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Entrepreneurs of agriculture

Louis Larson started his dairy operation with one calf and now owns 12,500 milk cows. Leonard Odde left the farm at age 17 but returned years later to amass 40,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sunflowers. Beginning with just 200 acres in the Red River Valley in 1964, Ronald Offutt built an enterprise that has become the nation’s largest producer of potatoes.

Some may believe these vignettes have shades of Cinderella woven into them. But for these three farmers, work ethic, determination and vision turned their dreams into entrepreneurial success stories. Author and historian Hiram M. Drache has captured these stories in his new book Creating Abundance: Visionary Entrepreneurs of Agriculture.

Drache, a retired, 40-year history professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, says the inspiration for the book came to him more than 25 years ago. “In 1975, I spoke at a symposium on the bicentennial of American agriculture and stated that 95% of our farmers did not grasp the rate of change that was taking place in their industry. You can imagine the kind of reception I received from that comment,” he notes. “It was then and there that I decided it was imperative to write about incredible visionaries who were not only industrializing agriculture, but were taking it into the global era.”

The publication profiles entrepreneurs from all segments of agriculture — from turkey and cattle production, row crops and potatoes, to celery and pecans. Overall, 15 different enterprises are featured in the book, which is Drache’s ninth published.

The book, which Drache began with his first interview in 1990, is a geographical and enterprise sampling of individual entrepreneurs who today have placed their operations in the top rank of agricultural firms. But Drache notes that the farms he profiled do not fall under a Wall Street version of “corporate farm.”

“All but one of the farms covered in this book belong to an individual or a family,” he says. “The owners of these large farms are primary producers in a rapidly changing food chain with processors and retailers who are trying to satisfy the ever-demanding consumer with a greater variety of nutritious and safe food.” Although many of the profiles do not have a direct link to traditional row-crop farming, Drache says that shouldn’t limit the interest level for the book. “If you’re a Midwest corn or soybean producer, you may think, Why would this apply to me? But the type of thinking these people put into their businesses is what can shape today’s row-crop farmer for tomorrow,” he notes. “I truly wanted to look at all industries within agriculture and write about what it takes to change and shape an agricultural enterprise.”

The book is available at most national book outlets. For more information, call Interstate Publishers Inc. at 800/843-4774 or visit its Web site at The book is also available with a personal inscription from the author by ordering directly from Hiram M. Drache, 326 10th Ave. S., Fargo, ND 58103-2846. Include your name, address and a check for $29.95, plus $2.50 for shipping and handling ($3 U.S. for delivery to Canada).

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