Amity Technology CEO Howard Dahl prays for peace in war-torn Ukraine
Howard Dahl, president and chief executive officer of Amity Technologies of Fargo, talks about what he is learning from business associates and friends in Ukraine and Russia. Dahl has traveled to the countries numerous times over the past 30 years
FARGO, N.D. — Few North Dakotans have seen as much of Russia and Ukraine as Howard Dahl, and he doesn’t like what he’s seeing.
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Dahl, 72, is chief executive officer of Amity Technology LLC, of Fargo, North Dakota. His family farm equipment pedigree includes Bobcat skid-steer loaders, Steiger tractors and Concord grain drills.
Amity markets sugarbeet harvest, soil sampling and carts for silage and other products. He is a pioneer in bringing U.S. grain air seeders and sugar beet equipment to Russia. The market sometimes has been counter-cyclical to U.S. markets, making his company stronger for customers on both sides of the world.
Dahl has traveled to Russia 93 times over 30 years since first going there in 1992. In 2011, Agweek traveled to Russia and Ukraine with Dahl, when times were good.
As the Russian invasion rages, Dahl said he worries about his many friends and associates there, and his employees. “I don’t fully understand the mystery of prayer, but I tell people to pray for Ukraine. Pray for peace. It could become a very ugly situation and hundreds of thousands could die,” he said.
In contrast to the war, Dahl’s business all have suggested peace.
There’s Concord Inc., started in 1977 to make air seeders that worked for minimum- and no-till farming. The Dahls sold them in the U.S. and in 1991, Howard sold five into Russia and Kazakhstan just before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Dahl wore out shoe leather expanding Amity’s trade there.Since 2007 the company has shipped hundreds of beet harvesters and defoliators to the countries, with top years in 2013.
“We shipped at least 200 containers a year over a 10-year period,” Dahl said.
There have been cross-connections with other North Dakota equipment entrepreneurs.
During the 2011 trip, Ryan Offutt of RDO Equipment in Fargo, provided a tour for Agweek visiting Agro-Construction Technologies, “ACT,” a John Deere dealership Krasnodar, in the world famous “black soil region.” ACT remains the largest Russian dealer for Amity equipment, Dahl said.
“We have eight sugarbeet harvesters that they want and we don’t know if we’ll be able ship them,” Dahl said
Today, Amity has about eight employees in Russia and manages a large supply of parts to take care of customers. They have one full-time employee, a service manager in Ukraine. The two countries account for about 10% of Amity business.The far east of Ukraine, in a region occupied by Russians since 2014, doesn’t have sugarbeets.
Amity recently has had “numerous containers” with equipment on their way that were been turned back, and he expects no sales of new equipment to either country this year.
“We certainly are deeply, deeply concerned about what any future business might be,” he said.
In a separate business on a far bigger scale, Dahl is chairman of the board of Astarta Holding, a Ukrainian agricultural and industrial holding company. The company is based in Kyiv and has been listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange since 2006. Astarta’s main producing assets are in central Ukraine in the Poltava, Vinnytsia and Khmelnytskyi oblasts.
Astarta controls six sugarbeet factories and 700,000 acres of farmland, and is the No.1 sugar company in Ukraine with about 100,000 acres. It is a significant exporter of a variety of crops, including soy and makes meal and oil. It produces sugar, corn and wheat and some rapeseed for domestic use but not for export. The country has reduced sugarbeet production by 75% in the past 20 years.
“I’m sitting in the comfort of my home in Fargo and just getting briefings regularly,” Dahl said. “One of the concerns of (Astarta) is taking care of, I believe, its 8,000 employees.”
Astarta has had several employees die, fighting the Russians in the east. A great many of the employees in one form or another serving in resistance to Russia. Most pro-Russian people have emigrated to Russia.
The 2022 crop
Beyond his Russian/Ukraine enterprises, Dahl worries about the likely humanitarian cost of the war.
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The 2022 winter wheat crop was planted last fall. Other crops should start going in in the next two weeks. With the war going on, he thinks it will be a “massive logistical nightmare” to get all of the seed, fertilizer and other inputs for the crop.
“If Ukraine does not get its crop in or let’s say only gets half its crop in, with the ending food stocks where they are, it could be — especially for the poorest of the poor in the world — food prices could go way up,” Dahl said.
The western part of the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which ran from 1867 to 1918, prior to World War I.
Dahl is a student of Russian religions. Putin has used religion as justification for the war. The Russian Orthodox Church tends to be loyal to Moscow. The Ukrainian Orthodox church has similar beliefs, but many Russians look down at them. The Greek Catholic church in the west has loyalty to the Roman Catholic.
“It’s ironic, that Putin in his speech — when he called the Ukrainians ‘nazis,’ — also said, ‘We’re going to restore the Orthodox Church to its rightful place,'” Dahl said. “I won’t pretend to know what was in his mind and heart when he said that.”
Despite his knowledge of the region, Dahl didn’t think an invasion would happen. A week before it happened he'd been cheered by letters written by retired Russian generals, who recently had warned Putin about invading. Two or three oligarchs have denounced Putin. They’ve arrested 7,000 citizens.
It isn’t clear how ordinary Russians will get information about the conflict. Facebook and Twitter were shut down in Russia on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. But Russians can still receive emails.
“Now, telegram is the main social media outlet,” Dahl said.
The best case scenario for Putin would be to a have a “Damascus Road experience,” where his eyes are opened, as in the Bible with the apostle Paul, Dahl said.
“I think he’s not going to back down,” Dahl said, gravely. “I think it’s going to take a lot of people around him putting tremendous pressure on him. I don’t think he fully realizes how intent the Ukrainian people are to protect their country, and do whatever it takes.”
Storied ag history
Dahl is part of a storied agricultural equipment development and manufacturing family in North Dakota. His grandfather, E.G. Melroe, in 1947 established Melroe Manufacturing at Gwinner, North Dakota. Melroe developed what would be known as Bobcat skid-steer loaders. The Melroes sold the company and invested in Steiger Tractor Co., a company that originated in the Thief River Falls, Minnesota, area, and specialized in high-horsepower farm tractors, with oscillating, articulating frames.
Dahl’s father, Eugene Dahl, was chairman of the board of Steiger from 1970 to 1986 and was CEO from 1970 to 1979. Steiger filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 1986 and eventually became part of CNH Industrial.
Meanwhile, in 1977, Howard and his brother, Brian, developed and marketed “Concord” air seeding drills. The drills were successful, and the brothers sold the company to Case-IH, now CNH. After the sale, Howard and Brian renamed their company Amity Technology. They acquired WIC sugarbeet and Wishek tillage lines. In 1992, Dahl traveled to Russia for the first time.
In 2011, Amity and AGCO Inc. created a joint venture with AGCO-Amity Joint Venture LLC (AAJV), based in Wahpeton, North Dakota, to sell Wil-Rich, Wishek tillage and Concord air seeders around the world. They sold the joint venture in 2021 to Vaderstad AB, Swedish family-owned company .