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Mikkel Pates reflects on his career on the Agweek Podcast

Agweek reporter Noah Fish spoke to Mikkel Pates about his career in journalism for the Agweek Podcast.

Mikkel Pates
Mikkel Pates
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Mikkel Pates has long been one of the top agriculture reporters in the country, working for what are now Forum Communications newspapers since 1979. Pates currently writes about a wide range of farming and agribusiness for Agweek.

Agweek reporter Noah Fish spoke to Mikkel Pates about his career in journalism for the Agweek Podcast.

Pates grew up in Brookings, South Dakota — a town centered around South Dakota State University. His dad was an agricultural journalist who worked with the Extension service at South Dakota State University.

“For about 30 years, he was the director of communications for the Extension service and the Experiment Station,” Pates said of his father.

The university and agriculture quickly became a part of Pates’ life, he said.

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Agweek Podcast: Mikkel Pates (Part 1)
Thu Aug 18 05:15:04 EDT 2022
Agweek reporter Noah Fish talks to Mikkel Pates about his legendary career in journalism. Pates has long been one of the top agriculture reporters in the country, working for what are now Forum Communications newspapers since 1979. Pates currently writes about a wide range of farming and agribusiness for Agweek. In this episode, he talks about growing up around agriculture in Brookings, South Dakota, his introduction to journalism at South Dakota State University, and his process for interviewing and reporting.

“So this whole idea of the land grant college where people do research on agriculture, and then dispense it to the fruited plain through the Extension service was very much a part of my life,” said Pates. “I grew up in this town that had kids that you were growing up with, and their parents sometimes were agricultural scientists that you didn't really know their work, but you eventually learned that here is an oats breeder, and here is a wheat breeder — and these are people you sat in church choir with ... you learned about this idea of the land grant college and, you know, the importance of agriculture kind of that way.”

Pates’ first reporting job after graduating from SDSU in 1979 was at the Worthington Daily Globe.

“It was a neat little newspaper,” said Pates. “I remember applying for the job on the day that an elevator in a nearby town burned, and they didn't have a photographer in the newsroom on the day that I was applying — and I said, well, I'll go over and shoot a picture of it, so I published a picture in the Worthington Daily Globe about an elevator burning before I got the job.”

Agweek Podcast: Mikkel Pates (Part 2)
Thu Aug 25 18:30:57 EDT 2022
Agweek reporter Noah Fish talks to Mikkel Pates about his legendary career in journalism. Pates has long been one of the top agriculture reporters in the country, working for what are now Forum Communications newspapers since 1979. Pates currently writes about a wide range of farming and agribusiness for Agweek. In this episode, we learn about Mikkel's first job as a professional reporter, and some of the first big stories he reported on. 

One of the first big stories that Pates covered was American Energy Farming Systems’ Jerusalem artichoke crop , which was a pyramid marketing plan that in 18 months took $25 million to $30 million out of the pockets of some 2,500 farmers in several states — mostly Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Pates made his way to the Fargo Forum in the early 1980s, and shares his memories of the Midwest murders of 1983 — first when a failed farmer and his son lured a bank president and loan officer near Ruthton, Minnesota, to shoot them dead. Then months later, when farmer and tax protester Gordon Kahl killed two U.S. Marshals in shootout in Medina, North Dakota — leading to a massive manhunt where a SWAT team fired hundreds of rounds into Kahl’s farmhouse in Heaton, North Dakota. Kahl eventually died in another shootout in which he killed a local sheriff.

Agweek Podcast: Mikkel Pates (Part 3)
Fri Sep 02 12:56:54 EDT 2022
Agweek reporter Noah Fish talks to Mikkel Pates about his legendary career in journalism. On this episode, Mikkel shares his memories of the farm crisis and the Midwest murders of 1983 -- first when a failed farmer and his son lured a bank president and loan officer near Ruthton, Minn. to shoot them dead. Then months later, when farmer and tax protester Gordon Kahl killed two U.S. Marshals in shootout in Medina, N.D. – leading to a massive manhunt where a SWAT team fired hundreds of rounds into Kahl’s farmhouse in Heaton, N.D. Kahl eventually died in another shootout in which he killed a local sherriff. Mikkel then shares stories from his many trips abroad to report, and reflects on life after journalism.

In the podcasts, Pates then shares stories from his many trips abroad to report, and reflects on life after journalism.

“It was a very unstable time for agriculture, and a volatile time with tractor-cades, and people getting shot, and people going broke,” said Pates.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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