Ag historian, provocateur Drache dies at 96
Hiram Drache, professor emeritus of history at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., died Oct. 17, 2020, at age 96. Drache had a regional and national impact for his authorship of agricultural history books. He was a controversial advocate of larger-scale corporate-style farming business, including that of his former student Ron D. Offutt Jr., of Fargo, who became a world titan of potato production and farm equipment retailing.
MOORHEAD, Minn. — Hiram “Hi” Drache, one of the nation’s most provocative and conservative agricultural historians and authors, died Oct. 17, 2020, in Moorhead, Minn.
He was 96.
Drache of Moorhead, Minn., over seven decades made a strong and often controversial impression on the agricultural community of the Red River Valley and nationwide. Famously, he was an enthusiast for large-scale “efficiency” in farming. He believed in large-scale and technology, moving agriculture away from the small family farms of his youth.
Drache embraced the “dynamic business of farming” — its modern tools and technology. Like a stern father figure, Drache said it was the farmer’s job to “know their costs.”
The professor, widely quoted in regional and national agricultural press, lauded well-managed farms as they provided a lifestyle for farm families on par with their urban cousins. He spoke unfavorably of farmers willing to “deny themselves a proper living in order to preserve the farm,” or inhumanely use their children to provide free and needlessly dangerous labor. On the other hand, he “never shied away from helping young farmers and young farm couples, particularly,” remembers his son, Paul, who lives in Greeley, Colo.
Drache chronicled what he called the “stagnation” of the 1930s, the “revival” of the 1940s, the soil bank and quota system of the 1950s, the advent of “commercial farmers" in the 1960s and the “export boom” years of 1970s. He didn’t tone down his rhetoric, even in the teeth of the farm credit crisis of the 1980s.
“Weather, economic conditions, ‘corporation farming,’ and adversities, imagined or real, are often given as reasons for failure, but in almost all cases they are secondary causes to poor management,” he said, sternly, in preface to “Plowshares to Printouts,” published in 1985 at the height of the farm credit crisis. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Andrews, R-N.D., who died at age 94 on Oct 3, 2020, wrote the forward. A year later, Andrews was defeated in his reelection bid.
Even in later years, Drache remained an outspoken provocateur. In 2015, he published “Organics: It’s All About the Money,” a book that questioned organic production for its nutritional or even environmental claims. His 19th and final book, “Retrospect and a Projection into the Future,” was published in 2020.
Drache was born at Meriden, Minn., on Aug. 18, 1924. He graduated from nearby Owatonna (Minn.) High School in 1942 and enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
As war loomed, he and classmates enlisted en masse. He was in the Army Air Corps that November and became a lead squadron navigator on B-17 bombing raids over Germany. He was promoted to major at his discharge.
After the military, he went on to receive undergraduate degrees at Gustavus in 1947 and 1948. During his college years he worked in the family truck line and other businesses and later taught high school. He married in 1948, and he and Ada in 1950 bought their first farm.
He went on for a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1952, and a doctorate from the University of North Dakota in 1962.
Drache came to Moorhead, Minn., to teach at Concordia College in 1952, stepped away for an insurance job, but then returned in 1955 to Concordia, and would stay. While teaching, Drache farmed at Baker, Minn., from 1950 to 1981. He received national publicity in 1966 for a computerized record-keeping system for feeding operations.
Drache would write numerous books, 15 of which were edited by his wife, Ada. In his acknowledgements, he’d describe Ada as his “devoted word processor operator, editor and chief critic.”
The books started with “The Day of the Bonanza” (1964), followed by titles including “The Challenge of the Prairie” (1971), “Beyond the Furrow (1976), “Tomorrow’s Harvest,” (1978), Plowshares to Printouts (1985), “History of U.S. Agriculture.” He wrote on a number of topics, including “Where’s Meriden? The Demise of Small Town, U.S.A.”
He became professor emeritus in 1991, but became Historian in Residence, with an office at the Concordia library until about 2018.
Drache was a longtime friend of Ron D. Offutt Jr., of Fargo, one of his Concordia students in the early 1960s. Offutt would go on to become the world’s biggest individual potato grower and John Deere equipment dealer. In 2013, Drache wrote a book, “R.D. Offutt: Success and Significance.”
In 2019, Drache and Bruce Gjovig of Grand Forks, N.D., collaborated on “Innovators and Entrepreneurs of North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.” It was Drache’s 18th book.
"He was the eminent historian of agriculture on the grain plains and in the nation," Gjovig said, adding that he brought a unique economic and agricultural perspective that was "essential."
Drache kept track of his own career and wrote his own obituary, son Paul said.
Hiram noted that from 1958 to 2005 he gave a total of 1,089 speeches in 36 states and four foreign countries. Besides his academic work, Drache listed serving on numerous boards, including Agassiz Club and Northwest Farm Managers Association, as well as historical and humanities boards. He was finance director for 10 Minnesota Republican legislative candidates.
Drache is survived by his wife; daughter Kay (Loren Botner) of St. Louis Park; sons David (Mary) of Roseville; Paul (Lisa) of Greeley, Colo.; seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, one sister, Louise (Martin) Dorsey of Roselle, Ill., and several nieces and nephews. The funeral is set for Oct. 24, 10:30 a.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minn.