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105-year-old Oslo, Minnesota, farmer Earl Mallinger has died

Earl Mallinger, farmed for his entire life, near Oslo, Minnesota, and still was actively involved in raising 1,000 acres of crops during the 2022 growing season.

An old man in a red Minnesota Twins cap leans onto the counter at a restaurant. He is smirking at the camera.
Earl Mallinger is a regular at Kitty's Cafe in Oslo, Minnesota.
Contributed / Laura Rutherford
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OSLO, Minn. — Oslo farmer Earl Mallinger, one of the oldest row crop and grain producers in the United States, died Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at age 105 in Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Mallinger, American Crystal Sugar’s senior most shareholder, farmed for his entire life near Oslo. Over the years, he grew sugarbeets, potatoes and grain. He still was actively involved in raising 1,000 acres of crops during the 2022 growing season.

Mallinger celebrated his 105h birthday on Aug. 14 with two days of parties and was in good health until early December 2022 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, said Krista Montgomery, Earl’s daughter. Her father’s health deteriorated quickly after the diagnosis.

More on the life of Earl Mallinger:
Earl Mallinger was still actively farming in the 2022 growing season at 105. He died Jan. 11, 2023.
Earl Mallinger is American Crystal Sugar's oldest shareholder and likely one of the nation's oldest farmers. He celebrated his 105th birthday on Aug. 14, 2022, and continues to farm about 1,000 acres near Oslo, Minnesota.

The family has received an outpouring of messages and prayers from people whose lives Mallinger touched after they learned of his death, Montgomery said.

“You can’t believe the messages from people. They considered him their dad,” she said.

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Many of the men who messaged her told her that their lives would not have turned out positively if they hadn’t met her father, she said.

An old man with a cane stands in a sugarbeet field. He is holding a beet in his hand.
Earl Mallinger still farms, though at 105 he hires people to do the fieldwork for him.
Contributed / Earl Mallinger

One of the ways that Mallinger had a positive impact was teaching young men work ethic by employing them on the family farm and in his potato warehouses. He mentored them patiently, helping them learn from their mistakes, Montgomery said.

“As soon as they could lift a sack, they were working in the potato warehouse. I run into them and they say ‘My life turned out because of Earl,'” she said.

His patience, self-control and calm demeanor has helped her in her own career as owner of MonteRay Ranch, a riding lessons and boarding stable near Manvel, North Dakota.

“One of hundreds of takeaways from my dad is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’ Asking at the end of the day, ‘Is that really important?’” Montgomery said.

“He could live calmly for 105 years because of that. He did not jump to conclusions. He stepped back, evaluated and acted, in that order,” she said.

Justin Dagen, a Karlstad, Minnesota, seed potato grower, described Mallinger, whom he has known for more than 40 years, as an honest man of great integrity; the consummate gentleman.

Mallinger had a wealth of historical agricultural information and often shared that with others in the industry, much to the amazement of other farmers, Dagen said.

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Dagen recalled that in the summer of 2021 Mallinger stopped in at an American Crystal Sugar meeting in a Manvel farmer’s shop where one of the company’s executives was talking about the dry weather conditions that growing season.

A young boy stands in front of stalks of corn, wearing overalls. The photo is sepia toned.
Earl Mallinger was born in 1917. He weighed about 13 pounds at birth and was the fourth of Peter and Hjerda Mallinger's seven children.
Contributed / Earl Mallinger

“Earl said ‘You should have been here in 1937, and it was really dry,’” Dagen said. “Nobody in the room had been born in 1937, and he was growing sugarbeets in 1937.

“His historical perspective was a bit more broad than ours,” Dagen said.

Mallinger also often shared stories and life experiences from the corner counter stool at Kitty’s Cafe in Oslo where he was a regular breakfast customer . The senior agrarian often would talk about something he learned in one of the agricultural books he read, and during the summer, always wanted to know how much rain fell in area gauges because he was concerned about the amount of moisture the crops had received.

Mallinger’s influence on people wasn't limited to his family, friends and the agricultural community. His gregarious personality forged friendships wherever he went, Montgomery said.

Not one to silently sit on his airline flights, for example, her dad engaged in conversations with other passengers.

“He went on an airplane and he would come up with 17 people’s names on business cards,” Montgomery said. “He was going to hear somebody’s life story before he landed.”

An old man and an old woman sit at a table in front of a banner that says, "Happy 105th birthday."
Earl Mallinger sits with his sister, Ina Dahlum, at his 105th birthday party. She was 101 at the time and lives in her own home in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Contributed / Earl Mallinger

The personal and agricultural legacy her father built was, in part, the result of cherishing and being grateful for every day of his 105-plus years, Montgomery believes.

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“Maybe the best takeaway is he didn’t waste any of his time here. Nobody knows how much time they have, and he made use of every moment. He was thankful for every moment, ” she said. "He's going to be missed."

Funeral arrangements for Mallinger are pending with Amundson Funeral Home in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

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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