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The farmer’s lens: ND farmers lose big ally

Keith Peltier president of ProSeed, chats with Dale Ihry, now with the North Dakota Corn Growers, at the 2013 Northern Ag Expo in Fargo on Dec. 3, 2013. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service1 / 2
Dale Ihry2 / 2

FARGO — Dale Ihry, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council and the North Dakota Growers Association, died late Jan. 3 at Sanford Medical Center in downtown Fargo.

He was 58.

Ihry had been hospitalized for about three weeks with “a rare autoimmune disease that attacked his lungs,” according to Farm Service Agency communications, where he’d spent much of his career.

Ihry had retired in October 2015 at age 55 from a lengthy career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and immediately took his job with the state corn groups.

A native of Hope, N.D., Ihry grew up in a large family, many of whom are farming or in the insurance businesses. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1983. He was a county executive director the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. He was CED in Ward County before joining the state staff in 1987. In 1994, the ASCS agency merged with other USDA agencies to become the FSA.

“Dale worked tirelessly for agriculture throughout his career. Dale’s contributions to our organizations, our community and our industry are indispensable. He will be greatly missed,” said Terry Wehlander, ND Corn Utilization Council Chairman.

Kevin Skunes, an Arthur, N.D., farmer and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, said Dale was a “great guy who worked hard for North Dakota corn and FSA all his life.”

Randy Melvin of Buffalo, N.D., president of the North Dakota Corn Growers, said the state has “lost a leader who worked tirelessly for the farmers of North Dakota for many, many years,” Melvin said it was an “absolute pleasure” working with Ihry. He said Ihry was a mentor, and the two worked on a National Corn Growers Association Risk Management Action Team, which Melvin chairs. Melvin said in many meetings in Washington, D.C., Ihry often personally knew officials in the highest levels.

‘Farmer’s lens’

Robert Christman, now is chief of staff of for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, ASCS (FSA) executive director from 1981 to 1993. Ihry came into the state office as a trainee in what was known as “Production Adjustment.”

“He was able to take complex languages or requirements and explain them in a way that producers and county staff could understand,” Christman said, noting that he kept in touch with Ihry through the years.

Scott Stofferahn, executive director of the Golden Growers Cooperative in Fargo, was state FSA director from 1993 to 2001. After that, he worked with Ihry while Stofferahn was on the staff of U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and was instrumental in helping to write U.S. farm bills in 2002 and 2008.

“There are so many people in agriculture that benefitted from Dale’s expertise and his advocacy — most of whom will never know it,” Stofferahn said. “Those of us who had the wonderful opportunity to work with him were very fortunate. My heart goes out to his family.”

Stofferahn said Ihry was one of “very, very — VERY few” farm policy experts at his level in the nation. He said Ihry sat on numerous national task forces for implementing national programs. “He was one of the very best at it,” Stofferahn said. “He would sometimes rankle them because he retained his ability to look at this stuff from the farmer’s point of view. He would fight with them but they would ask him back, and that’s why.”

When working out a solution for a farm program, Ihry would always say, “You know, we’ve got to keep in mind that these are ‘good-guy farmer-guys.’ He’d always look at stuff through the farmer’s lens and that was exceedingly valuable,” Stofferahn said.

An ‘Iron Man’

Despite his MSUM degree Ihry was a die-hard North Dakota State University Bison football fan, and a Minnesota Vikings fan.

Ihry and his wife, Brenda, joined the Fargo Beer Club in 2008, a Bison tailgating group of about 45 people who tailgated before Bison games. Stofferahn, also a member of the group, said Ihry was known as one of the “Iron Five” of the tailgating group that would rise at around 3 a.m., get the bus at 4 a.m., and set up and tear down the tents and prepare food.

“‘Spikes on, it’s Bison game day,’ he’d say,” he said the group’s founder, Bob Sutton of Fargo. Ihry was one who gathered for pre-tailgating breakfast at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., Sutton said. Ihry was “a good story-teller and funny,” known for “Dale-isms,” said Sutton, who worked in medical sales but grew up on a farm near Hunter.

“He’d make up words, or come up with words you hadn’t heard for years, and use them. Some of them were kind of stretch and funny,” Sutton said. “He was a good one to teach others about agriculture.”

Ihry is survived by his wife, Brenda, have three grown children — Jessica and Jamie, and a son Tyler, and several grandchildren. Arrangements are pending with Boulger Funeral Home.

Ihry is not the first in his family to die young.

His brother, Gary Ihry, former mayor of Hope, N.D., died Nov. 22, 2016, at age 66. Gary founded Ihry Insurance and Ihry Farms. He served on the City Council from 1978 to 1998, when he was first elected mayor.