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shelly depestel, marl

By Heather Carlile

hcarlile@agrinews.com

LEWISTON, Minn. — Shelly DePestel is ready to become a better leader for the agriculture industry.

She is one of 32 people who have been selected to be in the next Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program.

"It’s going to be quite an adventure," she said.

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The program is a two-year commitment for people who have some leadership experience and want to take on more responsibilities.

"That leadership experience can be from local to international levels," said Tim Alcorn, MARL executive director.

MARL Class V will begin meeting in November. They will have nine seminars, traveling around the state, from November to April each year that typically last from noon on a Wednesday to noon on a Friday. The sessions cover topics such as the Minnesota food industry, understanding and working with the state Legislature, alternative crops, trade relationships and building leadership skills.

They will travel to Washington, D.C., next February and take a 12-day international trip in 2010 to learn about trade relationships, compare agriculture industries and learn about the area’s policies, culture and politics. The international destination is still to be determined.

The class will complete the program in April 2010.

This year’s group has eight women, which is the most women ever in a MARL class.

"We’ve made an extra effort to make sure that we extend the invitation to women and communicate that the program is open," Alcorn said, adding that diversity adds value for all class members.

DePestel’s leadership experience includes her position as a partner in her family’s dairy farm. Daley Farms of Lewiston has 1,400 head of Holsteins and Holstein crosses that are milked three times a day. They grow 1,600 acres of corn, 700 acres of alfalfa and 200 acres of canning peas.

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She handles the accounting and human resources aspects of the operation, which has 43 employees.

She also served on the Winona County Chamber of Commerce’s ag committee, held the treasurer position for the Parents for Lewiston-Altura Youth group for three years and teaches first grade catechism at her church.

She decided to apply to the program because she feels ready to take on more leadership roles now that her three sons — Dustin, 16; Dylan, 14; and Dominick, 11 — are old enough to be more self-reliant.

"It’s kind of the next step for me to take a more active role," she said.

The application included essay questions about her views on agriculture and ag issues in her area. She collected written references and interviewed with a panel of eight people in Rochester.

"I’ve never interviewed with so many people," she said.

She’s looking forward to seeing agriculture across Minnesota and learning about different types of operations. She doesn’t know yet which leadership roles she’ll take on after the program, but is confident the experience will prepare her to educate the public on the positive aspects of agriculture.

"A lot of times, especially in our industry, you hear the negative," she said. "... It’s important to get a voice out there."

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Southwest Minnesota State University administers the program and the University of Minnesota Extension Service coordinates the curriculum. The program is funded through participant tuition and private donations. The tuition for class members is $4,000.

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