprise to Kelly.

“As far as her becoming an Extension agent, her mom might have known since she was very young that this would be a good fit for her,” Kelly said, with a smile. “She was very involved in local 4-H.

“This was a kid, who, when she got her 4-H scholarship, got a standing ovation because everyone respected her and they knew the work she put in behind the scenes,” she said.

As a 15-year 4-H leader while her children were involved in 4-H, Kelly also gained experience that helps her in her job in Williams County, where overseeing the organization is part of her duties.

In Williams County, in late May about 300 4-H members who belong to about a dozen clubs, were preparing for the county fair, which was held June 22-26. That meant Kelly was spending hours supervising projects including clothing and engineering design.

Another way that Kelly and Devan draw on their past experience is using what they learned from the family’s former business, which was called T.K.O. Invasive Weed Management, to give hands-on Extension pesticide training workshops.

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“We try to create relevant training so when they walk away and go home, with a tool,” Kelly said. “I draw on that real-world experience. That’s what our job is — teach, extend research and knowledge to the general public.,”

It’s important for the agricultural knowledge to be broad-based because growers in Williams County grow 15 different crops, including dry edible beans, safflower and sugarbeets.

“We’re super diverse. You name it, we have it,” Kelly said.

Devan’s animal science background helps her to help ranchers with livestock questions and relate to their challenges, such as the 2022 spring blizzards that destroyed power lines and paralyzed the cattle industry in western North Dakota. She put the word out that she was available to pick up veterinary supplies and groceries for them, and spent a couple of weeks making on-ranch deliveries.

Kelly, meanwhile, spent nearly every day in August 2021 collecting samples of water to test for blue-green algae .

“When producers need you, you’ve got to be there,” she said.

If the two women can’t help one another find a solution to a farmer’s or rancher’s crops or livestock question, they consult with other members of the NDSU Extension team who do. The Leos also work to coordinate Extension events with each other and with nearby county Extension agents.

“It’s a long way to travel from Fargo, so we try to hit Divide, Williams, McKenzie counties, and then some of the other counties and then jump into Stark, Billings, Bowman,” Kelly said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREAGRICULTURE RESEARCHNORTH DAKOTADRY EDIBLE BEANS
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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