Max Dietrich 2020 NSA Gold Award Honoree
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
filed under: News
Often referred to as “Mr. Sunflower,” Max Dietrich is the 2020 recipient of the National Sunflower Association Gold Award. The NSA Gold Award is presented to “individuals who have contributed extraordinarily to the overall sunflower industry, either through their occupation or through the Association.” Dietrich passed away in October 2019 after a long battle with cancer. He was to be honored posthumously at the 2020 NSA Summer Seminar in Spearfish in June, but the event was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
Dietrich dedicated much of his career to the sunflower industry; he worked for several hybrid seed and crop protection companies and was production coordinator for the National Sunflower Association for four years. Dietrich also served four years as chairman of the NSA Research Committee.
“Max represents one of the last of the longtime dedicated seed professionals,” recalls Bob Weigelt, a longtime friend and colleague of Dietrich’s. (Weigelt is also current NSA Research Committee Chairman, a job he took over from Dietrich.) “Max dedicated his life to the improvement of seed. He was well versed in so many crops, including corn, soybeans and canola. But his heart was in sunflower. Sunflower was his baby. You could take Max into a field of blooming sunflower and he was in his element. He would diagnose every insect, disease and condition that would affect the sunflower plants.
“Max poured his heart into his work, especially into the NSA Sunflower Survey. His energy and passion and helping with the sunflower survey was incredible. He was so passionate about that and dedicated to volunteering,” Weigelt states.
Dietrich was likewise dedicated to helping producers. Cal Thorsen recalls when he first met Dietrich; Thorsen was working for Dow AgriSciences, Dietrich for DeKalb.
“We were both focused on the sunflower industry,” says Thorsen. “I was focused on the chemical, Max on seed. He reached out to me about putting on joint meetings for producers. That was in the early ’90s, and we worked together putting on farmer meetings and talking about the industry and about the products we believed in.
“Max had extreme credibility. One of the things I’ll always remember about Max is how he worked to bring us together as an industry and tried to help us make sunflower a major commodity within the United States.”
Weigelt calls Dietrich a champion not only for agriculture and sunflower, but also for farmers.
“He was likable, approachable and genuine,” says Weigelt. “He was a road warrior. He would spend two-thirds of the day driving to meet with a grower and help that grower solve whatever problem he was having. His passions were being on the road, helping growers and improving sunflower.”
Dietrich also was a family man. He and his wife, Roxie, raised three sons in Bismarck. They had just retired and moved to Savannah, Ga., to be closer to their sons and grandsons when Dietrich passed away. Max and Roxie also were avid golfers; it wasn’t uncommon to find Weigelt and his wife, Laurel, on the links with the Dietrichs.
“When you talk about Max, you talk about Roxie,” says Weigelt. “I have great memories of golfing with them. Max and I would talk shop, and the women would talk about Max and I talking shop. Max was such a competitor, but also a compassionate man. He was the type of guy I’d want to be in the foxhole with. He had your back. He was a great teammate, friend and colleague all rolled into one.”
Dietrich’s son, Cody, echoed those sentiments about his late father.
“Our dad dedicated his focus and his career to sunflower and to achieving success with sales,” Cody affirms. “He taught us about achieving goals, success and about working hard.
“And he loved to talk about sunflower. We’d be driving, and he’d always point out the crops and we’d talk about how the fields were doing. He looked at agriculture as an American way of life, and he believed the great things we could do in American fields could advance the United States abroad. He worked hard to help American farmers grow the best crops.
“Our dad loved people,” Cody adds. “Everyone enjoyed listening to him talk, and everyone wanted to talk to him.”
— Jody Kerzman