Class XII, Seminar 3, Day 1 – Mankato, MN – Communicating Effectively

Minnesota weather can be quite disruptive BUT not this time!   MARL Class XII was able to meet with full class attendance in Mankato, MN in collaboration with the 2023 MN AG EXPO.  The class was able to take advantage of meeting many MARL alumni as well as networking with other industry leaders across the state.   The Expo also provided the opportunity to hear from great keynote speakers and the ability to put our networking skills to use!

Seminar 3 started off getting to know each other by sharing something people may not know about you.  Facilitation of MARL Seminars is accommodated by Toby Spanier, U of MN Extension Educator. We learned Class XII has people with many interests such as college athletes in basketball and hockey, wood workers and crafters, winter sports enthusiasts, and many others from faith, farming, and horses!    After the fun we leaped right into the reason of what Seminar 3 was all about “Communicating Effectively” by exploring the Art of Asking Questions and Listening.   Asking questions is a powerful tool for leading people in a facilitative manner.  We discussed several methods and techniques to be cognizant of when asking questions and took the time to practice in small groups.   However, asking questions also comes with being a great listener.  We practiced our listening skills in a few different exercises that really opened our eyes to how easy a listener dictates the outcome of a conversation.  Becoming an active, compassionate and reflective listener is important and will be a key skill to hone when leading effectively.   After gaining a deeper understanding of these concepts we took our new skills to the Trade Show floor to network with a new connection at the MN AG EXPO.  These skills helped us take the pressure off of meeting new people and help focus on what we wanted to learn and how we could use questioning and listening skills to create a better connection.

The MN AG EXPO provided us the opportunity to hear from to a panel of Dairy, Pork, Turkey, and Beef leaders across the state.   The group discussed many topics and you could feel the passion for their species and the ag industry in their respected leadership roles.   Here are a few interesting points the group had made as they addressed the factors of Climate/Environmental – Public – Animal health that have impacts on their businesses.

  • Maintaining a positive image and striving in outreach to the public and learning new ways to address disease pressure
  • “Active Environmentalists” is the mindset they take to gear their farm towards sustainability and promoting what they stand for
  • Keeping the consumers interests in mind as they make decisions to work towards similar goals and success
  • Keeping their animals safe and healthy as they would themselves as they live and work with them and providing a healthy living environment for the animals
  • Passing down something to the next generation that they are proud of and improved, compared to what they received, it promotes sustainability and positive economic benefits for the future of the industry
  • Utilizing and implementing new technology improves sustainability and productivity
  • Economic outlook looks positive but will have to navigate higher input pricing
  • Coming together and being on the same page helps our message as a whole as it comes to promoting all agriculture across the state

One of the panelists Shelly DePestal – MARL Class V – Minnesota Milk Producers Association President had noticed many of the MARL Class XII at the show and audience where she graciously gave a huge shout out to the MARL program and its impact it has had for her career.   She said that her skills in leadership and confidence she built from the MARL program helped her become the leader she is today.  She mentioned that there had been many MARL Alumni that she has met in her career and encouraged everyone to utilize great network of MARL leaders!   Thank you Shelly!

During dinner this evening we were had the opportunity to listen to the Keynote Speaker – Tom Sell – founder and manager of Combest, Sell & Associates where he provides the firm steady guidance and management, fosters strong relationships with influential leaders in Congress and the Administration, and leads client development efforts.

Tom reminded us that agriculture is an essential part of the culture of not only MN, but the entire country.  As agriculture advocates we need to continue to focus on the security of how produce food and fiber as well as the Environmental Security by promoting strong sustainable practices.  Navigating this can be difficult but staying grounded and utilizing your resources will help us all be successful.   Tom briefly touched on the Farm Bill where he discussed that he anticipates more dollars being added as “Climate Smart” which could lead to better resources to help understand sustainability and how we can continue to be sustainable producers.  Tom also mentioned we need to maintain a unified voice to continue to move agriculture forward.

After a long day of meetings, speakers, and learning the MARL class was able to unwind a bit at the MN Soybean Growers Association Carnival night.  This gave everyone a chance to get to know each other a bit, talk to some old friends, and participate in some games and auction to support programs.  The MARL Class XII represented actively as some of us purchased some great items at the auction as well as winning one of the prizes in the give away!   It was a wonderful first day!


