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Without North Dakota Agricultural Association members, farmers would be hard-pressed to do their jobs. The Fargo-based association, led by executive director Gary Knutson and a 12-member board, consists of agribusiness firms engaged in manufactur...

Gary Knutson

Without North Dakota Agricultural Association members, farmers would be hard-pressed to do their jobs.

The Fargo-based association, led by executive director Gary Knutson and a 12-member board, consists of agribusiness firms engaged in manufacturing, distribution and wholesaling.

Its 375 members also include farm supply dealers, individuals providing services and retailers of crop production inputs and services.

The association is involved in education, safety and legislative efforts.

Every fall it hosts the Northern Ag Expo, which includes seminars, speakers and exhibits.

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About 200 companies from across the upper Midwest were exhibitors at the 36th annual expo last week at the Fargodome.

Knutson is an Oakes, N.D., native and North Dakota State University graduate.

He was an agribusiness banker in Moorhead for many years until taking the ag association post in 1990.

Q: The Northern Ag Expo has become a pretty big deal for your association, hasn't it?

A: This is the 36th show the organization has sponsored. I think it's pretty well a barometer of the growth that we've moved from the Bison Sports Arena to the Fargodome.

I think if you took a geographic area, we probably cover Wisconsin to Montana to Kansas to up into Canada.

This is a crop production industry showcase, (featuring) anything that deals primarily with producing a crop from the seed to the fertilizer, to all the insecticides and pesticides to grain-handling equipment.

North Dakota is losing farms. How is your membership faring?

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I think it's safe to say our organization is growing. Primarily because you've got more specialization and sophistication within the industry. It's more technical, more precision-type equipment.

Consequently, there are more service providers, more manufacturers out there.

So many different crops are grown in North Dakota. That increases the specialization you mention ...

Last summer I was driving out in north-central North Dakota. In a stretch of 10 miles I counted 10 different crops.

North Dakota is a leader in a lot of crops.

Yields for most crops have, on average, been rising. What role have your members played in that?

Our purpose is to be an educational advocacy group.

You look at the technology out there that's being bred into these different (crop) varieties. We've got drought tolerance, we've got cold tolerance.

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We (the ag association) don't get involved in research. But we do promote and support the research. We facilitate the work rather than saying, "Yeah, we're responsible for it."

Farmers often complain about the rising cost of equipment and services. How do you respond?

You get what you pay for.

Machines on the farm do so much more today.

(Equipment) is more precise, more complete. It enables the farmer to be more timely in everything he's doing: fit the weather schedule better, fit the growing season schedule better.

All these things mean extra dollars (for farmers) in the end.

I think they're getting their money's worth.

Any goals or priorities for your association in the upcoming state legislative session?

There's always 15 to 25 legislative issues (affecting the association) each session.

It's a little early to discuss (what they'll be in the upcoming session).

The Conservation Reserve Program - which pays farmers to take land out of production - reduces sales of seed, chemicals, fertilizer and equipment. Your take on CRP?

I think it has merit.

It protects the enhancement of wildlife population.

Certainly it has a role in erosion control.

But selfishly in our industry, where we're selling and providing inputs for crop production, we'd like to see some of those acres back in production.

I think that's going to happen. A lot has to do with market and demand for acres, with the emphasis now more toward producing corn for energy and producing more wheat (because of higher prices).

Any thoughts on the future of agribusiness?

We have fewer farmers. We need to maintain the tie between farm production and the ultimate user.

It's important that the agribusiness industry maintain its visibility.

The number of job opportunities in your industry is projected to grow. Any suggestions for young people considering an agribusiness career?

The most important thing is finding an area that fits what you like to do.

If you want to be out among the people, sales is a great game. It's very challenging.

If you want to build, construct and research, then you should look more at engineering.

If you're saying to yourself, "I want to be an owner, short run I'll work for someone," then you look at the accounting, the financial management, the marketing skills you'd need.

If you're a student looking to go into agribusiness, I don't think there'll ever be a lack of jobs or opportunities.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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