Female Pembina County Extension agent draws confusion at first glance

CAVALIER, N.D. -- First-time visitors to the North Dakota State University Extension Service office in Cavalier, N.D., sometimes are confused when they see Leslie Lubenow.

Lesley Lubenow, extension agent-crops in North Dakota's Pembina County, says she enjoys the challenge of working with many different crops. Agweek file photo taken June 3 in Cavalier, N.D., by Jonathan Knutson.

CAVALIER, N.D. -- First-time visitors to the North Dakota State University Extension Service office in Cavalier, N.D., sometimes are confused when they see Leslie Lubenow.

As Lubenow tells it:

"They say, 'I have some questions about crops? Where's the county agent?' And I tell them, 'I'm the county agent.' And they say, 'No, really, where's the county agent?' And I tell them, 'Really, I'm the county agent.'"

Lubenow is indeed the Pembina County extension agent for cropping systems. She works with both crops and livestock, helping farmers and other county residents.

Women have a long, strong history of service in the Extension Service, but traditionally in areas such as 4-H youth and development.


As women's role in agriculture expands, a small but growing number of women are working as extension advisers in crops and livestock, too.

"There's been good acceptance of females in agriculture, and that's encouraged more women to forge in," said Margaret Tweten, Grand Forks-based district director for the NDSU Extension Service and Lubenow's immediate supervisor.

Tweten, a 30-year-veteran of the Extension Service, said she expects an increasing number of women will serve in Extension Service positions once held predominantly by men.

A little background:

The Cooperative Extension Service, which dates to 1914, operates at the federal, state and county level.

Every state and U.S. territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices. Experts at each office provide useful, practical and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes.

In rural, primarily agricultural counties, the extension agent who specializes in crop or livestock, or both, often is particularly important.

Pembina County is rural. It rates a "9" on a federal scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being the most urban and 9 being the most rural.


It's an agricultural county, too. Pembina County ranks first statewide in sugar beet production, second in spring wheat and third in dry beans, and produces many other crops as well.

Farm background

Lubenow, 29, grew up in Morris, Minn. Her parents, both of whom had farm backgrounds, ran a 50-cow dairy operation.

They quit dairying before Lesley was born, but grew wheat, barley and soybeans for a few years. Lesley was about 10 when her father got out of farming for good. Her parents still live on the farm and rent out their farm acres.

Lesley Lubenow graduated with a degree in biology in 2003 from Concordia College in Moorhead before going on to earn a master's degree in crop production from North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Before joining the Extension Service, she sat down and listed potential careers for her.

"The Extension Service was at the top of the list," she said.

Helping people, working in agriculture and living in rural areas -- all something the Extension Service provided -- appealed to her.


In 2005, she began working in Finley, N.D., as the Steele County Extension Service agent for agriculture.

Many of the farmers she worked with were much older than her, but her age and gender weren't an issue, she said.

"I really liked it. The people there were great," she said.

In north country

In 2007, she started in the same position in Pembina County, in extreme northeastern North Dakota.

Pembina County farmers grow most of the same crops, including wheat, soybeans and dry beans, as their peers in Steele.

But she knew virtually nothing about sugar beets before coming to Pembina County. Because beets are a huge deal in the county, learning more about them has been a priority for her.

She's worked with Mark Boetel, NDSU sugar beet entomologist, to collect and monitor sugar beet root maggot fly numbers.


Lubenow also has worked with an agronomist for Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar, attends meetings to learn what's new in sugar beet research and listens to what farmers are saying.

"I'm not afraid to admit that I don't have all the answers," she said.

Tweten said the Extension Service stresses to its agents the importance of getting their facts right.

More to learn

Pembina County is an interesting place agriculturally, Lubenow said.

Its northern location allows a relatively short growing season, and its soil comes in many different types.

"There's a lot to learn," she said.

Producers in her county recognize the importance of continually updating their skills and knowledge, she said.


Lubenow is forming strong ties to the county personally, as well as professionally.

She's engaged to Mike Cull, a mechanic at the American Crystal plant in Drayton, N.D.

He also has a small registered Black Angus herd in Cavalier that he began in 4-H. Cull has been growing the herd slowly and now has 40 cows.

Cull is vice president of the Pembina County Fair Board. He and Lubenow first met when Cull came into her office to talk about scheduling of the horse and livestock shows at the fair.

Lubenow's many duties include working with various local group, doing a radio show on a local station and writing weekly Ag Alerts.

"There's a lot of variety, and I enjoy that. I just really enjoy my job," she said. "I can see myself doing this for a long time."

Agweek and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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