Two U alumni honored with agricultural awards

by Dawn Throener

When Richard Barnes was a young man pitching potatoes in Germany, he never anticipated his blistered hands would one day hold an award for his work.
Barnes was one of two people presented with the first J.O. Christianson International Agricultural Award last month.
The University’s Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee program, an international exchange organization, established the awards in honor of its 50th anniversary and named them after J.O. Christianson, who established the program in 1949.
Egbert Conze received the second award, designated for international students who trained in the United States as part of MAST.
Born in Germany, Conze worked on U.S. farms in 1968 and 1969 as part of the agricultural program and earned a bachelor’s degree at the University. He is currently the managing director of the German Agricultural Society in Frankfurt, Germany.
Barnes received the outbound award, designated for U.S. students who studied abroad during the trainee program.
“I’m very honored,” Barnes said. “I hope that I can continue to be worthy of being the first recipient of this award.”
Barnes said his farm experience in Germany served as a turning point in his life.
He returned to the University to earn a master’s degree in public administration. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service until 1998.
In a few weeks, Barnes will be moving to Brussels, Belgium, to become the American Soybean Association’s regional director for Western Europe and northwestern Africa.
“MAST had a profound impact on my life,” Barnes said.
To give back to the program, Barnes returned half of the $3,000 cash prize to MAST. He donated the other half to his agricultural fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.
Barnes said he wanted to give something back to the two institutions that had a major influence on his life.
Conze also returned his cash prize, said Stephen Jones, MAST director.
Jones said the awards ceremony illustrated the effect working with people from other parts of the world has had on the trainees’ lives.
Barnes added that studying overseas broadened his perspective.
“I came from a rural background where one’s affairs are not touched by world events,” Barnes said. “It was a snowball effect.”
Barnes still maintains contact with his host farmer and many people in the town where he lived while in Germany.
“When I am there, it’s almost as if I never left,” he wrote in an e-mail.