Submitted by Kevin Kruize, Premier Crop Systems, MARL Class XII

Day 2 – Mankato Seminar

While today was an unexpected snow day for most schools in the area, MARL Class XII had a full day of learning, visiting local businesses, listening to panels/keynote speakers at the MN Ag Expo as well as had some time at the end of the day for social and networking time.

After breakfast at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, half of our class went to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota and met with its CEO and the other half of the class went to Ardent Mills and met with its Plant Manager.  In both places, we were able to learn more about the business and its culture AND take a fun tour!  Did you know that the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota has numerous ag related exhibits and has more than 100,000 visitors a year?  Did you know that Ardent Mills produces flour blends for pizza dough for some of the most popular pizza chains in the nation?


Back at the MN Ag Expo, during lunch, we listened to keynote speaker, Marissa Nehlsen, who offered a number of tips and suggestions on how to ease your tax burden.  That might sound like a dull topic, but Marissa delivered it with animation and humor which added a fun twist.  We then listened to a panel on the 2023 Farm Bill and learned perspectives and priorities the panelists would like to see in the next farm bill.


It was then time to squeeze in one more tour in our seminar at Jack Links, which makes the refrigerated meat snacks.  Its Mankato facility is the only one in the company that makes the well-known refrigerated meat and cheese combo snack.  We observed the behind the scenes from beginning to end of where the raw product comes on site, to how it’s mixed together to how it’s smoked to how it’s packaged (thanks also for the product samples!).  We also got a better idea of the leadership and culture.

We ended the day with food and beverages at the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation where MARL Class X member Dr. Shane Bowyer met us and told us about the Ag Food and Innovation major and minor at MSU, Mankato.


Gwenn Wolters, also from MSU, Mankato, shared  an MBFFA grant opportunity for entrepreneurs in ag and food in the Region 9 area.  It was then time for food and fellowship for our class as well as members from previous MARL classes and that’s how we ended our day.

Submitted by Nathan Hanel, MN State Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence, MARL Class XII

Day #3 – Mankato Seminar

The morning of day three started off much quieter, as the long days packed with education, networking and tours took its toll. Class XII’s “Communicating Effectively” seminar began the morning with looking ahead to our next hybrid meeting in February and our March seminar in St. Paul.

The class departed for Dotson Iron Castings in Mankato. Upon arrival, we were ushered into their new, state-of-the-art conference and training room where the group learned about Dotson’s history and what we could expect as we entered the foundry floor. Dotson began in 1876 as a blacksmith company and turned into a foundry in 1943. The company currently has 1000 patterns, servicing 100 customers and produces 120-tons daily. Agricultural make up 25% of Dotson’s customer base, with well-known clients like John Deere, Agco, Kuhn and Toro. After a safety briefing and the donning of PPE, the class broke off into groups of four for a staggered tour of the Dotson facility. On this particular day, the foundry was actually shut down for maintenance, so while our group was not able to see 2700-degree iron being poured into casting molds, we were able to learn more about each station and get a more “behind the scenes” that we would have otherwise.

Matt Knutson, sales manager, told Class XII member Kristy Mach that most of Dotson’s clients come from referrals. With the ability to provide between 2- and 50-pound casts, Dotson refers clients to other foundries if they aren’t able to meet the client needs, and vice versa. Integrity is one of Dotson’s four major pillars, and you can tell everyone we encountered stands firmly behind their integrity. The other pillars are People, Innovation and Results.

Liz Ulman, vice president, shared leadership and communication strategies with us after the plant tour. Ulman is proud of Dotson’s investment in their people, promoting from within and providing a mentorship program to newly promoted supervisors.


After saying goodbye to our new friends at Dotson with a new appreciation for the difficult and demanding work they do day-in and day-out, we returned to the Hubbard Building for final reflections.


What dawned on me while each classmate provided their “nugget” and “skill,” is how each of us had the same three-day experience but had very different takeaways. Those different perspectives are what will make this MARL Class XII the BEST EVER!!! Not kidding. But seriously, those perspectives will truly provide lasting connections that will help each of us take a step back and consider a different viewpoint. And that is what will help us continue to hone our leadership skills moving forward.

Submitted by Kristy Mach, Corner Window Communications, MARL Class XII

Edited and assembled by Brad J. Schloesser, MARL Executive Director


Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked. Your email address will not be published.