October 4, 2023

WALCOTT, N.D. — From disasters caused by mother nature, to unsteady markets, life on the farm can be difficult. Paula and Dean Swenson have been navigating the unpredictable waters of agriculture for almost 50 years, together.

A woman in a plaid shirt and a visor looks at sheep.

Paula Swenson knew from an early age she wanted to be a farmer.

Emily Beal / Agweek

From a very early age, Paula knew she wanted to be a farmer.

“I wanted to farm since I was growing up, and Dean didn’t mind having a partner that wanted to farm to, so it was all good,” she said.

A couple stands in a farmyard.

Dean and Paula Swenson were named the 2023 Agriculturalists of the Year by NDSU Saddle and Sirloin Club.

Emily Beal / Agweek

Paula met Dean during her time at North Dakota State University. The pair married in 1974 and began farming together in 1975 near Prosper, North Dakota, before buying their farm in Walcott, North Dakota, in 1988, where they have been ever since.

A man in a baseball cap with gloves in his pocket looks at cattle.

Dean Swenson says working smarter is the key to making it in modern agriculture.

Emily Beal / Agweek

“When we started in farming, you know, you could work your way out of everything if you want to be successful, all you did was work harder. Now you have to work smarter,” Dean said.

The pair farm corn, soybeans, barley and sunflowers. They also raise stock cattle and run a feedlot. While they used to be in the sheep business, their grandson has taken over the flock after showing interest in the sheep industry.

Lambs look at the camera

Paula and Dean Swenson have turned over portions of their farming operation to their children and grandchildren. A grandson has taken over their flock of sheep.

Emily Beal / Agweek

“I’ve always said, if you want the next generation to run this place, you got to let them run it,” Dean said. “You give them a lot of rein.”

The Swensons were awarded NDSU’s Saddle and Sirloin Club Agriculturalists of the Year. They were active in the club during their time at NDSU and also showed in the Little International, making it a full circle moment.

“Oh, that was quite an honor,” Paula said. “Something we never expected. You know, it was awesome.”

“That was a very huge honor to get that,” Dean said. “Agriculturalist of the Year Award is not only just being a farmer and stuff. A big part of it is your community involvement, what you’ve done for the community and the extra things. And we tried to give back a lot in that because people have been very good to us.”

Cattle look at the camera

Paula and Dean Swenson have maintained their involvement in their feedlot while turning most other aspects of their farming operation to the next generations.

Emily Beal / Agweek

In 2022, the pair retired from crop farming but are still active in the cattle feedlot business. They enjoy seeing their children and grandchildren take over aspects of their farm.

“Great. It’s a nice legacy to have somebody that wants to carry on your footsteps,” Paula said.

The Swensons spend their winters in Arizona. They take their ranch horses along with them to enjoy warm weather rides.

Emily Beal

Emily grew up on a corn, soybean and wheat farm in southern Ohio where her family also raises goats. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.

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