Minnesota Soybean Business

Mighty Mike: Beltrami farmer steps into MSGA presidency

September-October 2021

As an advocate, Mike Skaug was a bit of a late bloomer. It wasn’t until 2012, when the Polk County farmer was in his 50s, that Skaug was appointed to the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board of directors.

Skaug felt it was a good pairing from the start.

“It just fit into my life where I could do something like that,” he said. “I was always interested in the issues, and it fit in with my interests. The more I hung around, the more interested I became. It got to be a habit.”

Over a decade, Skaug steadily rose the ranks of MSGA, from treasurer to vice president, culminating in his election as president in July 2021. His colleagues chose Skaug during the nonpartisan’s organization first in-person board meeting in more than a year.

“I’m humbled and honored my fellow directors have put their confidence in me to lead this storied organization,” Skaug said. “I’m eager to hit the ground running to advocate for our members and promote policies that will improve the profitability outlook for Minnesota farmers.”

Skaug (pronounced “Scow”) is also chair of the Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston. He farms with his wife, DeAnn, and son, Ryan, on their fifth-generation farm in Beltrami. Skaug replaced Jamie Beyer, who stepped down after two years as president. As the organization begins to prepare for its 60th anniversary, its new president is well aware he’s standing on the shoulders of giants.

“I have big shoes to fill,” said Skaug, the 36th president in MSGA’s history. “Jamie has a lot of talent and has done such a great job of explaining complicated issues to folks. She’s been a huge asset to MSGA.”

Beyer’s tenure was highlighted by the passage of full Section 179 conformity in October 2020 – among many other MSGA legislative wins – and helped lead MSGA’s transition to virtual advocacy following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We couldn’t have had anyone better helping us navigate the difficulties of the past year,” MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek said. “We are so grateful to Jamie for her dedication to MSGA.”

Beyer will remain a director and was also elected to the Ag Management Solutions (AMS) board, which oversees MSGA’s daily operations. She was the third female MSGA president and the first to serve consecutive terms.

“If it wasn’t for MSGA, I would be a lot more pessimistic when it comes to the future of agriculture,” Beyer said. “I see a path forward for agriculture.”

Rising to the top

Skaug will be supported by a mix of veteran and emerging leaders. Longtime Lincoln County farmer Bob Worth moved from treasurer to vice president. Wells farmer Darin Johnson was elected treasurer, and Ryan Mackenthun of Brownton will serve as secretary. Skaug’s predecessor said the organization is in steady, capable hands with Skaug, who also serves on the AMS board.

“Mike knows so much about the MSGA and AMS,” Beyer said. “He’s bringing in so much knowledge. There could be no one better prepared than Mike.”

Strathcona grower Jim Kukowski and Brewster farmer Chris Hill were both reelected to the American Soybean Association, which advocates for growers at the federal level. Farmer leaders gave ASA Chair and former President Bill Gordon a standing ovation during his final board meeting before he retires from ASA at the end of the year. He will be replaced by Adam Guetter, a Redwood County farmer and past ASA Young Leader.

“When it comes to policy,” said Gordon, who previously served as MSGA vice president, “Minnesota always rises to the top.”

Skaug said he’ll strive to keep MSGA at the top among commodity organizations.

“We’re doing a lot of good things and have built a reputation of being level-headed and having a great team, great lobbyists,” Skaug said. “I’m really looking forward to the year ahead.”

Like Mike

Mike and DeAnn work with Ryan (who also runs his own operation nearby) on the 4,000-acre corn and soybean farm. The Skaug family farm has been in operation since 1881, just a few years after the family immigrated from Norway. It’s been a way of life for father and son since Ryan was a teenager. Mike and DeAnn handle the day-to-day duties, while field decisions are Ryan’s forte.

“He’s very good at picking the hybrids and making the in-field decisions,” Mike Skaug said. “It really helps to have to have someone holding up the other end of the farm.”

Mike says of his wife of 40 years, DeAnn: “It’s not just Ryan and I on the farm – it’s DeAnn mostly. She’s the best partner.” Mike and DeAnn also have three grandchildren.

To that end, Skaug says he understands the plight of Minnesota farmers who may be interested in leadership roles but are juggling the demands of family and on-farm duties. The last year has especially underscored the need for a work-life balance, he said.

“I’m empathetic to the farmers who have young families and are involved,” he said. “They really do a lot.”

The drive from the Beltrami farm to the Capitol in St. Paul is more than four hours, and it takes Skaug about six hours to make the trek to Mankato for MSGA board meetings. He believes the virtual format used in the past year has proven beneficial, saving farmers dozens of hours in travel and allowing directors more opportunities to engage with elected officials – not to mention affording them more time with their families. As president, he wants to lead the board in finding a happy medium between virtual and in-person meetings to accommodate growers throughout Minnesota.

“That’s the way we’re going to have to do things to get more people – especially young people –involved,” he said. “We have to get back to in person but we’re going to have be more selective in regard to what’s more important to have in person. It’s too taxing to go to a two-day meeting wheny you’ve got family obligations. It gets so stressful.”

The key to MSGA’s success in the future, Skaug believes, is recruiting and developing young leaders by taking advantage of various modes of communication.

“We can capitalize on these younger people who have really good ideas if we start doing more virtual, because they’re able to stay active while being close to their families,” Skaug said. “It can be an all-of-the-above approach. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other.”

MSGA’s 2022 legislative priorities are still being established, but, according to Skaug, who keeps a close eye on policy activities at the state and federal levels, protecting biodiesel in Minnesota will be a top concern.

“With biodiesel, you’d think it would coast on its own because of all the benefits it brings,” Skaug said, “but we have to keep reinforcing it.”

Smentek said Skaug’s interest in the issues and calm demeanor will be an asset to the nonpartisan organization during the year ahead.

“Mike studies the issues and has developed a lot of relationships with elected officials and state leaders,” he said. “He doesn’t seek attention or accolades. His focus is all about advocating for policies that will help Minnesota farmers.”

After the tribulations of recent years – low commodity prices, a trade war, droughts and floods – Skaug says MSGA is moving in the right direction heading into 2022.

“I really think things are taking a turn for the better,” he said.


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