Mikkel Pates thanks Agweek readers, viewers and coworkers while looking back on 44 years in ag journalism

Mikkel Pates reflects on his time as an ag journalist in a three-part series.

A man in a vest sits at a roll-top desk with a laptop computer, flanked by memorabilia.
Since Jan. 3, 2000, Mikkel Pates, a native of Brookings, South Dakota, and an agricultural journalism graduate of South Dakota State University, has worked for Agweek from a roll-top desk that his journalist father restored. He retires Jan. 31, 2023, after working 44 years with the company. Photo taken Jan. 23, 2023, in Fargo, North Dakota.
Contributed / Ag-At-Large

FARGO, N.D. — Thank you.

That kind of sums up what I want to say, now, as I retire from full-time Agweek work on Jan. 31, 2022. I have loved my career that has spanned 44 years in newspapers, magazine, and television.

It’s been a career of various seasons, my coverage has been about ag production techniques, to ag finance bankruptcies, to federal policies, and to crime. For me, it’s all about humanity.

As I head to new adventures, I’d thank the Marcil family who owns Forum Communications Co., in Fargo, North Dakota. FCC now owns every entity that has paid my wages since I graduated from college in 1979. They are a proud, local publishing company.

Thanks also to Katie Pinke, publisher/general manager of Agweek, who is a bold leader, and editor Jenny Schlecht , a no-nonsense, compassionate supervisor/manager. And thanks to Trevor Peterson, executive producer of AgweekTV, and Rose Dunn, who helped me add video/television to my story-telling.


Thanks to readers and viewers, whose story tips and willingness to share stories are the keys to a 44-year career — a history of both agriculture and journalism.

Read more of Mikkel Pates's work for Agweek:
Get all of your ag news at
A recent $30,000 per acre land sale in Sioux County, Iowa, sends signals into the land market in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and even as far away as Indiana.
A South Dakota cattle rancher and his veterinarian wife figure out a bale grazing plan that allows minimal winter care.
Deere & Company has one of its worldwide research technology hubs in Fargo, North Dakota -- a big part of the fabled company’s “brain.”
Availability of labor is becoming tighter and more competitive. Officials of the Farmers Cooperative Elevator at Rosholt, South Dakota, describe how in the spring of 2022 they offered $30 an hour for truck “tender” drivers, moving fertilizer and inputs to farms, but got no applicants. They were grateful for local trucking firms stepping up during the vital period, but understandably at a higher cost for the farmer-owned company.

A long row to hoe

I considered myself a town kid.

I grew up in Brookings, South Dakota. My dad, John L. Pates, was a South Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural editor. He led the publications, broadcasting and print staff for the SDSU Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service (including 4-H and home economics). Dad extolled the virtues of the “land grant” college, with its research and extension roles. (In the 1970s, he was even involved with public television station KESD TV for a daily Extension show, where he read the grain and livestock markets.)

Extension Service ag journalist John L. Pates, at age 26, holds month-old baby son, Mikkel J. Pates, in December 1956 in Brookings, South Dakota. Mikkel would grow up to be an agricultural journalist. Both were named distinguished alumni of the South Dakota State University Journalism and Mass Communication Department.
Courtesy Ag-At-Large

From a young age, I saw Dad using his twin-lens reflex (with a top-viewer). The family made frequent trips to western South Dakota, and often we’d stop at South Dakota ranches where we waited as Dad interviewed and photographed South Dakota’s “Eminent Farmer” award winners .

We had many agricultural connections — Pates/Kiel ranch near Philip, South Dakota, the Folsland honey and crop farms at Oldham, the Severson crop farm at Sinai.

Impressed by the Watergate story, I decided to study journalism and economics. Dad urged me to bolster my journalism degree with a side specialty — agriculture. So I went to South Dakota State University. In the summers during college, I’d worked at camps at Madison and Custer, in South Dakota, and at a canoe outfitter in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota.

Newspaper clipping describes when Mikkel Pates' father, John L. Pates, an agricultural journalist, received a departmental distinguished alumni award from South Dakota State University, after his retirement in 1987.
An article in the Brookings (South Dakota) Register newspaper relates how Richard Lee, South Dakota State University Journalism Department awards John L. Pates as a distinguished alum in 1987. His son, Mikkel J. Pates, received the recognition in 2008.
Courtesy / Ag-At-Large

Back at college, I worked at the SDSU Collegian newspaper.


Collegian Editor Kevin Woster (the youngest of three journalistic Woster brothers from Lyman County) was a passionate story-teller and loved agriculture. With my ag journalism major and outdoor experiences, Woster dubbed me the “Earth Editor.” I wrote about topics from SDSU Rodeo, to SDSU’s Little International, and a Saskatchewan moose ride by a canoeing colleague and former SDSU football player.

Going professional

I needed an internship to graduate.

In 1978, I applied for a summer gig with The Farmer Magazine of Webb Publishing in St. Paul. I had read that Managing Editor Tom Doty would only hire farm kids, and teach them to write — not the other way around. I was thrilled to be hired.

