Al Gustin

Last month, I went to the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives office and paged through some issues of this magazine from the early 1970s. I’ll explain why in a little bit.

In 1973, there was the Middle East oil crisis. And since electric cooperatives are all about energy, some of the articles in those old issues dealt with that crisis. One was about the struggle for dominance between coal, oil and natural gas. There was an article about a decision by the U.S. Postal Service to accept bids for electric vehicles. Another dealt with the fuel shortages farmers were facing.

I was looking through those old issues, because I knew I began writing this column sometime in the early 1970s. And I found it, the first “Farm Byline,” in February 1974. With this issue, I will have completed 50 years as a columnist for this magazine.

In that first column, I introduced myself, wrote about my education and farm background and about the need for more farm broadcasters. The 1970s were boom years, starting with the Russian grain deal in 1972. It was, we were told, a new “golden age of agriculture.” Markets had become global and much more volatile. Farmers needed timely information more than ever before. I had begun my career at an exciting, pivotal time for farmers and ranchers.

But what I thought about most as I read that first column was why a magazine like this would think this young kid, just a few years out of college, would have something to say worthy of a monthly column. It’s true, because of my job, a lot of farmers and ranchers thought I was an expert (which I wasn’t) and the job offered me a pulpit of sorts to comment on issues I felt needed commentary. But insight and perspective come with age and experience. At that point, I had neither.

It’s worth noting in my fifth column, in June 1974, I wrote about the state’s rapidly expanding coal industry. I said more work needed to be done on reclaiming mined lands. But then I added, “I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have all the answers.” That may have been the most insightful thing I wrote.

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