Minnesota Soybean Business

Worth it: Lake Benton farmer returns to presidential position

Nearly 20 years following his first stint as president, Bob Worth didn’t expect he’d return to lead the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA).

But the chance to continue representing Minnesota soybean farmers at the state and national capitals was an opportunity this longtime farmer-advocate couldn’t pass up.

“Never say never, I guess,” said Worth, who was elected in June to become the first MSGA president to serve nonconsecutive terms. “I think I forgot some stuff, but I really love what I’m doing.”

Joining Worth on MSGA’s officer team for 2022-23 are Vice President Darin Johnson, Secretary Brad Hovel and Treasurer Ryan Mackenthun. Worth said he’s hopeful he can pass his wisdom and knowledge onto the next generation of farmer-leaders.

“I love our officer team and our governing board,” Worth said. “We have some really good people on MSGA. They’re fun people to work with.”

Worth is especially encouraged by the upcoming crop of MSGA directors. Sitting in his shop at the family farm in Lake Benton on an August morning, he rattled off the names of farmers he’s confident will lead MSGA into the next decade: Johnson, Mackenthun, Hovel, Rose Wendinger, Adam Guetter, Jeff Sorenson – just to name a few.

MSGA has stocked itself a deep bench.

“MSGA is going to be great for years to come,” Worth said. “I really like the new and upcoming leaders that are coming into the mix. I think it’s going to do a lot of good for soybean farmers.”

On the flip side, MSGA’s emerging leaders are soaking up Worth’s morethan- 20 years of experience as a county, state and national director.

“Bob is so passionate about agriculture,” Mackenthun said. “You can see that by the way he talks. He likes to take the younger farmers under his wing, and he’s definitely helped me to become more comfortable.”

Worth, who last served as president from 2005 to 2007, thanked past President Mike Skaug for keeping him informed on the issues and showing the ropes of advocating in the virtual age.

“I learned a lot from Mike Skaug,” Worth said. “He was a good mentor to me to bring me back into a leadership role.”

Family ties

In 2014, Worth scaled back his leadership responsibilities. His wife, Gail, is an accountant and meticulous record-keeper with notations dating back 30 years. She informed her husband that his duties on MSGA and the American Soybean Association (ASA) board caused him to spend more than 160 days away from home the previous year. He was missing grandkids’ events; something had to give.

The Worths, pictured here in their Lake Benton farm shop, celebrate 50 years of marriage in 2022.

Worth decided to retire. But just when he thought he was out, he was pulled back into the fold. His “soy family” came calling and asked Worth to make a comeback and offer guidance to help mold younger leaders.

Worth agreed. MSGA simply meant too much to him to completely step aside.

“We need to be mentors and help,” he said. “That’s what older directors need to do.”

In the 1970s, Worth was a squad leader in the National Guard. Leadership and teamwork became two of his core values.

“In the military, you learn all these things to be a leader and mentor,” he said. “You’re always learning and passing things on.”

Before returning to MSGA, Worth sought and received the blessing of Gail, his partner since he was 14 years old.

“You’ve got to have the family behind you 100 percent,” said Worth, who turns 70 this year. “Otherwise, it’s not going to work.”

Gail said her husband has learned to better manage his time since becoming an at-large MSGA director. Plus, technological advances make it easier to advocate from the familiar comforts of Lake Benton. The annual winter road trip to visit family in San Diego before heading to Commodity Classic also keeps the Worths refreshed

“It’s a different situation now,” Gail said. “What Bob wants to do, we’ll support. It makes him more organized in other parts of his life. I rarely have a honey-do list now because he has everything done, so it works pretty well.”

Gail and Bob celebrate 50 years of marriage this fall. During their interview with Soybean Business, they still tease and laugh with each other like high school sweethearts.

“I honestly don’t remember a time when we weren’t together,” Gail said.

‘A step ahead’

This year marks Worth’s 52nd year of farming land in his bucolic southwestern Minnesota hometown, where agriculture and wind energy dominate the local economy. After high school, he started farming with his dad, Bill. During the 1990s, three generation of Worths – Bill, Bob and Bob’s son, Jon – worked on the farm, raising soybeans, corn and occasionally wheat. After Bill Worth died in 1998, father and son have worked side-by-side. Jon handles marketing and Bob oversees cash flows (and advocacy, naturally), while Gail manages the accounting. Jon’s wife, Shanna, is also part of the operation.

“There’s not a better thing to do than working with your son and family,” Worth said.

Worth had a quick rise through MSGA’s ranks. After serving on his county board, he became an MSGA director in 2003 and was elected vice president the following year. He learned from established directors such as Ed Hegland and Kristin Weeks Duncancson. The Worths also graduated from ASA’s 2003 Young Leader Program alongside future South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

“I always chuckle when they say, ‘Young Leader,’ Worth said, adding, “I just liked to talk and tell our story, because I had a passion for agriculture.”

During his first go-around as president, Worth described MSGA’s legislative vision as more limited and focused strictly on soybean issues, primarily the state’s then-new biodiesel mandate. That’s no longer the case, he said.

“Sometimes we tried to stop things, but we weren’t as aggressive as we are now,” Worth said. “Now, we’re working on all issues. That’s why we’re getting so much done – we’re a step ahead.”

Open communication is a Worth priority. In the months ahead, he’ll collaborate with his fellow directors, Executive Director Joe Smentek, MSGA’s lobbying team and staff to plot the roadmap toward a successful 2023 Legislative Session.

“I want the officers and staff to be involved in everything we do,” he said.

In September, Worth and MSGA’s officers fly to Washington, D.C., to visit with Minnesota’s congressional delegation and discuss legislation, including the upcoming Farm Bill.

Typically, farmer-directors only visit the nation’s capital during biannual ASA Hill Visits.

“That’s been my dream for a long time, because we need to go out to D.C. more than just with ASA,” he said.

Worth takes special pride in MSGA’s nonpartisan mission. He doesn’t care the side of the aisle a legislator sits on; Worth just wants to discuss how elected officials can help farmers.

“We visit with legislators more than we ever have,” he said. “We have to tell our story. We can’t have them hear it from someone else.”

Worth said that there will be no retirement announcement forthcoming. Nope, he’s going to ride off into the sunset with his family, knowing he gave the soybean industry everything he was worth.

“I’m just going to walk away,” he said. “I don’t want this to be about me. It’s about MSGA.”


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