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The great ag race

MENOKEN, N.D. - Doug Goehring (pronounced "GO ring") his race for agriculture commissioner. He emphasizes his real-world, "current" farming experience. He spoke with Agweek in two segments - first, on an August day on his beloved but parched farm...

MENOKEN, N.D. - Doug

Goehring (pronounced "GO ring") his race for agriculture commissioner. He emphasizes his real-world, "current" farming experience.

He spoke with Agweek in two segments - first, on an August day on his beloved but parched farm, a few miles east of Bismarck, N.D. Second, he took a long lunch at Republican headquarters in early October in the midst of the campaign.

Goehring, 41, grew up in Menoken, N.D. His father had farmed in the early 1970s but left farming to go for a job as a farm equipment mechanic. Like Roger Johnson, Goehring grew up with some nine siblings in a recombinant family.

Goehring worked on neighboring farms and ranches from age 13. Like Johnson, he was "raised Farmers Union," Goehring says as though discussing a religious denomination. His mother was a vice president of the local Farmers Union and Doug attended Farmers Union camps.

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He graduated from high school in 1983. He married his wife, Kim, a year later. Their kids - Casey, Dustin and Clint - were born in 1984, 1985 and 1990.

Goehring worked in construction for about five years, but family situations led him into farming. Kim worked in retail.

His grandfather, a farmer, died in 1986. His grandmother wanted to continue farming but physically couldn't handle the 960 acres. She approached Doug to help.

In 1989, he got a share of a drought-

reduced crop. In 1990, he took over the management.

Meanwhile, because of the foot injury, Goehring developed a second career path. He studied for a medical lab technician degree at Bismarck (N.D.) State College. He got the degree in 1989 and finished an internship in 1991.

Goehring had some cows, but in 1992, he sold heifers, before a price crash in 1993.

"I was fortunate to get out of it," he says.

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After that, he simply fed cattle - building and buying feedbunks for a corral system that handled 250 to 300 head.

For a time, Goehring tried working both his medical and farming career until 1993, when the pace started to caught up to him.

"I had to decide," Goehring recalls. "I wasn't getting much sleep. I made the choice to work full time on the farm."

Today, the farm is about 2,000 acres in two general parcels - one north of Bismarck on heavier soils and the other near his headquarters near Menoken.

He started raising corn in about 1990 and soybeans in the mid-1990s. He eventually served on the research committee for the North Dakota Soybean Council. He also has done some private "consulting" with producers, on a volunteer basis. He also produced mustard, safflower and millet.

Soybeans had the stable market.

He raises 80,000 to 90,000 bushels of commodities, but that has been heavily cut back by drought in the past two years.

Farm Bureau baptism

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In about 1991, Goehring bought some insurance through Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. based in Fargo. By dint of his insurance purchase, Goehring became a member of the Burleigh County Farm Bureau. Soon, someone called him and asked him if he'd participate in the county's public policy resolutions meeting. He became a chairman for the county's Young Farmer and Rancher Committee and, in 1995, became county vice president.

In 1998, Goehring was asked to run for the state board. Gaining that, he became a board member for Nodak Mutual, a company that had been created by Farm Bureau. In 2001, he was asked to run for vice president of Nodak's board.

That year, Nodak Mutual had its "blow-up," as Goehring calls it.

Jon Livers, the chief executive officer, resigned as did Keith Kinzler, the company's president. Goehring, vice president, was "propelled" to the presidency. Five senior managers sent five allegations to the state insurance commissioner, among other things, alleging that Goehring had acted in a "threatening" manner and that the board was irresponsible. The five described a "complete abrogation of their fiduciary obligations." Several days later, the board decided to hire a new general counsel. It fell to Goehring to let Paul Traynor (also one of the vice presidents who had protested board actions) know he would be relieved.

In 2003, Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman later described the allegations as "a failure to communicate." Poolman, a Republican, has a campaign organization that later donated campaign funds to Goehring's campaign fund in 2004.

The company is under new management, but Farm Bureau members - especially in Ward County - have challenged the company in court for the way board members are handpicked and because so many of the members are either Republican office holders or office-seekers.

Goehring says that if he's elected agriculture commissioner, he'll resign his Nodak post.

It's unclear whether Johnson will make the Nodak crisis more of a campaign issue than it was in 2004. Goehring talks about Nodak as though it is a plus.

Goehring is unspecific about what he would change about the Agriculture Department if elected. He scoffs at recent Internet blog traffic and Democratic whispers that he'd clean house.

"I think the role that everybody is doing is probably pretty good," he says. "I'd like to expand on that," he says, referring generally to multitasking and overloading for some employees. "The reality is, it's probably going to be the same staff."

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