In my experience, farmers share strong political opinions in their close-knit communities, but rarely have I observed many active farmers and ranchers running for public office. When I saw signs in District 20 in eastern North Dakota showing three farmer names I recognized, I ventured to meet up with them and learn more about what piqued their interest to all run for North Dakota Legislature.
I often want to learn more of the stories of farmers elected to public office. My family and I sat in coach seating on a plane a few years ago next to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and found his story of continuing to remain active in his family farm important to all of agriculture and rural America.
Why is it so important farmers run for office? I hear from farmers weekly who feel underrepresented and not heard on issues affecting their livelihoods and rural America. Paying dues to an organization or showing up for monthly or annual meetings is not enough for farmers to create the voice they desire. And certainly, no matter how often a farmer is utilizing a social media platform, it doesn’t create enough noise to bring about change in policy and lawmaking to benefit the people who grow our food.
To effect that kind of change for rural communities and agriculture, farmers need to run for elected public office. I also would love to see more diverse voices from across agriculture run for office. More voices create more balance. Agriculture organizations train volunteers for their boards, but after board terms end, I rarely see those actively involved in agriculture on ballots for any elected office.
With North Dakota farmers Jared Hagert, Mike Beltz and Randy Lemm all running on the same legislative ticket, I ventured to Hillsboro, N.D., to have a panel-style discussion on AgweekTV with them. Together we sat on straw bales spread out in front of a classic red barn on the Lemm farm, on a picturesque fall morning.
Randy Lemm was appointed into the North Dakota Legislature in the 2019 session after an elected legislator became ill and unable to serve in his district. Lemm noted he was one of five active farmers and ranchers among 47 state senators in Bismarck, with the ratio in the House being similar. He’s running again with the hopes of returning.
“Agriculture is one of the biggest industries in this state. And I just feel having active farmers is an important piece of the whole puzzle," Lemm said.
Jared Hagert ended his term on the United Soybean Board as chairman among 69 farmer directors in December 2019, where they managed a $100 million program budget of the soybean checkoff.
“It really helped me understand the value of different perspectives,” said Hagert.
Volunteering on soybean and dry bean industry councils sparked Mike Beltz’s interest in the legislative process.
“Being involved in that process, I got up close and personal with the legislators, committees, testified and was actually a lobbyist for a short time on the Ag Coalition’s behalf. In those ways, it did help connect me to the legislative process," he said.
When I asked how being a farmer prepares them for possibly serving in the Legislature, Lemm said, “I feel like I have some common sense. Every day, we’re dealing with problems and having to solve these problems.”
And every farmer and rancher nods in agreement. Cast your ballot this election season. In the future, I hope more farmers and ranchers are choices to consider for voting in all types of local, state and federal elections. Find more of my discussion with Beltz, Hagert and Lemm on AgweekTV and on agweek.com.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.