North Dakota Extension agent retires

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- If you're involved with agriculture in Grand Forks (N.D.) County, you definitely know Willie Huot. If you're familiar with ag elsewhere in North Dakota -- or surrounding states -- you might know him too. Huot, a Grand Forks, N.D.

Willie Huot, NDSU extension service agent for Grand Forks county, speaks with Agweek reporter Jonathan Knutson on Monday, December 5, 2016 at the extension service office in Grand Forks, N.D. Huot recently announced his retirement effective December 31, 2016 after 41 years of federal service. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)(Embargoed until January 2, 2016)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - If you're involved with agriculture in Grand Forks (N.D.) County, you definitely know Willie Huot. If you're familiar with ag elsewhere in North Dakota - or surrounding states - you might know him too.

Huot, a Grand Forks, N.D.-based extension agent whose work includes statewide programs, is retiring at the end of 2016 after a 40-year extension career. For the past 24 years, he's focused primarily on farm and family economics.

"It's been all about helping people, helping them make better choices and empower them to make more-informed decisions," he says.

Huot, 70, accepted an employee buyout program tied to state budget cuts. His position will be left open for now, but could be filled after more is known about extension's budget for the next biennium.

Huot will remain active in ag, however. He'll be a part-time volunteer with several ag events in the area and continue to operate Huot's Tree Service in Grand Forks.


Huot grew up as a farm kid in Red Lake Falls, Minn. He attended the Northwest School of Agriculture in Crookston, Minn, a four-year high school open six months of the year, allowing students to farm the other six.

He went on to the University of Minnesota, earning a degree in resource management (forestry).

After college, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in North Africa. "That really cemented my desire to go into extension," he says. "Wherever people are, they have a lot of the same basic aspirations."

Returning to the United States, he earned a master's degree in ag education and took an extension job in Montana.

In 1990, after 15 years in Montana, he accepted an extension job in Devils Lake, N.D., to get closer to home. "The biggest concern I had was fighting grasshoppers because it was so dry," he says. Ironically, Devils Lake farmers have battled a wet cycle and rising lake waters since 1993.

In 1992, he moved to Grand Forks County Extension. "Here, I've been able to focus primarily on farm management issues," he says. "I've thoroughly enjoyed that."

In Grand Forks, he's held many roles, including working with marketing clubs, the local Chamber of Commerce and the state Township Officers Association.

Huot also has been a leader in statewide programs, says Chris Boerboom, director of the North Dakota Extension Service.


"Willie has been an exceptional agent in not only serving his county, but using his talents and interest in farm business management to capture ideas from national conferences and bring them back to benefit Grand Forks County and the rest of the state," Boerboom says.

Annie's Project

Huot has been instrumental in both Annie's Project and farm/ranch transition programs. They have workshops across the state that sometimes draw attendees from Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, too.

Annie's Project seeks to help farm and ranch women become more involved in the business operation. It was named in honor of Annie Fleck, an Illinois farm wife who spent many years learning to become a better business partner with her husband.

After Huot heard of Annie's Program in 2005, he and Minnesota officials developed a joint North Dakota-Minnesota program in 2006. Huot initiated using a combination of interactive TV and local speakers who appeared in person at each location, which other states later adapted.

In 2014, Huot received Annie's Project first-ever Women in Agriculture Educators Award, the only person in the nation to get it.

""Receiving it was a real honor," he says. "I've heard women say how the program empowered them; that's very meaningful to me."

In 2010, Huot became involved with extension's farm/ranch transition planning, which evolved into the current Design Your Succession Plan program. More than 1,000 farm families have participated.


"Farm transition is so important," he says.

Huot, summing up his time in extension, recalls a multi-day conference featuring a motivational speaker early in his career in Montana.

"He was the the most boring speaker I've heard in my whole life," Huot says. "He totally missed his mark. But in front of me was a banner that said, 'You have touched me, and I have grown.' I've never forgotten that. That's really what extension is all about. And we grow in the relationship, too."

He adds, "It's been a wonderful career, everything I could have hoped for."

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