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July 2020: Farm Byline

Recalling ‘Agriculturalists of the Year’

by Al Gustin


My mind overflowed with thoughts of early North Dakota agriculture and my own personal memories as I looked at the list – 110 names – of people who had been recognized as “Agriculturalist of the Year” by the North Dakota State University Saddle and Sirloin Club. These were people who had shaped the agricultural industry we know today.

The occasion was the addition of one more name to the list – Ray Erbele of Streeter. Erbele was described simply as “rancher,” but he has been so much more than that – educator, marketer, industry servant and mentor.

I worked my way backward through the list. Recent additions were people I knew well. I discovered that I knew 55 of the last 60 people who had been added since 1966. All but 20 of the last 60 were people I had interviewed as part of my job. I recalled those occasions and realized how fortunate I had been to be able to work with these leaders on a professional level. Quite a few I considered friends.

Looking at the names of people honored earlier, in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, I was reminded of how much North Dakota agriculture has changed. The 1928 honoree, Jake Eastgate’s “field of work” is listed as Percheron horses. In 1947, Assa Sherritt was recognized for his work with Clydesdale horses. Others in those early years were recognized as pioneers in Jersey, Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn dairy cattle – others for Berkshire, Chester White and Duroc hogs – one for Oxford sheep. There were beef cattle industry leaders, too, although more Shorthorn leaders than Angus or Hereford in those early years.

 It was revealing to see, too, that all those honored prior to 1947 were not native North Dakotans. Their birthplaces included the states of Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Alabama. Many had been born in other countries, including Germany, Canada, Scotland and Norway. So here was this wonderfully diverse group of people, each successful in their particular field of work, each having chosen North Dakota as their land of opportunity. Here they made a difference. Everyone on that list made a difference, and we are indebted to them.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.