EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. - Rhonda Larson has just spent a busy late-winter day substitute teaching kindergarten in the morning and second grade in the afternoon. But she’s happy to spend the last part of her afternoon talking about agriculture and promoting wheat and U.S. Wheat Associates.
“It’s boots-on-the-ground marketing and a long-term commitment,” she said of the organization.
Larson, a third-generation East Grand Forks farmer, is the new secretary/treasurer of U.S. Wheat Associates, often known as U.S. Wheat or USW. The group describes its mission as developing, maintaining and expanding international markets to make wheat more profitable for U.S. farmers and more valuable to its customers. About half of the wheat raised by U.S. farmers is exported.
U.S. Wheat, active in more than 100 countries, is funded through producer checkoff dollars managed by 17 state wheat commissions and cost-share money provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It’s not just selling them (foreign customers) our wheat. We’re there through the whole process. If any problems come up, we work to solve them,” Larson said.
Agriculture and wheat have always been a big part of Larson’s life.
She was raised on her family farm north of East Grand Forks, in the fertile Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. Minnesota’s wheat production is focused in the northwest part of the state.
Her father began the farm 50 years ago. Now, she, two brothers and her son, Bryce, operate it, raising spring wheat, soybeans and sugar beets.
Bryce is at the point where he can be more actively involved in the farm, leaving Rhonda Larson more time to spend with U.S. Wheat, she said.
“I can be gone more. And I know how important it is to promote our wheat,” she said.
Rhonda Larson has a long track record of promoting ag, especially wheat.
She has been a board member of the Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council for 16 years, serving as chairwoman from 2010 to 2012. She was a member on the Wheat Foods Council board and is a longtime member of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.
In the past, she served on U.S. Wheat’s Long-Range Planning Committee and Budget Committee.
She will serve for a year as U.S. Wheat secretary/treasurer, then move on to year-long positions as, successively, U.S. Wheat vice chairwoman, chairwoman and, finally, past chairwoman. Traditionally, the group’s annual summer meeting is held in the past chair’s home state; it’s too soon to say where in Minnesota the event will be held when Larson serves as past chairwoman.
Larson has a life outside ag, too. She received a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a juris doctor degree in law from the University of North Dakota.
Minnesota law allows people holding a juris doctor degree to serve as substitute teachers, and “I like to stay busy,” she said.
Larson did legal work for a number of years before reaching a point 30 years ago where she needed to decide between a legal career and full-time farming. She went with agriculture and said she hasn’t regretted it.
“And now I’m really looking forward to my expanded role with U.S. Wheat,” she said.