Aaron Krauter, former FSA director and politician, returns home to ND family farm
REGENT, N.D. — Each time Aaron Krauter and his wife, Cindy, return to work on the Krauter family farm near Regent, they have been met by a historic drought.
The first time came in 1987 after Krauter spent years away at college working as a music teacher, and then embarking on a business career in Virginia. Krauter and his wife got through the first few difficult years on the farm due to a belief during his childhood that he was always meant to be a farmer.
"You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy," Krauter said while offering a tour of his farm.
After serving eight years as the state director for North Dakota's Farm Service Agency, Krauter is once again back at home working on his family farm weathering yet another drought.
It has now been about nine months since Krauter held one of the most powerful agricultural positions in the state. His attention has turned from implementing agricultural policies on behalf of all North Dakota farmers to worrying about his own crop yields, drainage techniques and agricultural equipment.
Cindy Krauter said that though they are "way out of practice" as farmers, they have been able to manage the farm pretty well, even through the difficult summer drought.
As his newly grown out beard indicates, Krauter feels relaxed, comfortable and at home on the farm, but he looks back fondly on the work he accomplished as North Dakota's FSA director.
"I've always been a farmer at heart, but then to step to that level of administering public policy was huge," Krauter said. "I got to get out and see all of North Dakota and talk to farmers and ranchers. There's nothing more heartwarming than to sit with a young couple who are beginning farmers and ranchers. The bank said they were too risky (for loans), so they'd come to us and two years later they'd come back paying those loans beaming from ear to ear."
It wasn't just the individual encounters he found so rewarding. He also felt a genuine excitement in working out the details of public agricultural policy.
"The 2008 farm bill was vetoed by the Bush administration, but when I got to USDA we got to implement it," Krauter said. "Every day I got to physically see the fingerprints of Earl (Pomeroy) with crop insurance, or Byron (Dorgan) with the durum growers in the bill."
He's talking about former U.S. Rep. Pomeroy and former U.S. Sen. Dorgan.
Krauter said he was especially pleased to help carry out the 2014 farm bill, which he called probably the best farm bill ever written.
"It was no longer just a handout. If prices are below a point, there's a payment. If it's above, no payment, and that's they way it should be," he said. "To be at that level of management where I got to implement that, make some decisions and get that safety net going, it was fun. A lot of fun."
Krauter is also proud that he brought the FSA into the 21st century by eliminating needless paperwork and allowing farmers to access FSA services online. Mostly, though, he is happy that he helped make FSA a better place to work for its employees.
"USDA employee morale was not good when I got there, but every year employee evaluation surveys went up and up. It got to the point where we had no turnover anymore."
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a longtime friend of Krauter's and Krauter even ran as Heitkamp's running mate in her 2000 bid for for governor.
"Aaron Krauter is one of the smartest people I've ever known" Heitkamp saidsaid. "If I called him and said, 'Aaron, what do you think of this issue' and he explained something to me, I never felt like I needed to go back and double-check. He had a wonderful head of the Farm Service Agency."
Before serving as FSA director, Krauter spent 20 years as a Democrat in the state Legislature, which included stints as the leader of his party and a position on the powerful Appropriations Committee. When the Legislature wasn't in session, he and his wife worked on his farm near Regent, raising three children.
"My attitude was, 'If I can't farm it myself with my family, then why am I doing this?' " he said. "Not only do you raise a crop, you raise a family."
For Krauter, public service was baked into his blood. His father, Adam Krauter, also served in the Legislature. Krauter is quick to point that he devoted much of his work in the Legislature to carrying projects his father helped to start, such as the Enchanted Highway and the Southwest Water Authority.
"My Catholic faith tells me you gotta give, you gotta serve, you gotta do these things," Krauter said. "My mom and dad instilled it in us."
In a state that has turned increasingly Republican in the last few years, Krauter remains deeply committed to his Democratic ideals. He said while working with farmers, he noticed a tendency to dislike the government, an impulse that he understands yet feels is out of line with the type of Democratic policies, such as crop insurance, that many farmers depend on.
Cindy Krauter has worked with and accompanied Krauter throughout his years in business, government and farming.
"This whole marriage has been quite a journey," she said, "It's such a blessing, all these areas we've had to grow in and learn. ... Now we are back here (at the farm) and just happy."
Though Aaron Krauter and has returned to working on his farm, don't expect him to only be focused on his own crops.
"I'm going to be involved in public policy in some way, shape or form," he said. "There's a 12-month period where I can't do work that directly impacts the USDA and that comes up in January. There's some things in the future that I'm thinking about."