Workforce woes

A resounding theme in meetings this week with the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation was the workforce shortage and struggle to fill open positions.

It’s not a problem exclusive to Fargo, and the solutions the city is developing are similar to those being implemented around the country. A recent study of the Fargo-Moorhead area showed the cities have 6,500 job vacancies. Fargo has a great economy, is experiencing growth in many sectors, but doesn’t have enough trained people for the jobs available.

A recent meeting with a Grand Forks-based engineering and architecture firm addressed the same issue.

Where does the solution start? Is it keeping college students around by offering good, high-paying jobs when they graduate? Is it simply a matter of communicating to college students that our communities can offer them the big jobs with John Deere, Microsoft, Case, Sanford and other major brands?

I attended a business advisory committee meeting at the Grand Forks Herald a few months ago that raised the question of whether University of North Dakota students are aware of job and internship opportunities the city’s businesses can offer. The answer seemed to be “No.”

That’s a fundamental problem. We’re not showing fresh, ambitious college graduates their dream job could be here and they don’t have to move to larger cities to live a comfortable professional life. Admittedly, I didn’t think I would stay in Grand Forks after college, but an internship with the Herald led to a full-time job after graduation and other opportunities dovetailed off that job.

Grand Forks and Fargo have great opportunities. We’re college towns, but we’re professional towns, too.

And who wouldn’t want to stick around and continue to cheer on the Bison or the Fighting Hawks?

Culture is crucial

I tagged along to a meeting this week with a Prairie Business salesperson and one of her clients. Of course, we met with a marketing official, but I was pleasantly surprised when our conversation turned to the importance of culture in the workplace, and what that company does to keep it healthy.

Everyone participates in development and design of programs to make new employees feel comfortable and part of the team, to keep existing employees engaged and interested, and to maintain communication and teamwork among all departments. She was excited to tell us about it, and her passion for the company’s culture efforts was clear and sincere.

Culture is important everywhere and most good companies have initiatives in place to promote it. Maybe your workplace has office olympics or regular team lunch events, trivia competitions, picnics or stylish break rooms with comfortable furniture.

I’ve been pushing for a popcorn machine in my cubicle, but so far, my efforts have been unsuccessful.

Good managers know the happiness of their employees is vital to a company’s success. Employees who like the company they work for are dedicated to it and inspired to perform in their job duties to the best of their abilities.

So be inspired to tell your boss you’d be better at your job if you had afternoon beers every Friday. It’s a pretty solid pitch.

Research with the environment in mind

I wrote an article today about research going on at UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center that will result in biodegradable, eco-friendly and renewable drilling fluids.

And that’s not all.

These fluids will be made with North Dakota crop feedstocks and used in the state’s oil industry. North Dakota has the resources for production and the market for use. It’s a perfect project.

I am not a chemist and do not understand reactions (even on basic levels like baking), so the process is way over my head. But I am passionate about the environment and I love seeing research like this that improves our processes for obtaining and producing resources we need in our modern world.

My sources for the article were quick and careful to point out that current drilling fluids made with diesel components are not detrimental to the environment because they’re used well below the groundwater level. I question that, but I also know very little about drilling.

In my opinion, regardless of the level of contamination and pollution, cleaner methods are always better. And researchers like the ones at EERC are working to come up with those methods. Energy and environment have historically not been pals. We haven’t used a lot of eco-friendly energy resources. But we’re coming along. EERC’s researchers are clearly passionate about what they do and I’m eager to see what they come up with next.

Check out the article here

A fond farewell

Today is my last day as editor of Agweek. Starting Monday, I assume my new role as editor of Prairie Business magazine.

I’m very excited about this move. It’s a new industry, with new people, projects and opportunities.

Of course, I loved my time at Agweek. And I’m passing the torch to a very capable new editor: Bianca Bina, who has been an Agweek copy editor and page designer for about two years. She’ll be great.

As for me, I can still be seen wandering around the Grand Forks Herald office building, as Prairie Business ( is published by the Herald, just like Agweek.

I’ll miss the ag industry and the wonderful people I’ve met while working here. Keep in touch. Shoot me an email every once in a while:

And here’s a picture of my fish, Spartacus. Because why not


A sheep-shooing adventure

I recently returned from a week-long tour of Ireland with my sister and a close friend. We had a rental car and reservations at castle hotels across the country.

It was, without a doubt, the trip of a lifetime.

We drove the winding (and thin and sometimes terrifying) roads through patchwork farmland, up mountain sides and onto cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. The country is breathtaking and boasts a taste of every type of scenery. It’s a little different from North Dakota…

I had a few goals.

I wanted to see a vibrant Ireland rainbow. I saw one.

I wanted to experience being on top of and on the edge of the world at the Cliffs of Moher. I experienced it.

I wanted to have a drink in a small-town pub and see if the Irish country folk are really as kind as I’ve heard. I did. And they are.

And I wanted to shoo sheep off the road like in the movies. Check.

Yep, it was exactly like I imagined. We came around a curve and there they were — munching on grass on the edges of the roadway, and leaping and trotting down the middle. (I’m talking about sheep now, not Irish country folk).

I had my first (and second and third) taste of lamb meat on the trip, and of course bought plenty of Irish wool scarves and hats for myself, friends and family.

