It might be easier to ask Elbow Lake farmer Scott Swenson to name a wheat board or committee he hasn’t served on, rather than listing the organizations he represented. The list is long: At both the state and national levels, he’s run the gambit supporting wheat research, new markets and policy over the past quarter-century.  

But this June, he’s stepping down from his most recent venture on the Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council (MWRPC) board to let the next generation of wheat growers have their say in the future of wheat.  

“I’ve been around a long time, it’s getting difficult for me to travel, and I think it’s time for some younger faces on the Council,” said Swenson. “No one wants to be the old guy in the room.” 

Swenson is stepping away from the MWRPC after nine years of leadership. Prior to that, he also served 11 years on the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers (MAWG). During that time, he’s also juggled appointments to the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), National Wheat Foundation (NWF), National Wheat Improvement Committee and U.S. Wheat Associate (USW).   

One of Swenson’s recent highlights comes from his time serving on NWF, which was established by the industry to serve as the national center for wheat research, education and outreach. During his term, he helped oversee the sale of NWF’s former office building near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the subsequent reinvestment of the funds from that sale, that benefited NWF and its partners.

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MWRPC Director Scott Swenson

“We invested the money in 2020, which was a pretty good time for investing, and we saw some significant returns,” Swenson said. “We use that investment to help support NAWG.”   

Tim Dufault, current MWRPC chair, has known Swenson for about 30 years when they met at one of MAWG’s first golf fundraisers.  

“Scott has always been very thoughtful and pragmatic with his decisions,” Dufault said. “He’s always concerned about the wheat grower and making wheat better for Minnesota. He’s always been willing to do whatever it takes.”

A dependable leader  

Swenson also found his voice on the national level through the USW, which focuses heavily on developing, maintaining, and expanding their international markets to increase profitability for the U.S. wheat producers. While on the USW Board of Directors, Scott had the opportunity to travel internationally to China and Taiwan on a trade mission in 2017.  

“I really enjoyed my time on the USW board, thanks in part to their staff. They are great to work with and they make things easy for the board,” said Swenson. “Their slogan, ‘Dependable People. Reliable Wheat,’ credits their staff for being both dependable and reliable in supporting U.S. wheat.”  

While on MAWG, Swenson also served on the national board, serving on a subcommittee that advocated heavily on behalf of biotech in the wheat seed industry.  

“There was a lot of work being done on Roundup Ready wheat, which was new at the time and maybe scary to consumers, so ultimately it got shelved. It just wasn’t the right time.” said Swenson. “But we kept having conversations with the seed companies and told them not to give up. Now we’re seeing some breakthroughs with gene-editing, which is similar but not the same as biotech wheat, but there is still a future there.”  

Overall, Swenson is most pleased in the progress that the wheat industry has made at both the state and national level, even though it doesn’t always occur quickly.  

“Our yields used to be all over the place. Now we’ve seen steady and consistent increases to our bushels, thanks to the practices we’ve implemented through the research we supported.  

The future of the Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council will be in good hands, according to Swenson, who steps down in June. His replacement will be Glenn Hjelle, a fellow farmer just down the road from Swenson.  

“He’s been involved in research through Minnesota Wheat’s On-Farm Research Network,” Swenson said. “He’s very excited and will be a great fit on the Council.”  

His advice for Hjelle and all future board members is to not get discouraged when the research doesn’t show the results you wanted. Patience is key. 

“Even if it’s not the data you were hoping, that’s still valid research. That’s why we do research is to answer those questions,” said Swenson. “And you have to keep investing. It’s slow work sometimes, but it’ll pay off in the end.” 

Swenson is hopeful for the future and looking to the next generation to hold down the fort. A spinal injury that he sustained back in 2019 has slowed him down and prevented him from being able to do some of heavy lifting and climbing that comes with life on the farm. His youngest of his three sons plans to return home and begin taking over the farm over the next couple of years.   

It’s been a good run for Scott Swenson. Now, he said, it’s time to pass the baton.  “In both farming and in these organizations, we need young people to step up and get involved,” he said. “They are the future.”


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