Class VI of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program ventured to Moorhead in mid-November for its latest educational session.
The three-day seminar focused on the theme "Community—Big and Small." Tours included visits to Butler Machinery Company and the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo, and sessions discussing state/regional roads and bridges and USDA Rural Development programs.
The Butler tour was a highlight for this trip. Originally, the class was supposed to visit another equipment manufacturer, but it cancelled at the last minute. Butler stepped in and provided a unique behind-the-scenes look at its customer-focused, employee-driven company. Butler, a Cat dealer, has been in the business since 1955. The company prides itself as being a one-stop for machinery repair. More than 700 employees (and of those 420 are technicians) are well-trained in what they do and in customer service. The majority of its service trucks head for the field, ready to repair equipment. Each has wireless communication capability and can do diagnostic testing.
Ongoing training for current and future employees is a key component of Butler's success. In 2000, the company built a facility just for that—lifelong learning and training—and three full-time trainers are on staff. It takes about 133 hours per year to update a Cat technician on the latest in machinery. Special training programs offered either through Butler or Caterpillar are available to high school students and others who are interested to train and become certified technicians.
At the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo, Class VI learned how the institute works to promote crops from the region. Its purpose is two-fold: 1) To demonstrate the quality of local crops to visitors by allowing them the opportunity to bake and taste foods; and 2) To provide product development for food companies.
More than 120 countries have sent scientists and marketers to NCI to learn about baking, pastry-making and grain marketing.
While at NCI, Carrol Duerre, general manager at Colfax Farmers Elevator, visited and talked niche marketing, alternative crops and international markets. Duerre said small elevators can't compete with the corporations and move mass product. However, country elevators can provide specific grain products for customers, such as identity preserved.
The last of the seminar featured speakers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and USDA Rural Development.
Shiloh Wahl, MnDOT program development manager based in Detroit Lakes, explained how the department priorities road and bridge projects. For highway investment from 2013-2032 in District 4, projects totaling $43 billion in federal and state funds have been planned. That's enough money for about seven to eight highway projects, he said.
He talked about safety issues and how research shows that roundabouts are safer to install at intersections than signals. MnDOT installed a roundabout on Hwy. 75 after holding several public hearings. The cost? About $2 million and it took 20 acres to contain. Public input helped with the final design, as many residents were concerned about snow piling up. Engineers added berms and large ditches in the four quadrants to contain the white stuff.
And Andrew Gag, USDA Rural Development, Detroit Lakes, talked about the various programs that fund services and facilities for rural residents. Loans and grants have been given to purchase fire trucks, road graders and busses; to build community and senior centers, health care clinics, water and sewer systems, and single and multi-family housing.
Gag says now is the time to start planning community facility projects as direct loans totaling $1.3 billion will be available this fiscal year. Loans are for 40 years at 3.75% interest. Grants offered are for $10,000 to $20,000 each.