It’s tough to leave such a beautiful place, but I suppose the flat, expansive prairie of North Dakota would be beautiful to someone accustomed to a more Ireland-like terrain.

I’d love to go back someday.

There will always be more sheep to shoo, a Shamus with a Guiness in hand eager to give a traditional Irish toast, and a rural convenience store owner with detailed, landmark-based directions to Limerick on the tip of his tongue.

And besides, I never did find me a rich farmer to marry.

Ireland sheep

Here is a photo I snapped of the sheep on the road.

A prime scratch-and-sniff opportunity

Agweek’s cover story this week is about the increased use of manure as a crop fertilizer, as profit margins fall.

“More people are viewing it now as an agricultural nutrient rather than an agricultural waste,” Mary Berg, a livestock environmentalist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, told staff writer Jonathan Knutson.

Manure does need to be managed differently than chemical fertilizers do. But it brings vital nutrients to the soil and presents opportunities for neighboring farmers and ranchers to work together.

It’s not all good, though. Using manure does have it’s challenges, including supply and, of course, smell. (I recommended to the Agweek team that we put a photo of manure on the cover this week…scratch and sniff.)

Read the article here to find out more.

Manure, manure, manure… (You know you wanted to giggle about it one last time.)

A Farmfest first-timer

I attended Farmfest for the first time ever this week, and even though I spent most of my time there sitting at Agweek’s exhibitor booth trying to sell subscriptions, I had fun and enjoyed chatting with the people I met.

Sidenote: I do not have a future as a salesperson – I sold a whopping one subscription.

Back to my story: The show is outside of Redwood Falls, Minn., and stretches itself each year across the grounds of Gilfillan Estate. It’s a well-attended event, drawing people from all over the country to discuss political issues in ag, hear from legislators, and check out the latest in farm machinery, equipment cleaning technology, storage options, technological advancements and more. (I think if the guys with the futuristic drones a few booths down from me  hadn’t gobbled up all the attention, I would have been able to get more farmers to stop by my booth and subscribe to Agweek… I digress.)

I hope to make it to more shows in the near future (to utterly fail at selling subscriptions) and I’ll definitely be at Big Iron in September in West Fargo. Make sure you find our booth and stop by.

The people, technology, example crop plots and enormous machinery displays at Farmfest were cool. But I have to say my favorite part was the hot turkey croissant I had for lunch.

It’s been two days now and I can think of nothing else.



Agweek sales rep Megan Prins and I sit at the Farmfest booth Tuesday morning.


Farmfest Peterson

Farmfest features example crop plots like this one from Peterson Farms Seed.

A new website

A coworker in the newsroom just told my Agweek team to keep it down. I’m fairly certain it was prompted by me yelling “Woohoo!” one too many times.

But it’s a great day for us. Today, Agweek launched its new, much-improved website. It’s gorgeous, and I’m not being biased (at least not too much).

Take a moment to peruse the site and see the new features, bright photos, prominent news stories and simple interface.

Give it a good, loud “Woohoo!”

A tasty breakfast (and some talk about UAVs)

I attended a brief breakfast seminar this week about progress with unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture.

I knew Grand Forks was a hub of research for the farm state of North Dakota, but it seems to be a UAV hub for the world, too.

And that’s exciting.

Grand Forks is not only part of Agweek’s coverage area, but we’re based here, too. I make the 12-minute trek to and from the office building with its clock tower five days a week (sometimes six).

So it’s exciting to hear about new research, companies, technologies and even a research park coming up here.

Seminar presenter Lionel Olson, a former Grand Forks County extension agent who’s now a sales agronomist for Integrated Ag Services, showed attendees a slide show of photos taken from the UAVs he uses. He showed us all how he uses them, some issues that arise when flying for the first time and how his team solved them.

And he showed us one UAV smashed into pieces on the ground after an unforeseen gravity issue…

Big things are happening and UAVs can provide valuable tools in almost all areas of agriculture.

Want to snap photos of your cattle that show which ones have elevated body temperatures and might be sick, or ready to calf? A UAV can do that.

Want to scout for crop disease and pests? A UAV can do that.

I think you get the point. Yay UAVs.

And yay free bacon and eggs while I learn about UAVs.

A TV star

As many of you might have already noticed, I’m now a superstar.

I have between 20 and 30 seconds of on-camera fame each week. The fan mail, autograph requests and pleas for my appearance at children’s birthday parties have been overwhelming…

Fine. That’s a lie, but recording a short weekly segment about Agweek for our newest endeavor, AgweekTV, has been a fun new experience for me.

AgweekTV is a tremendous point of pride for all of us here at Agweek.

The TV show started as an idea, floated around on our Agweek team. Now, it’s a concrete product airing every Sunday on multiple news channels across North Dakota.

We work closely with our counterparts on the AgweekTV team to bring timely, relevant coverage, some of it from the issue of Agweek that will appear in mailboxes the next morning.

I have learned a lot about broadcast news and I’ll keep learning more, as we continue our close relationship with the TV team and host Shawna Olson.

But my point is we’re throwing a party.

Stop by the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Feb. 18 between 6 and 9 p.m. to meet our team, learn about the show and have a beer or two on us.

And get my autograph.