Advancing North Dakota Agriculture
Neal Fisher is the recipient of the 2022 Heritage Award, which recognizes alumni who have provided outstanding volunteer service for the benefit of NDSU.
Story by Micaela Gerhardt | March 29, 2022
Neal Fisher ’73, ’76 grew up on a fourth-generation grain and cattle ranch near Tappen, North Dakota, where his parents imparted the value of education, curiosity, and a strong work ethic. His father, John, enrolled at NDSU (then NDAC) in the 1930s, when business at his grain elevator was suffering due to the economic challenges of the time. After his graduation, John remained involved with NDSU and the Crop Improvement Association while teaching vocational agriculture and managing the family farm and ranch operation. He often spoke of the lifelong relationships he cultivated at NDSU and beyond.
Neal’s mother, Ruth, a former teacher and business owner, helped Neal and his two brothers succeed in school. She encouraged the use of proper grammar and often gave her sons the family’s well-worn set of encyclopedias to look up answers when questions arose in conversation.
“When my brothers and I were younger, it wasn’t a matter of if we were going to college — we knew we would because of those influences,” Neal said. “We were active with projects at the ranch, school, church, sports, music, and 4-H, all of which kept us busy and allowed us to think about the future, and we knew an education could positively influence our lives going forward.”
He and his brothers proceeded to graduate with degrees from NDSU that helped open doors to rewarding career opportunities. Neal earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in agricultural economics, and like his father, formed lifelong connections at NDSU with his advisors and many others.
“Those mentor relationships, and the collegial nature in the departments where I studied and worked as a student, made a lasting impression on me,” Neal said.
Neal has traveled extensively as an international market development specialist and trade policy expert for more than four decades. As administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission since 1998, he is proud of the reputation the North Dakota wheat “brand” has achieved over the years, rising to the absolute pinnacle of quality and value in the global market — and he credits NDSU wheat quality and performance research programs for much of this success story.
"The results of these durable, stakeholder partnerships with NDSU have been critically important to our largest industry, our state, and region."
Neal has been an active proponent for North Dakota’s agricultural economy. He has advocated and helped raise funds for agricultural research, which he sees as a critically important feature of the state’s $10 billion (and growing) agriculture industry. The North Dakota Wheat Commission also sponsors a variety of wheat research projects at NDSU annually and has invested in the NDSU Center for Trading and Risk, the Jack Dalrymple Agricultural Research Complex, and the Peltier Complex.
“The results of these durable, stakeholder partnerships with NDSU have been critically important to our largest industry, our state, and region,” Neal said. “It’s really about making things better for our producers and stakeholders, but every citizen in our state benefits economically — the ROI coming out of NDSU is terrific.”
Neal has been an NDSU Foundation Trustee since 2010, serves on the compensation and nominating and governance committees, and is currently vice chair of the Executive Governing Board. Throughout his career, he has maintained active roles with NDSU, state and national policymakers, and the dedicated producers of North Dakota’s farming and ranching communities. He and his wife, Deborah (Lang) ’76, have three grown children who earned NDSU degrees and three grandchildren; they all wear Bison gear.