The Farmer was “ag reporting” with a capital “A.”

The magazine’s field "editors” were impressive. Most wore suits and ties to the office. All grew up on farms and had degrees in agriculture. They had specialty “editor” topics — dairy, beef, swine, corn, soybeans, forages. Silver-haired Editor Bob Rupp , had been at The Farmer since 1950. Rupp’s byline photo showed him with a tobacco pipe in his hand. He had the confidence of an Army captain who had won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. Also on staff were Jim Dickrell, on swine and soybeans, Bruce Pankonin on beef and Neil Tietz, the dairy and forages reporter.

To my surprise (and dismay) all of these guys knew my father. (I told Dad this, and he responded: “Don’t worry,” Dad said. “You may get a job because they know me. You’ll never keep a job because of that.)

I would sometimes stop to chat with Bill Fleming , a tall drink of water who was editor of BEEF magazine. Bill sat in his office chair, with his boots propped up on his desk, flanked by large photos of cattle drives he took for stories. “Let me give you a tip,” Fleming said. “Take your own pictures. More fun!

The Globe, the NAAJ

A smiling, backlit man in black-and-white stands against a studio backdrop, and a pen in his ear.
Mikkel Pates, then 23, was a staff writer for the Worthington Daily Globe of Worthington, Minnesota, (later The Globe) from August 1979 to October 1983. Photo taken circa May 1982, by Mark Luinenburg.
Courtesy / Ag-At-Large

I went back for my senior year at SDSU and I wrote a story for the Collegian, localizing a story about the Washington, D.C., tractorcade in December 1978. This clip may have helped when SDSU Journalism Department Head Richard “Dick” Lee urged me to apply for my first post-college job, at the Worthington (Minnesota) Daily Globe .


Daily Globe Managing Editor (and co-owner) Paul Gruchow and Publisher Jim Vance led a magical paper.

Gruchow — author of Journal of the Prairie Year — could wax poetic about conservation and native prairie preservation ethics. Vance and Editor Ray Crippen were diplomatic, erudite and sage — personal and political friends of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

The Globe was immensely popular — a work of art. Notably, it showcased literary prowess and the unrivaled nature photographers like Jim Brandenburg (who left the Globe in 1978 to be a contract photographer for National Geographic, and who later traveled to the North Pole with Will Steger in 1986).

On the "hard news” side of things, Regional Editor Lew Hudson was a crime- and transportation-covering machine. Jay Novak , an ambitious business reporter/editor, went on to be the editor of every major business-focused publication in Minnesota.

A man in a red-and-black plaid shirt and his girlfriend in their 20s stand, flanked by a cattle feedlot.
Mikkel Pates and his then-girlfriend and future wife, Barb, are photographed on the Rock County, Minnesota, farmstead where she grew up. He wrote about agriculture for the Worthington Globe. She was a copywriter for KWOA Radio. They were married in 1982, as the farm credit crisis was heating up in southwest Minnesota. Photo taken circa July 1980, at Steen, Minnesota.
Courtesy / Ag-At-Large

For my part, I was simply trying to learn how farming worked and was supposed to work.

For that, I turned to Linden Olson, a hog farmer extraordinaire, who patiently, generously answered my questions over coffee after church choir practice. Other tutors were John Knabe, young farmer and a canoeing cohort from Jackson, Minnesota, and Larry Hyink.

Part of my work was doing feature stories about lifestyle things — plowing with horses. But Gruchow made sure I became a member of the National Association of Agricultural Journalists. The NAAJ was geared to newspaper writers (and later became the North American Agricultural Journalists ). I also joined Investigative Reporters and Editors. I met and learned from giants in ag journalism — Don Muhm and Jerry Perkins from the Des Moines Register; Bruce Ingersoll of the Wall Street Journal; Patricia Klintberg, Farm Journal; John Morriss from the Manitoba Co-operator.

Gruchow sent me to grain marketing and transportation seminars at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. On Jan. 3, 1980, I was sitting in an auditorium when several Cargill executives rose and marched out of the room, ashen, as if going into battle. President Jimmy Carter had unexpectedly imposed his famous/infamous grain embargo against Russia , for invading Afghanistan.


A man sits with his dog next to a roll-top desk.
Mikkel Pates, 66, staff writer for Agweek magazine since Jan. 3, 2000, and reporter for AgweekTV for the past eight years, retires Jan. 31, 2023. Pictured in his home office with his English setter, Rufus, career has spanned 44 years with entities now owned by Forum Communications Co. Photo taken Jan. 23, 2023, in Fargo, North Dakota.
Courtesy Ag-At-Large

For me, it was the official start of the 1980s farm credit crisis, which would impact me and the farmers I would write about for decades to come.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Stay tuned as Pates continues his look back at 44 years of agricultural journalism over the next two weeks. Look for more on the 1980s farm crisis and beyond.

Opinion by Mikkel Pates
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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