Forum Editorial: Agweek’s Mikkel Pates, whose byline is a brand name in agricultural journalism, is retiring
Mikkel Pates set the standard for agricultural journalism during his 44-year career in the region, working for Agweek, The Forum and the Worthington Globe.
Mikkel Pates has come to personify agricultural journalism in the region. He is familiar to readers and viewers of Agweek, where he has covered the agricultural scene since 2000, and before that to readers of The Forum.
His byline has become a brand name in agricultural journalism. He’s well-known and respected in the field. He is apt to be swarmed when making appearances at events like Big Iron, the ag machinery show in West Fargo.
Altogether, Pates’ distinguished career has spanned 44 years — a run of scoops, explanatory stories and features that officially ends with his retirement at Agweek, effective today .
Mikkel has always called himself a city kid, but that’s only partly true. He grew up watching his father work as a journalist for the South Dakota State University Extension Service and his family had ranching roots in western South Dakota.
His first newspaper job was when he started at the Worthington Globe in southwestern Minnesota and it was here, he has said, that his deep education in farming began.
After several years in Worthington, Pates moved north to The Forum, bringing with him the start of what would become an enormous collection of sources, which first occupied long boxes of indexes and later was digitized.
That bulging source library was part of Pates’ success. He could pick up the phone and call sources, many of whom he’s known for years and even decades, to get the story. His time on the beat spans generations. He sometimes will interview someone, having earlier interviewed that person’s father or even grandfather.
Another key to Pates’ success is his dogged determination and work ethic. When traveling on assignment, he routinely stopped along the route for impromptu interviews. He had a habit of driving around on what he called his crop stops — chats with farmers out working their fields, one of his ways of keeping his finger on the pulse of agriculture.
Pates’ dedication often took him to interesting places and sometimes landed him in tense situations. He likes to tell about the time lawmen shoved him to the ground when he was on the scene covering a big scoop, a marijuana-growing operation at an old dairy farm near New York Mills, Minnesota.
In recent years, one of his specialties has been investigating and chronicling the misdeeds of farmers and agribusiness figures, some of whom have ended up in bankruptcy court or criminal court.
He’s earned bushels of awards and recognitions along the way, including awards from North American Agricultural Journalists, a group he once served as president; the North Dakota State Friend of Agriculture award and distinguished alumni from the South Dakota State University Department of Journalism and Mass Communications.
He also had a tremendous influence on Bill Marcil, Jr., now CEO of Forum Communications, when he was a photo intern years ago and worked with Mikkel on a custom-combining story. Bill saw how a professional journalist earns respect and trust with his subjects, lessons still relevant today.
Fortunately, Mikkel’s retirement is actually semi-retirement. He’ll continue to write and produce broadcast pieces for Agweek, and will tackle a book project involving his memorable stories on the ag beat.
We salute Mikkel’s distinguished career and wish him well in his next chapter.