After more than three decades as executive director for the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council and the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, Dave Torgerson announced his decision to retire in January.
His last day with the wheat organizations, based in Red Lake Falls, will be March 31.
Torgerson grew up in Moorhead and Hawley, and attended North Dakota State University, majoring in ag economics and animal science. His mother grew up on a small farm near Hawley, so he spent a lot of time there. After graduating from NDSU, Torgerson took an adventurous leap that helped determine his career path: He traveled to Australia and worked for a wheat farmer.
“That was a great experience, being away and getting an international perspective,” Torgerson says. “It was a very good experience that helped me get a job at the Minnesota Wheat Council when I returned.” He was hired in 1987 as a marketing specialist and worked with two council executive directors. When the executive director position became available, he applied. Torgerson was hired as executive director in 1990, the same day he met his future wife, Mary.
In a Q&A with editor The Farmer, Torgerson shares a bit about his Minnesota Wheat tenure and future plans:
What have been some of the biggest changes you seen in Minnesota wheat varieties over the last 30 years? Wheat varieties have changed in many ways.
In the early 1990s, there were some very good varieties and they looked like a step upward on yield and leaf diseases resistance. But then scab hit, and the varieties being released were very susceptible to it. scab devastated production, and the new and up and coming varieties were dropped. In the mid-1990s, plant breeders, at least at the University of Minnesota, had to start all over with new germplasm that had resistance to scab, and that germplasm was not very well adapted to our region. It was a big challenge, but the breeders and plant pathologists were up to it.
The growers’ groups found them money at state and national levels, and scientists went to work. They found germplasm in China that had good resistance and started breeding that resistance into varieties we could use in Minnesota and the spring wheat region. So, the biggest change in the last 25 years is that most of the varieties have some resistance to scab, and that has saved our wheat crops several times in recent years.
I also think the varieties are more stable as they perform very well year after year. Our state-wide yields are consistently on the high-end of the range. It’s a testament to the value of research and how growers have consistently changed and improved to manage for higher more stable yields.
Another big change is that U-MN wheat varieties are now known for their high baking quality. These varieties have helped maintain spring wheat's position as a high-quality wheat that can improve lower quality wheats when blended together in the milling process. This quality is what allows for spring wheat to be sold at a premium over any other type of wheat. The Minnesota Wheat Council hopes this reputation can be maintained. It will take good breeding and growers picking the best varieties.
Talk about what has been driving change — technology, disease, research investments? I think what has driven all these changes are the people in the wheat industry working together.
Researchers working together with their universities, as well as across universities, made a great team. Growers working together locally, regionally and nationally to bring funding to the researchers made a good team. The private companies worked with each group, too.
The devastation that scab brought to the spring wheat region was huge, but it was a challenge that all the players took on and I believe they overcame the challenge successfully. Everyone is still working together, but the urgency of the 1990s is less because there are good production practices being used and new varieties are more resistant. The researchers and farmers who went through the scab years are not letting their guard down, and they continue to work on improvements that are needed.
Wheat breeding has been changed dramatically by technology, not GMO technology but by technology that allows breeders to identify, find and move specific genes into new wheat lines. It's amazing to try to understand all the things they can do and are doing to speed up breeding and give them a better chance of developing wheat that preforms better than the previous one.
Compare farming and marketing of the 1980s to today and the pros and cons. The biggest change I see is how connected growers are to information and the world.
Communications technology has changed farming, just as it has in every other industry. The cellphone is amazing technology. It allows grower to have a mobile office. The downside is they can
never get away from their office. In the past, the tractor or pickup cab was a reprieve away from the phone and office. Not anymore. It's good and bad at the same time.
What are you most proud of as you conclude your tenure at Minnesota Wheat? The Minnesota wheat industry, centered in northwestern Minnesota, is the not biggest ag industry in the state, yet it may have seen the biggest changes in the last 30 years of any commodity or region in Minnesota.
To survive and thrive, the Minnesota Wheat Growers and Minnesota Wheat Council have built a lot of partnerships that have brought groups together to work on common programs, issues and goals. These partnerships have built educational programs, influence and activities that are much bigger and better than a single organization could have done on its own. I think the partnerships have made Minnesota Wheat and northwestern Minnesota strong, and they will continue to keep the region strong and growing.
What are your retirement plans? Mary and I live in the Fertile area, and we plan to retire there and not move.
We didn't take much time for ourselves during our careers, and we hope that will change now. We will be spending time at home and doing many projects. We are excited to see what comes next.
Minnesota Wheat accepting applications for executive director
The Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council and the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers are seeking candidates to succeed long-time executive director Dave Torgerson.
His retirement date is March 31.
The MWRPC and the MAWG work together as Minnesota Wheat to improve the profitability of the state’s wheat industry. From research and export promotion, to educational programs and lobbying, their mission is to build programs that have long-lasting impact for Minnesota wheat growers.
Candidates for executive director should bring a passion for the agriculture industry with proven ability to lead with a rolled-up sleeves approach. They should be able to build relationships and leverage resources to develop impactful initiatives for the 1.5 million-acre Minnesota wheat industry. The Minnesota Wheat office is in Red Lake Falls.
More information on this position and about MWRPC and MAWG is available at smallgrains.org.